Miscellaneous Musing by Judy @ 1:49 PM

Multnomah County Courthouse
Multnomah County Courthouse

You will recall, gentle reader, that #1 Son had an interesting conversation with one of Portland’s finest, during which it was determined that, not only had he changed lanes across a solid white line, but he was driving on a suspended license. Oops. He subsequently had a lot of fun learning why it’s so much easier to take care of molehills right away, rather than waiting until they grow into something vaguely resembling the Himalayas and require Sherpas and bottled oxygen to conquer. For example, he learned that there’s a new National Naughty Drivers Database, and he would have to take care of the ticket he got in Washington and the one he got in North Dakota as well as the one in Oregon in order to get his license back. He learned that it’s hard to find someone in North Dakota who can take a payment over the phone, but worth the hassle to do so because mailing it in takes weeks before it is marked completed.

Part of his education included a trip down to the courthouse to enter a plea. My late Uncle Bob, an attorney who believe that even if you knew you were guilty you should make the State prove it, would have been proud of #1 Son as he entered his not guilty plea with the court clerk. A few days later a letter arrived with the assigned date. At the appointed time last Thursday, #1 Son and I met at the court house to participate in his right to a speedy trial.

There were quite a few people who gathered in the courtroom. Traffic court is sort of one of those herd-em-in / herd-em-out governmental cattle calls. Participants are told to report 1/2 hour before anything starts happening – probably because there are always a few late stragglers. Not knowing that, #1 Son and I arrived even earlier, so we had plenty of time to cool our heels while sitting in the front pew. (I know that’s not what it was, but the audience seating looked exactly like church pews.) As we waited, policemen – including Officer Cop, the policeman who had ticketed #1 Son – entered and took seats against the side wall. Some of them called over the accused people and had conferences with them. Officer Cop mostly sat rolling his eyes and looking like he couldn’t believe any of the accused could have been so stupid.

What are they talking about? #1 Son asked me. No idea, I replied. The court clerk, who was sitting next to the high seat where the judge would be, looked up and said, If any of you want to talk to your police officer and try and make a deal you should do that now. You’ll get out of here faster, probably.

So #1 Son got in line to talk to Officer Cop, along with several other people. After some discussion, #1 Son came back to me and said, He said if I plead guilty to a different charge, he’ll drop the one about changing lanes illegally. I suggested to #1 Son that he should do that only if Office Cop also agreed to drop the driving while suspended charge. More consultation ensued. #1 Son turned to come back to his seat and Office Cop looked at the policeman sitting by him, shook his head, laughed and rolled his eyes. Jerk I thought. He said no, #1 Son shrugged. Guess we have a trial.

Judge Hizhonor entered the room and we all stood. He asked us to be seated, and explained the process that the court would be going through. He started by explaining that there were a couple of things everyone needed to know because they came up over and over again in his courtroom: First, in Oregon the law states that you must stop on a yellow light so if you enter an intersection on a red you are most likely guilty unless there would have been extreme danger in stopping. Second, ignorance is not, in most cases, an excuse. He then called the names of everyone on the docket and the accusing officers. Anyone whose officer was not there had their case dismissed and was free to go [gavel bang]. I was jealous of those people. Then the people who had made deals with their officers were called up. The officer in each case explained the deal, the person plead guilty, Judge Hizhonor determined the fine, and they were done [gavel bang]. None of Officer Cop’s accused had made a deal.

Finally the trials started. Officer Cop was part of one of the first trials. The accused was a woman who had been ticketed for crossing the same solid white line that #1 Son had crossed on the same night. Before Officer Cop and Ms Accused were sworn in, Office Cop told Judge Hizhoner that the State wanted to change the charge.

Judge Hizhonor: Why are you changing the charge?

Officer Cop: The State feels that this new charge is more relevant to the situation. The old charge is illegal lane change. The new charge is crossing a highway divider.

Judge Hizhonor (to Ms. Accused): Did you know about this? Did you agree?

Ms. Accused: No! I have no idea why he wants to do this.

Judge Hizhonor [to Officer Cop]: You can’t change the charges at this point.

Officer Cop [with more arrogance that actually necessary]: Why? I could have done it 5 minutes ago when the court was hearing the plea deals. Why can’t I do it now?

Judge Hizhonor: She doesn’t agree to it! And even if she did, I wouldn’t let you change the charge like this. Even if you did it 5 minutes ago. She has the right to know what the charges are against her in advance so that she can prepare her case. You can’t slap a new charge on her at the time of trial. That’s not OK. Are you sure this is what you want to do?

