I've just returned from the first installment of a local District Court's Citizen's Academy. As far as we're concerned (that is, simple speeding cases), this is what I learned:
The courts view speeding cases as a necessary evil. To them, these cases are chicken feed next to the domestic violence, assault and battery or petty larceny cases they hear day in and day out. BUT: the fines generated by these speeding cases pay part of the bill of dispensing 'real justice' and getting the really dangerous criminals off the street. Secondly, while this system of speed traps may seem unfair or hypocritical to otherwise law-abiding citizens, it gives the police an excuse to run warrant-checks on the people they stop. And if that gets just one dangerous criminal out on a parole violation off the streets, to them this system is well worth it. (But of course we all know the judges, magistrates and police officers don't get any speeding tickets themselves.)The judges and the Massachusetts clerk-magistrates believe in this system - otherwise they would quit. So when you do go to court, try to make them see you understand their problems. Yes, they are busy and overworked and a speeding ticket is a nothing case, but you know you are entitled to a fair hearing. Not because you'd want to waste their time, but because you believe in the same system they do. Be firm, be concise, be polite, but don't let them take your money and push you out the other door. You are entitled to a due process of the law! Tne final note: Unlike any other charge, in Massachusetts a speeding ticket or a similar civil infraction is a prima facie evidence against you. What that means is YOU ARE PRESUMED TO BE GUILTY. Therefore, unlike the other legal matters before that judge that day, it is not enough for you to introduce doubt into the case. You must know everything at all times. You must know positively you were not speeding. You must know who was where and who said what when you got stopped. And if you ever answer 'I don't know' in that courtroom, you may have just failed to overturn that evidence against you.
Next week, the second installment of this unfolding series.
Your good Samaritan
Probate Court (April 29, 1998)
Supreme Court (May 6, 1998)
Juvenile Court (May 14, 1998)
The Police Station (May 20, 1998)
Probation (May 27, 1998)
The Jail (June 3, 1998)
Mock Trial/Graduation (June 11, 1998)
Massachusetts News, January 1998
Massachusetts News, March 1998
Massachusetts Speed Trap Registry--entries before June 1997.
Massachusetts Speed Trap Registry--entries after June 1997.
GENERAL LAWS OF MASSACHUSETTS:
Ch. 90 §17: Speeding