This weekly post features recent news stories that highlight and update themes previously covered throughout NMA E-Newsletters and Alerts.
Editor’s Note: Patricia Parker’s six-year ordeal is emblematic of everything that is wrong with the traffic justice system, especially as practiced in many small towns across America: a bogus traffic stop followed by unwarranted citations and sky-high fines, kangaroo court proceedings, wrongful imprisonment for nonpayment, and a lengthy legal battle that finally did yield some actual justice. Read the whole saga here. Unfortunately, Parker’s case is not uncommon, and drivers often find themselves dragged down the rabbit hole when they engage the traffic justice system. Here’s another example we highlighted in 2010.
NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #97: Justice and Hypocrisy
A common reason cited by recipients of traffic tickets for automatically pleading “guilty” and paying the fine without protest is, “If I got a ticket, I must have deserved it and I’m only doing my civic duty by accepting the consequences.” Little do they know that the traffic justice system is, in many ways, skewed against those who are ticketed. And the only way to balance the process out is to have more people stand up for their rights in court.
“Skewed” we say? There are countless speed zones where the posted limit is set substantially below the speed of normal traffic flow. Tickets are handed out in abundance at these speed traps. Illegally short yellow light intervals at signaled intersections with red-light cameras are commonplace and drive up violation rates under the false pretense of “safety.” There are many more examples of such practices, but a recent story out of Beech Grove, Indiana highlights the true nature of many traffic courts — to generate revenue by treating defendants like ATM machines for the municipality.
Beech Grove, with an approximate population of 15,000, opened a city traffic court two years ago. City officials contracted the part-time services of Charles Hunter, an 87-year-old retired judge, to oversee the traffic court proceedings once a month. At the time, the city treasurer verbalized his hope that the court would be a revenue source for the city. Charity Bryan didn’t realize how true that statement was until she appeared before Judge Hunter.
The wheelchair-bound Bryan received a ticket for parking in a handicapped spot at the local Wal-Mart. While in the store, Ms. Bryan’s handicapped placard had fallen from her rearview mirror to a visible spot on top of her dashboard. She figured that it would be fairly easy to have the ticket dismissed by explaining what happened and by showing the court her valid handicapped notice. Not so. Judge Hunter had no sympathy and hit Bryan with a $125 guilty verdict.
This wouldn’t be a noteworthy story except that Hunter also used a wheelchair to get around. When reporters pointed out the irony of the situation, the judge couldn’t recall the details of the Bryan case, but in agreeing to hear an appeal, he said, “If they were disabled and they had a placard, I wouldn’t find them guilty, no.” One week later, after hearing Bryan present the circumstances again, Hunter took less than two minutes to dismiss her argument and uphold his original guilty verdict.
Reporters waited outside the courthouse to ask the judge a few more questions about the Bryan verdict and noticed a car parked in a handicapped spot without a displayed handicapped placard or even a handicapped license plate. You know where this is headed. As the judge’s son helped him into the illegally parked car, the reporters pointed out to Hunter the hypocrisy of finding Charity Bryan guilty while flouting the law himself. “I just neglected to put [the placard] up there,” said Hunter’s son.
Judge Hunter was reminded that he had just reaffirmed Charity Bryan’s guilty verdict for the same issue. His reaction? “I didn’t get a ticket, did I?”