Thursday, June 3, 2010

Traffic Court as a Bunko Operation

Inconvenience as a Law Tool

They make 100 people come at 9 AM. There is an order of appearance which the judge claims was set by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Those with plea agreements, the prisoners in the jail, those who want a trial who are represented by attorneys, and lastly, those who want a trial and are representing themselves. This order will become clearer later. I had demanded discovery in a prior appearance, and they had sent me a videotape of the traffic stop and the notes on the ticket. They had not sent me anything about the officer. This is needed because the elements of careless driving are so subjective, the character of the accuser is material. None of that was sent. One famous careless driving charge was that against Tiger Woods recently. When I sent a second demand letter of the prosecutor, they replied by moving up my court date by 5 days. I called the clerk who absolutely refused to reschedule it to the later date. I demanded to speak to the chief judge about scheduling and the unfairness of changing it at the last minute. He refused to accept my call. The defendant is an innocent party, and the judge is too good to take a phone call after making a very disruptive schedule change.

True Aim of Traffic Court Appears to Be Revenue Raising

But sit in the back of the court at the start of the day, and within 10 minutes one understands what the place is really about. Within 10 minutes, 5 people have pled to the amended charge of unsafe driving, with $123 fine, $33 in court costs, and a $250 New Jersey state surcharge. A dozen consecutive defendants are pleading to the same charge, unsafe driving, and thanking the court. They have been let off easy, and without points. So this court is rolling along, and is making around $10,000 an hour.

Hardly Working

The judge works a half hour, and needs a break for a half hour, perhaps to avoid fatigue. He opens with the explanation that their traffic charge is a criminal charge requiring the prosecution meet the burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt. He will not tolerate rudeness. If your cell phone rings in court, it will be confiscated, and the owner will be put last in line for the day.

The bailiff calls out the list of names, 5 at a time. They stand in line to speak to the prosecutor. The latter is different each time, knows nothing about the charge, asks about it. Then, you got it he offers unsafe driving charge with the above fine, but no points in New Jersey. The problem for me is that unsafe driving still gets 2 points in Pennsylvania. And the sole charge without points is speeding by less than 5 mph. The prosecutor did not disclose that. I had to learn it from the practice manual of the Municipal court, which I bought used.

There is a light hearted camaraderie on the line to the prosecutor. The vast majority of people are recent immigrants with accents, and the rest are working class guidos from the area, which is in Soprano country.

Send in the Goons

I get into the office, and I tell the prosecutor that he has been stonewalling the discovery I demanded, and that mistake will change his life. He says, you are threatening me, and calls the police. I reply that asserting a legal right is not a threat and that he has libeled me to the police, now in the room, hand on pistol, yelling, sit down, and be quiet. I want to avoid the disorderly conduct charge and an arrest that day, so I comply.

Continuances to Break Innocent Defendants
Another defendant is Israeli. His police officer does not show up for a trial. The judge grants the prosecution a continuance, to return another day with the police officer. The defendant complains he has already lost a day of work, and his wife is pregnant in Israel. The judge demands he show him a ticket to Israel, proving he is going there. The defendant does not have one, but continues to argue about the burden being imposed.

Send in the Goons Again
The judge stands up, and demands he be quiet. The defendant continues to complain. Four East Brunswick police officers surround him, hands on weapons. The defendant and I get the message. There will be no trial, never. He decides to accept a plea bargain, despite his feeling he is innocent.

I accepted an unrelated charge that carries no points in Pennsylvania, and that is half the cost of the most common plea, unsafe driving. It carries no points in New Jersey but does in Pennsylvania. I accept a plea to driving 1 to 4 miles over the speed limit, the sole moving violation without points in Pennsylvania. The fine is $100, doubled in a 65 mph zone, plus $33 court costs, for a total of $233, instead of $433 for unsafe driving. The New Jersey prosecutor does not tell me Pennsylvania law. I had to find out Unsafe Driving still carries points in Pennsylvania from research of used library editions of the manuals on the New Jersey driving laws.

Rules of Conduct for Judges I run into my new Israeli friend at the pay booth. I offer to write a letter of complaint to the Judicial Review Board for the outburst by the judge. He declines, stating he still has to drive in the vicinity and does not want to be targeted.

Upon return to the court with the plea ticket, the atmosphere is completely different. The judge is calm, he apologizes for his temper outburst. There are no goons. Everything is friendly and business like.

Same goes with my plea deal.

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