Friday, August 13, 2010

L "The Ticket" Part II


I've read the various laws that supposedly outlaw the loading of flags however I've failed to stumble upon any rhetoric that, in my opinion, indicates that this practice is absolutely prohibited. Naturally, any law enforcement or administrative body is going to take a broad brush when it comes to the enforcement of such legislation and it doesn't take much speculation to conclude that the motives for these sorts of tactics in all likelihood boil down to money. All avenues of government are hard up for cash these days and it should be assumed that steps will be taken in attempts to remedy this problem. This spells trouble.

Although I have always had an interest in the law, I'm not a lawyer. Not even close. I'm just a cab driver who likes to read. Despite my lack of formal training, I feel that the language within the laws are simple enough and quite clear. For the life of me I can't find anything that specifically and unequivocally prohibits me from loading a nice older couple that's needing a cab to go to Bally's, and not needing to walk a number of blocks and be harassed by a inhospitable doormen to get one. You be the Judge.

Las Vegas Ordinance(LVO) 11.60.040 - Taxi stopping, standing or parking.

The operator of a taxicab shall not stand or park such vehicle upon any street at any place other than in a taxicab stand so designated as provided herein. This provision shall not prevent the operator of a taxicab from temporarily stopping in accordance with other stopping or parking regulations at any place for the purpose of and while actually engaged in the expeditious loading or unloading of passengers.

(Ord. 1589 § 11 (part), 1972: prior code § 10-18-8(D))

I had feeling that the officer was going to invoke this ordinance. It has become apparent, in polling drivers that have been cited for this, that the Las Vegas Metro Police will generally cite this ordinance, or one of it's relatives in the 11.60 subsection, when issuing a ticket for this infraction. I presume this is so because this is a city ordinance and they are the city police. As it were, the Nevada TaxiCab Authority will call up an entirely different law when issuing a citation for the exact same offense. They cite a Nevada State statute(NRS) which coincides with their standing as a state agency and offers a completely different rendering of language and as a result, an entirely different meaning. The fact that I knew what law I presumably violated, and the officer at the scene didn't, should have clued me in as to the level of muck that I was about to enter.

The first thing one must come to terms with is the fact that pleading not guilty to a traffic ticket will not be easy. It will be straight forward but it will be time consuming. It will be boring and at times it will be misleading. Their job is to do whatever they can to make the process of fighting tickets as undesirable as they legally can. Your job is to follow that process, call them on their bullshit and hope you get a fair Judge to listen to your version of the events when your day in court arrives. Perhaps the most essential part of due process is the idea that you will have be given a chance to be heard. If you are patient and you follow the procedure, you will have your day in court. And if you're lucky, the city won't feel like paying the officer an hour of overtime to appear in an attempt to substantiate a charge that didn't have any merit in the first place.

It was my day off and two days before my appear date on the citation when I first responded to the charge. The Regional Justice Center, the new courthouse downtown on 3rd & Lewis is a very nice and modern facility, housing both Justice and Municipal courtrooms. I hated the old place. After entering and dealing with the airport style security checkpoint, I put my belt and shoes back on and walked down the hall to the Traffic Citations office and waited in a short line to obtain a number. A few minutes later I handed the nice lady my ticket and she looked at it and handed it back to me along with a small white piece of paper. G872. I glanced at the monitor, G801. Walking into the large room that could double as a DMV location, I was pleased that my usual seat in the back was still available. Naysayers will argue that this is a complete waste of time but frankly, I just enjoy the opportunity to read. It's getting harder and harder to find time to read these days. This mini-prison. This DMV, is as good a place as any. It is a prison though, if you think about it. Once you are in, you cannot get out until your number is called. God forbid you not hear your number or even worse not be there when they call it. You know the second you leave to smoke or take a piss there is going to be a mass surge of numbers being called. Tellers that have been on break or on sabbatical in Europe for months will magically appear out of no where and all of the windows will open for business the second you exit and they race through all the numbers and you won't be there when yours is called. This is your nightmare. So you don't even chance it and keep your ass in your seat, you pissed on the way in anyway. Oh you're stuck alright, make no mistake about it. And when, of course, the extra tellers on sabbatical don't magically appear and a full 90 minutes later you finally hear your number, you will make your way to a barricaded concrete wall whose peak through bullet proof glass is your only link to freedom. Your only connection to the outside world, in this case the tellers, is the thick glass and the little speaker devise that works for shit. Just like in real jail. Sometimes I pretend like I really am a prisoner and the teller is actually my cousin who's here for a visitation so we can talk business in code. I walk up to the window and say something like "You'd better have good news for me Javier, I‘ve about had it with you" and then they'll say, "I'm sorry sir, I didn't hear you." If you wish to fight your little ticket you’ll have to go to prison first. You be sentenced to 90 minutes, give or take, and you won‘t be able to proceed until your sentence has been served in full. When I'm in prison, I like to read.

