Kangaroo Justice

Tomorrow I’ll have to go to the local Municipal Court for a traffic violation I didn’t commit.  Two weeks ago I turned left at the corner of the street where I live, as the traffic light turned yellow.  Since I had just started the car and it was accelerating I couldn’t stop anymore, but I kept my eyes on the light uninterruptedly and I never saw it turn red.  Then suddenly a police car that had been waiting for the red light on the same intersection was behind me, signaling me to pull over.  After he had walked to my car I asked the young officer, apparently a rookie, why he had made me stop, and he told me that I had run a red light.  I told him that I was absolutely sure the light was still yellow when I turned the corner, but he said that his supervisor was with him in the police car and that he had been instructed to give me a ticket.  When he came back to my car with the ticket he was apologetic and said that if I was sure the light was still yellow I should go to traffic court and challenge the summons.  It took me a while to decide to do that.  Normally you don’t have a chance in court, because the judge automatically assumes that you are lying and that the police officer is speaking the truth.  However, the ticket comes with an $85 fine and at least three driver’s license points, representing a $600 car insurance premium increase over the next three years, so I decided to give it a shot.

I have once before been in a similar situation.  Years ago, in a neighboring town, ‘detour’ signs to the access ramp of a major highway had been posted, suggesting that the ramp was not available.  Driving by those signs early on a Sunday morning I assumed there would be a detour and therefore didn’t move into the lane from where the ramp normally should be accessed, but when I got to the ramp there was no detour so I turned  towards the highway, albeit from the wrong lane.  On the side of the ramp, invisible from the point where I had turned, a police lieutenant had stationed himself, giving a ticket to every driver who, just like me, had been misled by the detour signs and turned from the wrong lane.  It was such a petty scam that I decided there and then to go to court to try and have the summons voided.   After receiving the ticket I drove back home, got my camera, and took a picture of every detour sign.  Armed with those pictures I came into the courtroom, but to no avail.  The judge listened to my story, looked at the pictures, and then asked the police lieutenant if I had turned from the wrong lane, which the lieutenant confirmed.  The judge then decided to make this a teachable moment, so he told all those in attendance that I had violated a traffic rule, that the reason why I had violated that rule didn’t matter, and that unlike the lieutenant I had an interest in not speaking the truth.

Of course I was furious with both the judge and the lieutenant, but I unexpectedly got revenge.  A couple of weeks later I read in the local paper that that same lieutenant had been arrested for hiding his brother, who had committed a murder, from the police.  His brother ended up in prison for life, and the lieutenant lost his job and was given a probationary sentence because of his ‘impeccable’ service.

So I won’t be expecting much in court tomorrow, even though I can demonstrate that the police officer who gave me the ticket could never have seen the light turn red, but sometimes the DA offers you a deal where you pay the fine but don’t get the points on your license, and that alone is worth the effort.

Of course there is something fundamentally wrong with that.  You should either pay the fine and get the points, or you should be acquitted, but this is how the local kangaroo justice system works in the US.

Hugo Kijne


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