Officer Cop: The State feels that this new charge is more relevant and fits the case better than the old charge.

Judge Hizhonor: No. I won’t let you do it now for the reasons I’ve already said. All charges are dismissed. [to Ms Accused] You are free to go. [gavel bang]

#1 Son and I did a tiny, mini-high-five behind the church pew barrier where Judge Hizhonor couldn’t see it. Ms Accused left the courtroom with Officer Cop hard on her heels.

#1 Son’s case was next, but because Officer Cop had left the courtroom, Judge Hizhonor asked #1 Son to wait for awhile to see if Officer Cop returned. The next trial was the interminable case of a man who had been caught by a red-light camera. His excuse was that the streets were wet and that’s why he entered the intersection .4 seconds after the light turned. He asked the officer numerous questions about how the cameras worked, how often they were serviced, how it was decided who wrote the ticket, etc. It didn’t help him. Judge Hizhonor reiterated that Oregon law says that you must stop on a yellow light, so he’d had plenty of time to react safely. Fine imposed. [gavel bang]

I kept both fingers and toes crossed. But, during the red-light-running trial, both Ms Accused and Officer Cop came back and sat down. At the end of the trial, Ms Accused stood and asked if she could ask a question.

Judge Hizhonor: What is it?

Ms Accused: He gave me a new ticket! You dismissed the charges, and he followed me out and gave me a new ticket with this new charge on it.

Judge Hizhonor: Yes. He can do that. It’s not common, but it’s allowed.

Ms Accused: But I had to take time off work and get a babysitter and this is costing me a lot of money to be here. And now I have to come back?

Judge Hizhonor: You’ll have to go down to the court clerk’s room and enter a new plea. You can plead guilty and pay the fine. But otherwise you’ll have to come back. I’ll see if there’s any time left at the end of today to discuss this further with you and Officer Cop.

Officer Cop [standing up]: Your Honor, I have three more cases like this.

Judge Hizhonor: Exactly like this?

Officer Cop [beginning to look a bit deflated]: Pretty much like this, sir.

Judge Hizhonor: Let’s get them all taken care of now, then.

The three other cases – #1 Son was one of them – marched up to the defendant side. Officer Cop stood on the plaintiff side.

Judge Hizhonor: Each of these had the same original charge, and you want to change all of them to the same new charge?

Officer Cop: Yes, Your Honor.

Accused Guy: It wasn’t a highway divider! It was a white line!

Judge Hizhonor: Stop, please. I can’t discuss the merits of your case unless it comes to trial. And it’s not going to today. Charges against each of you are dismissed. #1 Son, in your case this includes the driving while suspended charge. You are all free to go. [gavel bang]

We all filed out into the hall, where Officer Cop handed the three other cases their new tickets. All of the accused argued with Officer Cop for awhile, but he as adamant that they must face the new charge (which to me makes less sense than the old charge, but whatever). Officer Cop, who was no longer doing any eye rolling and such, returned to the courtroom. As the rest of us headed down to the clerk, #1 Son turned to me and asked, You know, this one charge is new, but the second charge is the driving while suspended one that was already dismissed. Can he do that? Good question! Let’s ask the judge, I said.

So we also returned to the courtroom and waited while a woman explained to Judge Hizhonor that she didn’t know she was speeding in a school zone because her speedometer was broken and she couldn’t afford to have it fixed. Ignorance is not an excuse, Judge Hizhonor said. Especially in a school zone where the safety of the children is of primary importance. Take that sheet of paper in front of you. It explains how to make arrangements for a payment plan for your fine. Fine imposed. [gavel bang]

#1 Son [standing up]: Your Honor, may I come up and ask you a question?

Judge Hizhonor: Come on up. You might as well. That whole thing is very strange. Never really seen anything like it before. What’s your question?

#1 Son [approaching Judge Hizhonor and showing him the new ticket]: I know, sir, that you said he could give me the ticket on this new charge. But can he re-ticket me for the second charge when you’ve already dismissed it?

Judge Hizhonor [with a heavy sigh]: Yes. I think he can. [ponders for a minute] But, I’ll tell you what. I’m not absolutely positive so I will recheck that decision tonight. If he can’t you’ll be notified that the charge has been dismissed again. Otherwise, it’s the same as the new charge. You’ll have to enter a new plea.

#1 Son: Thank you, Your Honor.

And that’s where things stand today. To be continued . . .

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  • Thought of the Minute
    • As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air - however slight - lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.

      (William O. Douglas, judge)
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