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Reno traffic court

February 8, 2010

A couple days before Christmas, during a blizzard, I was pulled over by the Washoe County Canine Unit and given a traffic citation.

Yeah, that’s right, the Canine Unit got me.  Go figure.  There were two human officers and two dog officers in the SUV police cruiser that pulled me over, and it was all I could do to resist asking which of the four thought I was driving poorly.

While two of the officers relieved themselves on the shoulder of the road, one of the officers—a female, but notice my self-discipline here with regard to any play on words involving female dogs—approached my car.

“Do you know why I stopped you, sir?”

“You thought I had dog biscuits in the back seat?  Heh heh.  That was a joke, not an attempt to bribe you.”

“Are you implying that I look like I crave dog biscuits?”

Sometimes you know the instant you meet somebody that it’s not going to be a good relationship.  This was one of those times.  That doggone woman ran me through the ringer, keeping me there on the side of the road for more than an hour.  God knows what they were doing back there in the Canine Unit SUV.  Maybe they were feeding and watering the dogs, or teaching them traffic ordnances so they could start writing their own tickets, or making them sniff my license and registration for drug residue.

(Note to self: stop using license to make Coca-Cola lines at parties.  That “Do you wanna do a line of Coke?” thing is not that funny anyway.)

It’s possible my dog biscuit joke fired the woman up so much she ran my ID through some extra hoops… FBI, CIA, Interpol, KGB, who knows?  Good thing she didn’t check with the IPCC.

When she finally came back to my car, daylight had completely expired, I was half asleep, and my car was nearly out of gas.

“Here’s your license and registration, sir.”

“What?  Already?”

She gave me a long look.  I could see the wheels spinning behind her eyes and it was easy to read her thoughts: “Would it look bad if I go back to my cruiser and add two or three more violations to this asshole’s ticket?”  That was the main thought.

“Sir, I’ve cited you for two improper lane changes and driving too fast for the conditions.”

Mind you, I never exceeded 25 miles per hour.  What I did was go around some dumbass who was driving five miles per hour because it was snowing.  As I pointed out previously, they don’t handle snow well here in Nevada.  As soon as one or two flakes float out of the sky people grab their steering wheels in a two-handed death grip, slow down to a crawl, and turn off their brains until sunlight returns.  So sometimes I go around them.  Apparently this officer, or one of the dogs, objected to that.

“Sir, do you have any questions at this time?”

“I have a couple of questions.  Number one, do you know it’s Christmas in a couple of days?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And this is how you spread Christmas spirit?”

Got her with that one.  Ha.

“Sir, do you have any other questions?”

“Yes, I do.  In the whole history of the world, do you think any other driver has managed to commit three moving violations while traveling fifty feet at twenty five miles per hour?  I’m just wondering if I should submit this ticket to the Guinness World Record people.”

Damn I’m witty.

“Sir, unless you have questions about the citation, please sign at the bottom.”

At that point I thought the relationship was tentative enough that I shouldn’t mention how bad her writing was.  Between my 55-year-old eyes and her piss-poor writing I couldn’t read a damn thing she’d written.  She had serious penmanship issues… hey, now that I think about it, maybe they were training the dogs to write tickets.

When I got to court last week they had the same problem.  From the clerk out front where you check in to the judge in the courtroom to the DA who eventually handled my case, nobody could make hide nor hair out of what the bit… er, what the officer wrote.

Getting a traffic ticket and taking it to court is an enlightening experience.  There are things about America you don’t know until this experience shows them to you.

First, you’ll learn something while getting the ticket, namely that our police have crossed the line from enforcing laws which are necessary for safety into a territory which is more about generating funds for police department budgets.  After all, it’s a tough economy, municipal budgets are strained, and police officers want to avoid layoffs and wage cuts, ya know?

My ticket, for instance, had a total fine of four hundred ninety dollars.  That’s for switching lanes without a blinker to go around a slow driver.  I’m a great admirer of the police but when they send flotillas of cruisers out to write traffic citations to balance their budgets, or confiscate private property and sell it because they know they can keep the money under RICO statutes, that’s not serving the public.  That’s oppression enforced at the point of a gun.

When you get to court to fight that oppression, you’ll learn something else: that you are better off being an illegal alien than an American citizen.

I walked into the courtroom last week hoping to have a brief conversation with the judge and then get back to work with a minimum of time wasted.  Judges are reasonable people, right?  No judge would think four hundred ninety dollars for not using a blinker was reasonable.  I was sure of it.  I was banking on it… by which I mean there wasn’t that much money in my bank account so I needed the fine lowered.

My ticket said to be there at 8:15 AM, which I foolishly assumed was some kind of appointment.  Ha.  “8:15” is apparently what they write on all the tickets and I walked into a courtroom filled with approximately four million people—three million nine hundred ninety nine thousand nine hundred ninety five of them Hispanic.  Whether that ratio is an accurate representation of the greater population of Reno or simply a reflection of the fact that Hispanic people are crappy drivers, I don’t know.

One thing I knew: their congregation in that courtroom was going to ruin my “minimum of time wasted” fantasy.

I walked to the one row of Caucasians and sat down.  I picked that row not because they were my people but because it was the only row with empty seats.  Then I turned to the guy next to me and whispered, “How do they choose the order of the cases?” and learned that the cases are called in the order in which people checked in.

Crap.  I was one of the last people to arrive.

Although it caused some anguish to watch my workday frittered away, traffic court was better than Judge Judy as far as being interesting.  There were some downright funny moments, like when a fat man fell asleep and started snoring in the back row.  He sounded like a chainsaw and everybody got a kick out of it.  Everybody except the judge.

