The State of Oregon vs. [Mystery Tin] took place earlier this week, and let’s just say it did not go so well.
Background: I received a speeding ticket on January 5, 2016 on SE Hawthorne Blvd at 9:43 PM from a radar van. I was going 42 mph in a 25 zone. Yes, you read that correctly. SE Hawthorne Blvd. is a 25 mph zone.
I had a trial scheduled for 1:30 PM. The bailiffs let us into the courtroom around 1:00 PM while we prepared for our 1:30 hearings. I sat in the front row, dressed in my best suit, ready to fight my case. Around 1:20 PM, the police officers started entering the room. Now, I’m definitely not a large guy, but every single of these officers was a larger-than-life human being, and with their gear on, they easily weighed over 250 pounds each. Linebackers. And they were all bald. Weird.
One of the police officers called my name. The same officer that signed my speeding ticket. He explained to me that he was in the driver’s seat of the van that caught me speeding. He showed me pictures of me (on my cell phone) driving my car driving past the van and the subsequent paperwork that ensures that the speedometer was properly calibrated, etc.
I expressed my concerns about the legitimacy of the case, primarily the fact I didn’t believe the area was properly and adequately marked with the speed limit. To support my statement, I created a map (printout from Google) of SE Hawthorne Blvd and marked the 25 MPH signs on the street. There are 2. There’s a 25 mph sign at 19th & Hawthorne and another one at 34th & Hawthorne (the officer pulled up Google Maps to corroborate). That’s nearly .70 miles where there’s no clear indication of speed limit. It’s a blatant speed trap and the city of Portland knows it.
The officer told me the only thing he could do for me is to drop my speed, “but it won’t change the fine.” If dropping my speed from 42 mph to 40 mph won’t change my fine, what’s the point agreeing to the speed change? It makes no actual difference to me.
“Looks like we’re having a trial then.” The officer said as he closed his file folder. “And you should probably come up with a reason why you were on your cell phone. The judge is gonna grill you on that.”
“Thanks,” I went back and took my seat in the front row.
The Judge came into the courtroom and began the afternoon session by declaring her hopes that the defendants had ample time to speak with the ticketing officer prior to trial, ideally leading to an agreement for a “guilty” or “no contest” plea. The judge went on to mention that if anyone was choosing to take their case to trial (me), those would be heard at the end of the afternoon.
Defendant by defendant, case by case, the judge called out names and the ticketing officers made their statement on behalf of the State, having reached agreements or dismissing each case. When the Judge called my name, the Officer stood and said “We’re going to trial, your honor.”
Once the Judge moved on to the next case, I put my folder down and raced quickly out of the courtroom. I sprinted outside and ran to my car. 28 minutes left on my pass. Considering how long it could take, I added 2 more hours and tossed the new, longer pass inside my window before running back to court.
Upon re-entering the courtroom, I discovered half of the remaining defendants were already gone. The room was emptying out quick, so maybe this wasn’t going to take an additional 2 hours. The Judge continued calling names until she reached the bottom of the list.
“Now it is time for the trials.” The Judge began flipping back through the paperwork, then called my name.
I smiled, stood, and turned around to discover the courtroom was empty. I mean, completely empty. I, alone, was taking my case to trial.
I took the “whole truth and nothing but the truth” oath and sat down at the defendant’s table, with the police officer seated to my right. The Officer read his obviously canned statement, with my particular information filling in all the blanks. I was able to counter, asking questions about the brightness of the speed LED in the back window compared to the brightness of the brake lights, attempting to shed some doubt on the validity of the van’s display.
The Officer asked me, “Were you on your cell phone?”
Asshole. “Yes, for a short moment.”
When my questioning of the officer was finished, I stood and gave my recounting of the events. The “totality of the circumstances” if you will.
I pleaded with the Judge to consider how I consistently walked to work and rarely drove my car. I asked the Judge to consider the nearly 3/4 mile stretch of Hawthorne Blvd. without appropriate signage (yet did not accept or look at my evidence when I attempted to submit it). I asked the Judge to take a look at the misinformation on my ticket. I asked the judge to dismiss my case.
Then the Judge made her ruling…
“Mr. Eaton, I find the State has sufficiently made their case, so I’m finding you guilty of driving 42 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone. I am imposing the maximum fine of $160…” Damn.
The Judge went on, “Furthermore, if you had been cited for the multiple infractions you admitted to today, including speaking on your cell phone and an illegal U-turn, your fine would be closer to $600. You expect everybody else to abide by the rules while you don’t think they apply to you.” (The Judge really said that.)
“Excuse me, your honor. Would you mind clarifying the U-turn for me?” I asked.
The Judge looked at the Police Officer then back at me. “You know what? Why don’t I send you to traffic school?”
“Good idea.” The Officer next to me chimed in. Again, dick?
“That way, you can learn the rules for driving in Oregon and here in Portland. If you do not go to traffic school, your fine will be $220, otherwise, the $160 with traffic school.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, for as “welcoming” as Portland claims to be, they really hate people from California.
She rapped her gavel. “Next case!”
“Thank you, your Honor.”
You can’t win them all, but you definitely can’t win when you don’t try. See you in Traffic School!