02.14.07

NJ and Your Wallet – Traffic Court Wastes Taxpayer Money?

Posted in Just A Thought, Vehicle Safety at 2:07 pm

Yesterday’s minor disaster involved traffic court.

The major disaster started last Valentine’s Day when I hit an 8″ snowbank on an otherwise clear dry highway – a car somewhere in front of me had not cleared the foot & 1/2 of snow off the top of his car before entering the highway & managed to drop most of it in one spot as he accelerated onto the road. My high-top full-sized van was beyond terrible on snow so I fishtailed until I went up the ramp of snow along the side of the rode.  In action worthy of Evel Knieval I did a 360 degree flip, landing softly in the previously mentioned foot and a half of snow. I didn’t puncture the tires but I did touch lightly with my roof on my way over blowing out all back windows.  I was fine but somewhat shaken. (I hate roller coasters. This was worse.)

I walked away

Many Palisades Parkway Police, who were as nice as possibly could be, arrived almost instantly on the scene (It was about 200 yards from the police station & occurred right before shift change so this wasn’t too remarkable.)  I had no idea that the snowbank I’d hit had come from a car in front of me. Instead I babbled to the poor officers about the snowbank in the middle of the road.

Rule No 1 of accidents – Do not be shaken. Think clearly & completely about what happened, recalling everything, or you will be sorry.

I violated rule no. 1. Instead of figuring out where a snowbank could have come from on a 40 degree, dry road day I just reported what I saw. The officers:

  • made sure I was fine,
  • got my cell phone & wallet from the car (the entire contents of the car- I was carrying boxes of papers for a community project & my  purse open – looked like I’d decided to make a tossed salad of paper – lots of colors & textures everywhere.),
  • took statements from all the witnesses that had kindly stopped to help and
  • listened to my statement about the snowbank . . .
  • then the police officer escorted me back to the road where I’d claimed there was a snow bank.

It was 20 minutes and 5 million cars later & the road was just wet with a little slush. No snowbank.

If a little slush made me go off the road I must have been driving badly, so of course he gave me an unsafe driving ticket.  At least he mailed it to me so I didn’t have to fret about it on top of the car.

The disaster came trying to get my temporary lack of clear thought corrected. I was given a court date in June, just 4 months after my accident. Court cancels so it’s rescheduled to November.  Terrible storm, so I cancel. Rescheduled for February 13th, the eve of another terrible storm.  Just lucky I guess.

Roll call 3 pm.  You plead guilty or not guilty. Five plead guilty, 60 plead not guilty. Five no-shows – $200-$1,000 fine to the court. Policeman – go find them. Judge deals with guilty pleas.  4:30 pm  Prosecutor deals with those who have lawyers. 5:20 pm Bad drivers from the local hoosegaw are prosecuted.  5:30 pm Prosecutor explains that everyone gets benefit of doubt once; he will reduce your fine if you don’t have a prior traffic history. No one should question his judgment since it will hold up everyone else & he’ll increase the fines/suspend your license if you try to bargain down your ticket with a prior conviction. I go to back of line since I’m stubborn & I don’t want to hold everyone else up. 6:45 pm My turn with Prosecutor. He determines no witnesses in my car. Other witnesses unavailable (officer misplaced cards of witnesses). Decides to dismiss because he can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I was driving badly. 7:30 pm Appear before judge. Prosecutor recommends dismissal. Case dismissed. He warns me to drive safely on snow in future. What snow? The roads were dry. Does he have a clue what kind of driver he just released onto the road?

New Jersey is throwing money away on this process.

First time offenders, guilty

They did not need the space & 3-4 highly paid court staff (Judge, Prosecutor, court clerk, & cashier, at least) processing the 50 people with no issues. People with a first-time conviction in 5 years could log on to a website, enter a ticket number, select a no point penalty or low immediate payment penalty & pay the fine.  The state would have received their money 8 months earlier. If the state is counting on the court fees, roll the cost into the fine structure & be done with it.

Stagger Appearance Times

All 70 people were instructed to arrive at 3 pm even though most didn’t have prayer of something happening until 5 pm.  The appointments were made with a pleasant, helpful woman who seemed more than capable of asking if you were bringing an attorney. Schedule those with attorneys at 3 or 4 pm, everyone else at 5 or 6 pm. Should all the attorneys move to adjourn & no one comes early, fill in with those waiting in the jail in back. 

Schedule Expected Dismissals Last

Have all the people who were not imperiling their neighbors because they’d forgotten their license when they went to the grocery store scheduled last. The cashier can finish up the payments while the dismissals are being processed and they’ll not tie up the system. Better yet, have them take the documents to their local precinct where they can prove they have them and let the officers enter the dismissal in the computer system. Since licenses, registrations, insurance and inspections are all a matter of computer record I don’t think police officers would be in any danger of being tempted to enter fraudulent waivers.

Spend More Time on the Chronic Bad Drivers and Other Exception Cases

I am an extremely conservative driver (friends who have had the misfortune of driving behind me in school caravan events thought it extremely funny that I got a summons for bad driving.) I could have just as easily been an older driver starting to lose control of my car. Watching other cases, I get the feeling that spending a minute or two with someone in danger of loosing his license just didn’t seem adequate.

We live in an information processing age. Could we try and use it’s tools to save the state money and not pile a time penalty on top of legally sanctioned penalties for traffic violations?

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