L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 289, September 19, 2004
Today Is International Talk Like A Pirate Day!
Adventures in Traffic Court
Exclusive to TLE
A couple weeks ago, I regaled you with a laundry list of driving habits and situations that piss me off. This week I will relate a couple of my experiences from traffic court. Over the last thirteen years, I have had occasion to be there several times. It is the two most recent, dear readers, which I relate to you.
In the spring of 2000, I was going to work near Denver and was ticketed. When I took the matter to trial, I questioned the State Trooper that ticketed me, twice got him to contradict himself in testimony, argued that there was no way for him to make the kind of measurements he claimed, and was still judged against. This had me completely baffled for the split second it took me to realize that the traffic court judge is not on my side or the side of justice at all. They are in the business of keeping their jobs, which means the status quo. The more cops on the streets, the more tickets they write, the more the world needs traffic court, right? After all, it makes more money than busting real criminals, and is a hell of a lot less dangerous to all involved.
The latest is my favorite. If you don't know, Colorado Springs PD fines ten dollars for every mile over the speed limit. Naturally, I got a speeding ticket. At the time of the stop, I was not in the mood to be meek and, as the cop explained that they were focusing on that specific area to target speeders, I asked him why they hide. It seems to me that if cops just want people to drive slower, they should show themselves. If they want to collect more of our hard-earned money, they hide, then pop out at us and write tickets. He was not amused. I guess traffic cops don't like their hypocrisy pointed out to them. They do a lot of talking about keeping the streets safe, but they don't do the most effective thing they can do to make people drive carefully: be visible.
But, like so many before me, I digress.
When I (finally) got in front of the judge, I was informed that the plea offer was an infraction worth half the points of the speeding ticket. I thought this an acceptable offer given the circumstances, as I was not going to be able to argue my way out of the speeding charge. Then I saw that the fine was the same as the original speeding ticket! I asked the judge how I could be fined for an infraction for which there was no finding of guilt, and she told me to take it up with City Council. I got a little peeved and asked, again, how that was legal. She replied that again, since City Council decreed it so, I needed to take it up with them. Since the intricacies of law are above the heads of the twits at City Hall as well as the local judges, I ask any lawyers that read this to help explain how the hell they get away with this (I'm looking for legal grounds, leave out precedent). I'd never realized that our municipal legal system was a game of Calvinball, but it's about what I'd expect from a body of lawmakers that tells a man what kind of fence he's allowed to build on his own land. If you take their logic to its conclusion, you could be charged with murder, plea bargain it down to jaywalking and still do fifteen to life.
(Notice: Never ask a judge a question. It'll piss off the judge and confuse the hell out of you that someone that intractable and ignorant could possibly sit in judgment of anything more important than what to have for dinner.)
It seems ridiculous to me that anything that doesn't cause direct, measurable harm could be illegal. No harm no foul. But government is in the business of penalizing possible outcomes. If you drive fast, you may crash and kill people. But that possibility exists anyway, regardless of how you drive. Any vehicle can have any number of mechanical or electrical problems, killing the occupants and others unlucky enough to be in the casualty radius, and that's a pretty dangerous situation as well. If you legislate based on worst-case scenarios, none of us would be allowed to drive anything more hazardous than a pair of sneakers. As much as they would like, the world can't be a safe place, no matter how much you wish it. The only option we have as individuals and as a culture is to arm ourselves in every way possible to survive whatever assaults, disasters, or bad hair days random chance happens to throw at us. We may make it, we may not.
Remember the immortal words of Robert Heinlein:
In terms of the game theory, we might say the universe is so constituted as to maximize play. The best games are not those in which all goes smoothly and steadily toward a certain conclusion, but those in which the outcome is always in doubt. Similarly, the geometry of life is designed to keep us at the point of maximum tension between certainty and uncertainty, order and chaos. Every important call is a close one. We survive and evolve by the skin of our teeth. We really wouldn't want it any other way.
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