I always get nervous when Cop cars pull up behind me. It’s not necessarily because I’m doing something wrong (rarely ever, in fact) but more because the situation is the physical embodiment of “Big Brother” looking over my shoulder.
I was on the way to my lacrosse practice when I saw the black and white cruiser pull up behind me. I was in the turn lane, waiting to turn left at the light, and when the traffic light turned green, I started my turn and sure enough, the police lights came on. Sweet. I was getting pulled over. And to add a little insult to injury, we came to a stop directly across the street from the high school I coach for. How embarrassing.
The officer was a tall, bald, African American man that commanded respect by just standing up straight. He approached the window and said, “What’s up with your registration, man?” Truthfully, I knew something was weird with it. I had never received my registration stickers, but then again, I had “lived’ in some degree at three different places this summer.
“And you are aware you have a cracked windshield, right?” I mean, yeah, obviously. It was huge and went across most of the window, how could I miss it? It didn’t totally obstruct my view, but it was admittedly a pain in the ass. I suppose it was only a matter of time for these responsibilities to catch up to me. Damn. Today was the day. And when I finally got to practice, the kids who saw the incident didn’t hesitate to mention it.
After a little back and forth, the police officer returned to the car and told me some bad news. My registration was expired by seven months and he was supposed to have my car towed. I explained that I was down in Los Angeles coaching and I was over 60 miles from home. He really didn’t want to tow me, so we brainstormed what to do. After ruling out calling a friend, a cab and a ride home, the very nice police officer decided he was going to give me a ticket for both my registration and my cracked window. BUT (there’s always got to be a but) instead of making this ticket a “fix it ticket” I had to pay the full amount or go to traffic court. (“Thank You!”)
The full fine for “Expired Registration” and a “Cracked Windshield” is $487.
Traffic court it is!
After going to the DMV (I’m not an idiot, I made an appointment first) I discovered that I never got a SMOG Test. Oh, yeah! I forgot about that! That very afternoon I got my car smogged and made an appointment to get my windshield fixed. Friday afternoon the windshield guys showed up and while attempting to transfer my rearview mirror over to the new window, they cracked my new windshield! They apologized and said they’d come back on Monday afternoon. And on Monday, guess what happened? He broke the window again. Yes, twice. On the third day, the “best repair guy” at the place came out to help me, and finally put my window on… five days later. Finally, everything was fixed.
The following week, one day before practice, I went to the Chatsworth Courthouse to take care of the ticket and I scheduled a court appearance for Wednesday, December 3 at 8:30 AM. When I arrived, I sat in the very front row. They played us an “important message” that alerted us of our rights in traffic court. We were instructed there are only three pleas in traffic court: Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest. In this particular situation, I was guilty… with an explanation.
The Bailiff seemed like a cool guy. He was a little Hispanic guy, he kinda reminded me of Michael Pena in End of Watch. He took a quick look at my paperwork and said, “Damn, I’m gonna help you save some money.” He instructed me to run out and take pictures of my car so he could verify himself the window was fixed. When I brought him the phone, he waved it off first, saying, “No naked pictures though… unless they’re good.” I handed him the phone and assured him, “Every naked picture I take is good.” He smiled, looked at the pictures of my window, then handed me back my phone. He smiled and nodded.
The Judge Pro Tem (temporary judge) called my name and I addressed the podium. He recited the information surrounding my tickets, but he misread the date as “November 4 of last year.” (Yes, I got the ticket on Election Day, after I left voting.) When he asked me if I had fixed my windshield, before I could answer, the Baliff answered for me, “Yes, he has your honor.” The judge dropped the case with a $25 dismissal fee.
“There’s a failure to appear here.” The Judge began.
Wait… what? I got this ticket less than a month ago, how could I have missed an appearance?
“When, your honor, did I miss the hearing? As far as I am aware, this is my first appearance on this matter.” The little old judge peeked out from behind his computer screen and looked me over. His clerk chimed in, “I’ll find it.”
After a moment, they discovered the error and the judge apologized. In retrospect, I think that he misread my date as “Nov. 3, 2013,” hence the misstatement at the beginning, and assumed that I had missed the hearing in between. This appeared to be the actual case with many of the others in traffic court that day.
“And have you corrected your registration?” The judge asked me, but before I could lean into the microphone, the bailiff answered for me. “Yes, he has.”
“Okay. Dismissed for $25. See the Cashier. Next up, please.”
I collected my things, thanked the Bailiff, and left the courtroom.
It was a simple as that! Sure, I had to be at court at 8:30 AM on a Wednesday to pay $50, but that’s so much better than the whopping penalty of $487. So, the moral of this incredibly long winded story about “a recent time I got pulled over” is to be responsible and take care of your business… and if you ever get a traffic ticket, I almost guarantee (I’m not a lawyer!) that it’ll get dismissed if you just show up to court and admit what you did.
P.S. That now makes me 3/3 in successfully representing myself in legal cases.