More tales from traffic court

September 29, 2010
By

Guelph Mercury, 09/15/10 cop-car

Listen up, kids. There’s a place worse than calculus class on the first day of school. It’s called traffic court. And you never, ever, want to end up there.

It’s a strange, crowded place where rolling stoppers, close followers, illegal parkers and lead-footers sit shoulder to shoulder with the officers who handed them their tickets. It’s kind of like going to detention and hanging out with the teacher who sent you there.

In Guelph, these hardened criminals gather inside the converted City Hall building turned into a courthouse, and work on their acts worthy of an Oscar.

Not me, of course. I’m an upstanding, law-abiding citizen who only speeds when it comes to paying my taxes on time. I’m here on some kind of mistake, which I’ll explain later, and we’ll all have a good laugh. I’m sure.

A few things I learn quickly: In traffic court, everyone’s mother is sick or injured or dying or handicapped, and we all need as much leniency as possible. In traffic court, posted speed-limit signs are always invisible. In traffic court, nothing is ever your fault.

Forget what you know about the outside world. Once you’re summoned, all bets are off. Speed matters in traffic court, but time is irrelevant.

Court starts at 10 a.m., the lady on the phone says. But nobody seems to have told the judge – she strolls in at about 10:45 a.m. And she hasn’t signed up for some nine-to-five job. After sitting for about an hour and 15 minutes, she decides we should recess for 15 or 20 minutes, which in court speak is 45 minutes.

A paralegal representing a group of speeders remarks that the wheels of justice are grinding slowly today. A prosecutor says it’s going to be like that all day.

It’s about then I realize I should have brought a blankie. Or a pillow.

Once the cases finally start rolling again, it’s clear I should have prepared a little more. Where is Matlock when you need him? I have gone into battle ill-prepared.

A man ahead of me, fined for not wearing a seatbelt, looks like he’s been working on his case all summer. He brought the most impartial witness he could find – his wife – who repeats everything he just told the court. Case closed!

Then he produced a photo of himself, sitting in his car, wearing a seatbelt, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he must have been wearing a seatbelt the day the officer pulled him over. He shows a receipt which showed someone had bought cigarettes before the cop stopped him, which proves, concretely, you know, that, err, um, he smokes.

But the case reaches its climax when the ticketed man gets to question the officer.

He asks if the officer was wearing glasses at the time.

The officer say he doesn’t need them to drive.

Bam!

That will be all.

There’s no rhyme or reason to who is called to stand before the judge – Andersons and Ahmads don’t immediately jump to the front of the line. The prosecutor picks the order, apparently, on who has the nicest hair.

I swear the clock runs slower in traffic court. Finally, late in the afternoon, I’m called. I sweated and stammered and went with the “it wasn’t me” defence, which is apparently not as rock solid a legal argument as one might expect.

The prosecutor hammers away: Were you in the car with the officer? Can you say precisely at what point the officer turned on the radar gun in the cruiser?

Err, no, I say. The judge frowns, and declares the verdict. Guilty as charged.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

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