My day in court


When it comes to the Department of Motor Vehicles, I am scofflaw. For whatever reason, I avoid taking care of really basic car ownership tasks, like registering my car. I am fully cognizant that this serves no purpose except to a) subject me to late fees and b) possible tickets. I have no idea, why, even this late in life, I keep acting out some kind of adolescent rebellion with this large faceless entity, but I do.

I have been driving without proper tags on my car for, oh, 18 months. My registration was actually paid for, but I never got the car smogged, hence no tags. And while a year and a half may seem like a long time, my record for driving without proper tags is three years. Eventually, yes, I get a ticket and I need to take care of it. It’s as if I wait for a nice officer to remind me, until I finally take care of my registration. Since I inevitably get it taken care of, I only have to pay $10 fix it ticket, so I guess I don’t consider the consequences to be too dire.

This time, however, I procrastinated with the repairs needed for my car to pass smog, and I missed my court date. Yikes! So, yesterday, rather than just going up to the counter at the courthouse and showing them my proof of correction, I had to appear before the judge.

Unlike previous trips to the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, there was no line going out the door in the morning. Though, much to my chagrin, they had closed half of the service windows, so the line inside went twice as slow as usual. Plenty of time for people watching. I don’t know the exact demographic breakdown of the area that is served by the Oakland court house, but I’m pretty sure there that white folks make up more than 5% of the population. However, the crowd standing in line to take care of everything including minor DMV violations, traffic violations, and other infractions is overwhelmingly people of color. I am not a sociologist, but it is interesting batting around theories:

  • White folks just pay their fines by mail, and are either not eligible for or not interested in Traffic School
  • People of color get more tickets because:
    • racial profiling
    • they commit more infractions

It may be a combination of all of the above. I don’t know. But, the racial distribution did seem out of whack in what should be a fairly representative sample of the general local population. I mean, everyone gets a ticket now and again. Right? Once you take race/ethnicity out of the equation, socio-economically, it seemed the crowd was fairly diverse with a mix of professionals, working class, students and others who seemed to know the courthouse just a little too well.

I was in the first group called up to see the judge. Included in my group were a couple of folks driving without insurance (don’t do that – even if you fix it, the judge shows no mercy in terms of fines), and another person or two pleading not guilty to traffic infractions. One rather lost fellow was there for having an open alcohol container in a public park. Apparently, this was not his first time and he seemed to have lost track of exactly how many tickets he had. The judged slapped him with a $350 fine, which no doubt, this man cannot pay, nor did he seem to inclined to remember to do his community service. After him, a very happy guy with slightly bloodshot eyes came up to the judge. “You’re charged with possession of less than an once of marijuana. How do you plea?” intoned the judge. “Hey, man, what can I say? I’m guilty.” he said with a smile. “That’ll be a $100 fine.” the judge replied. Mr. Open Container was sitting next to me waiting for his papers, “shiiiiiit, he gets $100 for weed, and I get $350 for beer. That ain’t right . . . that ain’t right.” I was going to suggest he perhaps change his choice of recreational substance, but my papers had been processed and I happily walked out to go pay my $10 fine.

So, for now, I’m legal. No longer do I have to drive like a woman on the run from the law with one eye in my rear view mirror at all times. Feels good.

7 responses »

  1. Three years w/o tags??? Really???

    My brother went through a hellraiser stage in his late teens. The drinking age was 18 back then and Minnesota had hard plastic drivers licenses, with raised letters and numbers for your personal data. He was born in November but figured out that if he could pound out one of the 1’s in 11 he could make it look like he was born in January, instead.

    Ten more months of being able to get into bars without hassle! One of those things that seems such a good idea — when you’re 18.

    He had pounded it out and sanded it so it lay flat, and had one more thing he was going to do to make it perfectly smooth, but hadn’t done it yet. He was driving my parents’ car and got pulled over — my Dad had expired tags.

    The cop asked for his driver’s license of course, and my brother gave it to him. It was nighttime so the cop looked at it with a flashlight. As he was handing it back he said, “oh, what’s this?” — the flashlight cast a shadow on the flattened 1.

    It was quite a mess. My brother was steamed at Dad about the expired tags. My Dad was quite a bit more than steamed at my brother about trouble with Johnny Law over destruction of government property or falsification of records or whatever the hell the Minnesota dept. of Transport called it.

    But that’s all long gone now — and we still have a good story out of it. πŸ˜‰

  2. Oh, meant to say, too: Mr. Open Container doesn’t sound like the brightest of bulbs, but if you had told me of 3 fines, $350, $100, and $10 for weed, rgistration, or beer — I wouldna thunk $350 for open container in a park.

    Must be a repeat offense thing?

    Congrats on your newfound legality. I was falsely accused last May (tags were due to expire in “May”, a camera at Broadway & 12th street by BART in Oakland took a shot some photo-jockey cop claimed had them expiring in “Mar” — for $72).

    The ticket for Mrs. Ombud dropping me off at BART in what WAS NOT a red zone? $250.

  3. Yes, really. Three years.

    I attribute my ability to not get stopped to any or all of the following reasons:

    1. I am a most excellent driver.
    2. My cars tend to be unremarkable and in good condition. Nothing to catch their attention.
    3. I am an unremarkable looking middle-aged white woman. Again, nothing to arouse any suspicion (not that NOT being any of the above should necessarily arouse suspicion, but unfortunately, it often does).
    4. One of the things residual effects of being a victim of violent crime when I was younger is that I am hyper-vigilant. Nothing really escapes my view. I startled a therapist years ago when I noted that one of his books was missing off a rather packed bookshelf of his. Being hyper-vigilant, I am usually able to spot an officer in enough time to take evasive action and thus not get stopped for expired tags.

    The fines on minor infractions these days are pretty ridiculous – especially for really petty infractions. As a judge once told us, the cities/counties need money, and this is how they are getting it these days.

  4. I never realized that putting a finger in the cats mouth was an inappropriate boundary, I often try the same technique on my dates and it’s never led to a good humping! πŸ™‚

    LB: So the lesson is don’t go sticking your finger in cats’ or women’s mouths as it doesn’t seem to give you the results you want.

    btw – lolstve’s respose here is a response I made on his blog about a picture of his cat with a human finger in its mouth, and the comment, “I got humped by this cat.”

  5. I’ve gone about that long without tags too, more than once, skulking around the back streets of Berkeley and Oakland. Mine was either because of smog (now I don’t have to worry about it since the car is so old), or not being able to afford insurance.

    Right now Berkeley is on the attack with parking tickets …

  6. I was bad about this, too, as well as inspection stickers (although we don’t have the smog thing here – yet). I remember when I would see a police car two blocks behind me and immediately turn a corner so he wouldn’t get close enough to see my expired tag.

    A couple of things happened, though. One was that we grately streamlined the tag renewal process here so a driver can be in and out in ten minutes. And we did away with the inspection stickers entirely.

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