She Went Along with the Law and She Won
April 19, 2006 9:52 AM   Subscribe

My wife showed up to traffic court to take her lumps, but the clerks were mass-dismissing cases without even letting people in to see the judges. What gives?

My wife parked in a loading zone in downtown Portland, OR a few months ago. A meter maid caught her at it with about 20 minutes to spare on the restriction period (she slipped into the spot, not realizing what it was, about 40 minutes before it was legal to do so).

She found the ticket on her windshield, forgot to pay it before the deadline to have to go to traffic court and so reported to court last night to face the judge and pay the fine.

When she got to court, there was a long line and a pair of clerks were just making photocopies of each ticket, thanking the people for showing up, then telling them their case was dismissed, with no further comment.

No "Are you sorry you did it?" or "are you one of those people who came to fight on the chance the meter maid didn't show up?" or "have you learned a lesson?" They'd just make a photocopy of the ticket and send the alleged perpetrator packing.

We're not complaining, because we're happy to not have to pay the fine or whatever else, but we're sort of puzzled at the process. Can anyone shed any insight? Is it a case of the city just doing things this way to get money out of the people who'll pay and teaching the people who decide to show up to court that parking in the wrong place will cost you at least an hour of your life standing in line to get your ticket dismissed?
posted by mph to Law & Government (12 answers total)
Maybe the judge was sick that night?
posted by mathowie at 9:58 AM on April 19, 2006

Or, the courts were overloaded with more important business.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:03 AM on April 19, 2006

There could be a number of reasons for dismissal, including your last example, but it would be bad form to admonish people before their case was heard. It would be bad form for a clerk to admonish anyone, even after guilt was established. Well, here in Canada, anyhow.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:04 AM on April 19, 2006

I think KirkJobSluder has it.
posted by danb at 10:05 AM on April 19, 2006

Well, there was a judge around, because some people were told "I'll have to send you in to the judge so he can dismiss your case."

I'm willing to buy the "they had bigger fish to fry" argument, but I'm sort of hoping someone from Portland has had a similar or completely dissimilar experience to compare.
posted by mph at 10:21 AM on April 19, 2006

I don't know about parking tickets but I knew some cops in Miami and once talked with them about the whole meme of "challenge the ticket and hope the cop doesn't show up" way of trying to get out of speeding tickets. They said this was rarely successful because they caught hell if they were no-shows very often, were paid for the time (and thus motivated to go) and that significant effort went into scheduling all their appearances in a chunk, minimizing any reason for their not being there.

If the parking ticket system is the same, and I can think of no reason it isn't, what likely happened is the issuing enforcement officer hadn't showed and the clerks knew that anyone there in that chunk of time was there for a citation from that person. If you can't confront your accuser it's immediate dismissal and they don't need to waste time calling names if they already know the result.
posted by phearlez at 10:25 AM on April 19, 2006

I have no idea why that happened, but I hope my luck is the same. I have to go in tonight for a traffic ticket, and I'd be quite pleased to walk in, have it dismissed with no fine, and go about my business.
posted by jzb at 11:21 AM on April 19, 2006

KirKirkJobSluder and mathowie are probably both right: judge was sick and court was overloaded. Half of all traffic hearings probably result in dismissal or reduced fine anyway so the court figured just dismiss them all rather then reschedule.
posted by StarForce5 at 11:33 AM on April 19, 2006

I've been there before when the judge didn't show - another judge was stopping by for paperwork and decided to throw on his robes and reduce everyone's fines to $5 if they admitted to it just to move the masses out the door.

I was the dick that didn't admit to it and had the pictures to prove it. He was annoyed but I was $5 richer than everyone else that night. :)
posted by kcm at 12:19 PM on April 19, 2006

Years ago in a Chicago traffic court, the judge announced he was going on a trip wanted to leave and not to fight him.
After the first guy who started to go off on his rights and the constitution received a $500 fine (cutting him off in mid rant) everyone else who stood and said "i did it and will not do it again" got dismissed.
He had the room cleared in about an hour.
Chicago justice.
posted by blink_left at 12:29 PM on April 19, 2006

I'm with phearlez. Traffic court is a big source of money for localities, and they are run pretty smoothly. Great effort is made to ensure that the officer's time is used efficiently, so all their cases will be heard in big blocks of their time. I've seen substitute judges like kcm mentions swapped in if a judge can't make it. They want their fine and court costs and don't want people slipping through the cracks.

The one time I saw something similar to the question asked was with an officer who didn't show up. Basically the judge asked everyone whose ticket has a certain officer's name on it to line up. Everyone with relatively minor charges had their cases dismissed. The DUIs, wreckless driving and cases with accidents were rescheduled.

So my guess would be that the officer was a no-show.
posted by mragreeable at 1:45 PM on April 19, 2006

Here's a helpful hint, somewhat related to this thread. If you have a ticket that is definitely your fault, but you don't want to pay, there's a desperation maneuver that you can pull quite easily.

If you can speak another language (it helps if you are a visible minority), show up and tell them you don't speak english. By law, they need to get you a translator - but (in Toronto, anyway) translators are often so overworked that no one will show up. Thus, the judge will be forced to dismiss the case. Hooray! The system works.
posted by Drunken_munky at 2:31 PM on April 19, 2006

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