Today was my very first time in court to contest a ticket, and sadly, all it proved is that many who should be our heroes and defenders of justice are as biased, blind, and deaf as the rest of us. Sounds over-dramatic, I know, but in this case, I wasn’t guilty, and I truly believed justice would prevail.
I’m not going to get into too many details but suffice it to say, in October, I received a ticket for speeding through a school zone. Specifically, for going 30 mph in a 20. I should note that for 20 years, I had a perfect driving record. No tickets.
On this particular morning, I was driving my husband to work. Buses were delayed, so this was one of those odd mornings where I was driving him from Kirkland to Bellevue.
Being a former teacher, I’m hyper-aware of school zones. When I saw this one, I slowed to 18 mph.
All school zones have beginnings and ends, but up here in WA, not all of them have signs that state “End School Zone.” Some use the “Speed Limit 30 mph” sign to end the zone through indicating the change in speed limit. This school zone was one of those.
As I drove, I looked for the end school zone sign–of which there was none. Since the school was not visible from the street, I couldn’t use it as an indicator either. So when I passed the speed limit sign increasing the speed to 30, I accelerated to 30 mph.
Shortly after accelerating, I saw a police officer pull up behind me with his lights on. I drove another 100 feet or so and pulled over in a parking area just before the upcoming intersection.
The officer approached on the passenger side, my husband rolled down the window, and the officer asked me for my license, registration, and insurance.
He informed me that I was being ticketed for speeding through a school zone.
I explained that I had not been speeding through the school zone and had only accelerated when the new speed limit sign indicated the end of the school zone.
The officer told me that the school zone “went all the way to the end of the street.” This comment was confusing. Did he mean to the intersection itself? Or to the end of the actual street? If the latter, that would stretch on for another 5 or 6 miles….
(Click here to see how far I was from the signal when I was pulled over.)
The officer left us to write up the ticket. During this time, I watched ahead at the light and could see no signs indicating school zones ending or beginning.
At this time, I glanced into my driver’s side mirror and discovered that I could see the beginning of the school zone for opposing traffic…behind me.
Meaning that the end of the school zone was not ahead of me “all the way at the end of the street.” In other words, the officer didn’t seem to know where the school zone ended.
I didn’t point it out to the officer because I didn’t want to appear as argumentative. I took the ticket and after the officer left, my husband and I continued on the road. Instead of following GPS, we continued down the road for many, many miles. Lo and behold, there were no signs indicating an end of school zone. Nada. Nothing. Because I wasn’t speeding in a school zone, I decided to contest the ticket. (Had I sped, I would’ve paid it.)
When I arrived at court today, the very first thing the judge stated was if we were going to contest a speeding ticket, we wouldn’t win because:
- the officers are highly trained in their job
- they are stationary and watching traffic
- and the radars used are heavily tested and therefore, correct
So without hearing any evidence, this particular judge had already made up his mind that all speeders were guilty. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?
The next surprise was that the police officers did not have to appear in court. In other words, I was not given the opportunity to face my accuser.
When it was my turn, the judge pulled up my driving record and heavily recommended that I defer the ticket because of my “excellent driving record.” What this means is that I would have to pay a $200 court fee (for a $298 ticket, mind you.) If I don’t get any other tickets for the next year, the ticket would be dismissed and not reported to the licensing office or my insurance company. He offered me a 6 month deferment instead of the usual 12 months.
I explained that since I wasn’t guilty, I wanted to contest it, but honestly, I think it’s bullshit to pay a hefty court fee for the privilege of making the ticket go away. I didn’t commit the crime, so why in the world would I pay this?
He read the officer’s sworn affidavit, which stated that I was “alone in the vehicle with no other passengers.” Um, remember folks–I was driving my husband to work. That right there means that the officer’s sworn statement is false. At that point, this should have been dismissed.
When it was my turn to speak, I told the judge about the error, which he admitted was a mistake. He then asked me to continue. I explained the situation. I wasn’t contesting going 31 mph, but I was contesting was whether or not where I was driving was a school zone. One sentence in and the judge had tuned out.
I finished my statement, he declared me guilty of speeding in a school zone. He also mentioned that it was “really hard to drive 20 mph” and that [I] had to make a “conscious effort to go that slow.”
I found this incredibly degrading. I’m a former teacher. I’ve worked school zones. Trust me when I say that I make a SERIOUS effort to drive slowly through each and every school zone. To imply that I was incapable of doing otherwise is just a slap in the face, especially after stating that I had an excellent driving record.
I then asked him how I was supposed to know where the end of a school zone was, if signs weren’t correct, so that I could avoid this ticket in the future. His comment was that I should just go slow.
I stated that at that, I could be going 18 mph for 15 miles. That could interrupt or inhibit the flow and safety of traffic for totally different reasons. He commented that I should learn the locations of schools in the city.
So rather than correct signs or making sure police officers actually know where the school zones start and end, drivers are just supposed to memorize the locations of all schools?
He completely ignored my photo evidence that showed how the officer was wrong about the end of the school zone. He didn’t care.
In his opinion, the officer was always right.
Justice is biased, blind, & deaf.
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