I did the crime, but can't pay the fine.
July 13, 2011 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I got caught on the SkyTrain (Vancouver) without a valid fare. Enter the $173 fine, which I can't really afford. I would love to hear about your experiences either disputing or flat out not paying a SkyTrain fine.

First off, I'm stone-cold guilty. Had just bought a pack of tickets that morning but forgot to validate on that trip, and the cops were waiting at the bottom of the escalator.

The cop who wrote my ticket was very friendly and we chatted for a bit and I was totally honest with him. I thought I might get away with a warning, but no dice. He did, however, explicitly encourage me to dispute the fine.

So, my options are:

1) Pay the fine. Not really an option, I'm unemployed and rent is going to be close this month.
2) Go to court and dispute. This seems like it makes the most sense, since I don't really have anything to loose, even if I don't have a good excuse to tell the judge.
3) Ignore it. I've always heard rumours that there's no real reason to pay SkyTrain tickets, but the cop told me if you don't pay you have to deal with it when you renew your license. This is appealing to me in a "why deal with it now when you can put it off for 3 years" kind of way. Also I hope the money would be less of a big deal to me at that point.

So, my questions to you, friendly fare-avoiding MeFites:

- Have you ever tried disputing a SkyTrain fine with no excuse better than "I forgot"? How did that turn out for you?

- Have you ever straight-up not paid the fine? Were there any long-term consequences that you regret?

If you're in here to say something like "you broke the law, just pay the fine", well, it's cool that you feel that way, but it's really not at all helpful to my situation and in no way answers my questions. But thanks for looking out for me!

Thanks in advance!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Go to the judge and tell him that you don't have the money. He will probably give you extra time to pay.
posted by goethean at 11:23 AM on July 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'd try going into court with your pack of just-purchased tickets & receipt or other proof of purchase showing the date and pleading "I wasn't trying to evade paying the fare, here's my paid-for tickets that I just forgot to validate."
posted by jamaro at 11:38 AM on July 13, 2011 [12 favorites]

No idea if it'll help, but if you can prove that you were carrying a pack of blank tickets that you bought that morning, the judge may be more sympathetic.

Also, if you've got a pile of validated tickets kicking around your house, it could be a good idea to bring them in as proof that you do indeed usually validate and pay the fare.

: "If you're in here to say something like "you broke the law, just pay the fine", well, it's cool that you feel that way, but it's really not at all helpful to my situation and in no way answers my questions. But thanks for looking out for me!"

Oh, and unless you describe what "my situation" is, I'm gonna tell you to go to court, or pay the damn fine. Not paying tickets is risky business.
posted by schmod at 11:40 AM on July 13, 2011

Probably makes sense to go to court, show the judge or whoever the tickets, plus an validated tickets you may have laying around, admit your guilt, and see if they will reduce the fine.

Do you have to go to court? Or does Translink have an appeals process?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:45 AM on July 13, 2011

I would not try #3--drive/disk space is very inexpensive and computers have very long memories--no matter where you live/move/avoid. #2 sounds quite appropriate
posted by rmhsinc at 11:56 AM on July 13, 2011

Go to court and tell the honest truth to the judge. Tell him/her everything you've said above, the fact that you are poor, and show remorse. The judge will do one of the following:

* Lower your fine.
* Give you a monthly payment plan at a level that you can afford.
* Possibly both.

In my younger days as a student I had to do this at traffic court. I once got ticketed for rolling through a stop sign ($450). I told the judge what the circumstances were, the fact that I had nothing else on my record, and that I was doing really well in school. She knocked the fine down to $75 and it never showed on my record.
posted by babby╩╝); Drop table users; -- at 12:00 PM on July 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

Can you offer the court public service? You are unemployed, so you have more time than money. Offer it to the judge as an option up front. Even it they can't/wont go for it, it demonstrates your sincerity and you'll be less likely to appear as someone who is just trying to get out of paying the fine.
posted by quarterframer at 12:36 PM on July 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

Oh, and unless you describe what "my situation" is, I'm gonna tell you to go to court, or pay the damn fine. Not paying tickets is risky business.

The OP explained that (s)he couldn't afford the ticket. "I don't have $173" seems like a legitimate reason to be looking for alternatives to paying $173.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:51 PM on July 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

Comprehension fail. Sorry.
posted by schmod at 1:05 PM on July 13, 2011

I'm not sure what the situation with Skytrain tickets is, but ignoring any sort of ticket is usually a bad idea as most of them have penalties if you don't pay and you might end up with an enormous fine if you finally need to pay it off for some reason.

I'd go to court and plead your case the way you have here - I think the fact that the cop told you to dispute the fine is encouraging.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:17 PM on July 13, 2011

This page of info from the Bus Riders Union should be helpful:
posted by metaname at 2:22 PM on July 13, 2011

I'm not sure how these sorts of tickets work, but if the officer adds details about the offense to them, and if you showed the officer your recently-purchased stack of tickets, there might've been a note made to that effect. This could go a long way with a judge or prosecutor. As would receipts if you still have them.

I'm also not sure whether you can request disclosure for municipal fines, but if you can, go to the prosecutor's office well before the court date and request it, since you'll then get access to all the evidence which will be presented against you. You'll then find out if such notes were made, and would be able to use that to your advantage in court. (And, I'm guessing that if you have receipts, you should be giving a copy to the prosecutor at this stage as well.)

In the worst case, I echo the suggestion to plead for community service instead of a fine. Mention your financial situation when doing so. Most judges aren't ogres.

However, be sure to dress the fuck up when you go to court. Even if I were the nicest judge in the world, I'd flail my arms maniacally and try to bean you with my gavel from across the courtroom if you showed up in mustard-stained sweat pants. People actually do this, and I'm pretty sure that unless you're homeless, this never goes over well with a judge. No need for a three-piece suit, though -- a nice shirt and tie will do wonders. Lastly, IANAL, TINLA, and this is based solely on half-baked observations from having watched every courtroom drama known to man, and *cough* from personal experience.
posted by matlock expressway at 3:04 PM on July 13, 2011

In addition to seeing if the judge will be lenient (probably the most likely option), you might want to see ahead of time if prosecutors will make you a deal. In the U.S., I think they would rather let the judge sort out something like this, but you have little to lose by asking.

I would talk to court staff about the possibility of setting up a payment plan.
posted by grouse at 3:24 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a similar ticket in Toronto (although for about $450) and the cop straight up told me to ignore it since I didn't have a car. I dint know if there are extra consequences for waiting though.
posted by boobjob at 5:17 PM on July 13, 2011

I can give a US experience as an example, that may or may not be valid considering you're in Canadia:

Not paying a fine like this in many states will result in the state taking the fine out of any tax return you get. $300 back from the state this year? Yep, Uncle Sam'll take $173 of that, thank you very much.

As I said, this may or may not be valid in Canadia. IANACanadian.
posted by Heretical at 8:13 PM on July 13, 2011

You might contact the court and see if there's some form of diversion plan available.
posted by Happydaz at 9:28 PM on July 13, 2011

No idea if my experience is worth anything, but twenty years ago I forgot my bus pass at home, and did not realise this until the fare inspectors neared my seat. Oops. I was polite, ticketed, broke, told to bring my pass into Office Across Town soon or else $53.75, etc. I was also young, and did not bring my pass anywhere. I never heard another word about it.

A cursory Google says that OC Transpo (Ottawa) has the same rumour about bus fines being tied to driver's licenses. It has certainly not come up when I have dealt with my driver's license.

(Unless you are in your teens like I was at the time, I'm going with (2) as the best option)
posted by kmennie at 8:52 PM on July 15, 2011

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