I’m not sure I fully appreciated the immigration problem until I watched dozens of illegal immigrants being bum-rushed through the legal system.  The judge was barely started when an interpreter marched in and the judge switched from calling people in order of their check-in to calling all of the people who needed an interpreter.  Never mind how inconvenient that might be for English-speaking people with jobs to get to—like me.  They apparently wanted to avoid inconveniencing the interpreter.

So we all had to wait while the illegals’ cases were handled.  All of them.

Here’s an idea: call the interpreter in at the end, not the beginning.  That won’t cost her any more time than being called in at the beginning and the rest of us won’t have to wait while non-citizens go ahead of citizens.  Duh.

One “interpreted” case had everybody in the room laughing.  “Alfredo Hugo Hector Gonzalez,” the judge called out at one point, whereupon a man walked to the podium to have his case adjudicated.  Everything that follows has the added confusion of going back and forth through the interpreter.

“Are you Alfredo Hugo Hector Gonzalez?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Mr. Gonzalez, you’re charged with…”



“My name is Hugo.”

“You want to be called ‘Hugo,’ Mr. Gonzalez?”

“No, it should be ‘Mr. Hugo,’ not ‘Mr. Gonzalez.’”

“So ‘Hugo’ is your last name, not ‘Gonzalez?’”

“No, ‘Gonzalez’ is my last name, but ‘Hugo’ is my family name.  So I’m ‘Mr. Hugo,’ not ‘Mr. Gonzalez.’”

By that time the judge and the interpreter were both confused.  They finally sorted out the four names of Mr. Hugo, who was charged with driving without a license, without a registration, and without insurance—all in addition to the underlying infraction for which he was stopped by the police in the first place.  That was pretty much the situation for all the illegals in the room.  The judge fined him $70 and told him to get a license.  That was the judge’s decision for almost every illegal in the room, no matter what they did or how illegally they were driving on the roads, and regardless of whether they were properly in the United States.

Mind you, I was sitting there looking at a $490 fine for not using a blinker even though I’m a legal citizen who was driving with a license and a registration and the legally-required insurance.  What’s more, I knew damn well that the points I was getting would make my insurance bill skyrocket.

I finally turned to the guy next to me again and said, “Why didn’t you and I think of this?  Just tell the cops we don’t have a license and pay a $70 fine.  Why buy a license and registration and pay for insurance and worry about points?”

“You’re right, we’re suckers,” he replied.

That pretty much says it all.

As for me, when my turn came I said two words: “Not guilty.”  During the occasional cases which involved actual American citizens with driver’s licenses, the judge made it very clear that he was willing to reduce the points on their tickets or the dollar amount of the fines, but not both.  Since I wanted both reduced, I decided to plead not guilty and talk things over with somebody from the DA’s office.

Besides, after watching all the illegal immigrants get off with $70 fines, I was pretty much fuming and didn’t trust myself in a discussion with the judge.  My mouth has been known to write checks my wallet can’t cash when I’m angry.

It turned out okay.  A nice attorney from the DA’s office saw my unreadable ticket and realized the horrible penmanship was problematic.  She asked me if I would accept a 1-point infraction and an $82 fine, which was 9 points and $408 less than where I started.  I took the deal, biting back the remarks I wanted to make about how that was twelve dollars more than an illegal gets for committing an infraction while driving around without license, registration, and insurance.

I saved myself four hundred dollars but I still feel like a sucker.  We all should.

From Reno, Nevada, USA
February 16, 2010 - "Lucky to be alive"..What?!!!! I wasn't going to respond to this person who wrote this to you but is he serious? I mean really. Lucky to be alive cause why? Did you stick your finger in an electrical outlet? Did you bungie jump without a bungie cord? Does this person mean that because you were pulled over by officers of the law that had dogs you are lucky they didn't send their dogs after you? What? What? What could you possibly be lucky for? Since when does getting pulled over for a traffic infraction become cause for concern over our life? Does this person mean that our court system is so corrupt that anyone entering it can thank their lucky stars that the bailiff doesn't shoot you on site? What could this person have been referring to? I want to know! Oh, he must have been referring to the prosecutor because we all know what a reputation they have for killing people who have the audacity to challenge a overzealous officer of the law in court! - LiAnne, Connecticut

February 8, 2010 - Hi, Just read your letter to my mother and she loved it. She thinks you should send a letter to the RGJ [Reno Gazette-Journal] editor and let everyone know of your experience. She also thinks you should sell this story. She says Readers Digest buys stories and other magazines too. I have no knowledge of this and don't know where she gets her information, but you might want to check into it. I just ordered that book we discussed about Larry McNabney. I will give it to [you] as soon as it arrives. Thanks again for the enlightening article. You are a very talented writer. - Deidra, Reno
J.P. replies: What are you saying? That I can make money at this?

February 8, 2010 - Somehow I found your story funny and infuriating at the same time. Plus, it didn't include any of your usual conservative drivel. Nice work. - Jay, Michigan

February 8, 2010 - Seriously, the way the illegals were handled is enraging. They should be sent home if they're driving on our roads without a license. - Nice Deb, Minnesota

February 8, 2010 - Next time, use your blinker! - Nice Deb, Minnesota

February 8, 2010 - No wonder you're divorced. And you are lucky you are alive also. As a one time reporter who has worked with cops; and as a one time stupid driver who has been stopped many times by cops, I could criticize your conduct point by point. But you are very lucky to have 1) A court you could actually go to and 2) an unreadable ticket by any standard. You are now also lucky that the human copies don't do a drive by and blow your house up. Or at least your stupid fascist rightwing attitude toward the hispanics deserve canine unit investigating your front door and checking out your lawn. By the way, if you check out a police manual, or talk to someone who teaches cops, those jokes of yours could have allowed that cop could call out backup, have you stand by the side of the road, and strip your car to the paint. All allowable thanks to your conservative judges...ha ha ha. - Godofredus, Chicago

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