90 minutes and 50 some pages later the female computer voice said my number over the loudspeaker and I quickly made my way to teller station 26.

"I wish to enter a plea," I said and slid the ticket and my ID into the slot that guides it under the 2 inch thick glass.

"Ok are you pleading guilty or not guilty?"

"Not guilty."


"I'm sorry ma'am I can't hear you."

"If you plead guilty you will have to come back to court at a later date and appear with the officer who cited you."

"I'm aware of that."

"The fine as it is now is $190, if you wish to plead guilty we can drop it to $120 if you want to take care of this today. This way you won't have to come back?"

"Ma'am I wish to plead not guilty."

"Ok it's 2 o'clock right now so I'll put you in for the 3:30 preliminary session across the hall in Courtroom C," and she slid my items back to me alongside a new piece of paper.

"Very well thank you ma'am."

Phase 1 complete. I was released from prison and walked across the hall to Courtroom C. Posted in large lettering on the doors entering the courtroom are a significant number of protocols that one must adhere to when occupying the courtroom including dress codes, standards of conduct and the like. A complete lack of vacancy of seating outside the courtroom forced me to lean against a pillar before I opened my book again.

35 pages later, a large and tough looking black women, presumably the bailiff, walked out of the courtroom and barked that anyone wishing to be a part of the 3:30 session should line up and file into the courtroom in an orderly manner. Jeez what ever happened to innocent until proven guilty? First the prison-DMV and now this? The only thing missing as we slowly processed into the courtroom were shackles and a hymn.

Courtroom C is a large courtroom with many large benches but it was barely big enough to give everyone a seat. There must have been 100 people in there by the time the bailiff closed the doors and walked up to the front of the room. It wasn't hard for her to get everyone's attention, she already had it.

"I'm only going to say this one time, turn your cell-phones off! If I hear a cell phone you will be held in contempt of court and may be arrested. You are here today to enter your plea and there are 3 pleas that you can enter. Number one, guilty, which means that you admit to the charge, it means that you did it. Number two, not guilty, which means that you did not do it and number three, no contest, which means that you are not admitting guilt but you are not denying the charge or fighting the charge. Basically you did it, but you have an excuse. I'm going to be asking in a minute which of those you want to do so think about it. Also, if you plead guilty or no contest we can probably get you out of here today in a short amount of time. The Judge will hear you today if you choose and you can pay your fine today if you choose. If you want to plead not guilty then you will be given a trial date, approximately six months from now, where you can state your case to the Judge and at which the officer who wrote you the ticket will attend as well. Does everybody understand these three options?

Nobody said a word.

"Alright then, would everyone who wishes to plead not guilty please raise their hands?"

Myself and two others were the only three in the room that did.

"Alright, would you three gentlemen go the back of the room to that area there and somebody will be over to talk to you in a minute."

The three of us followed the directive and in short time the Assistant District Attorney, a young man, mid 20's, dressed in a cheap black suit came over, took our information and then one by one lead us to into a separate conference room. I was the last of us to get my time in the solitary room. Each of the two before me came back into the courtroom and sat down afterwords. Then it was my turn and the ADA came and brought me into the room and told me to sit down. After he looked at my papers briefly he said, "you're being charged for violating 11.60.040 Taxi stopping, standing and parking. You are a cab driver?"

"That's correct," I replied.

"And you wish to plead not guilty?"

"That's correct."

"This seems pretty simple, it says here that you loaded on Casino Center, outside of a cab stand. You're saying that didn't happen?"

"No sir."

"Well you know it's illegal for cab drivers to load on the street right?"

"I disagree."

"You disagree?"

"I'm not guilty sir and I'm not interested in pleading out, so unless you want to dismiss the charge; if you could just set me up with a court date then we can both go about our business and I would appreciate it."

"You realize that the officer that wrote you this ticket will be there at the hearing don't you?"

"I have been so advised."

"And you are aware that the maximum penalty for this infraction is a $1000 and it’s within the Judge's discretion to fine you that much if he finds you guilty?"

"A thousand dollars?"

"That's correct," he said seemingly relieved, "if you plead guilty I can knock it down to $190 and we can get you out of here today."

Always this notion that you won't have to come back. That's the whole model ladies and gentlemen. We know half of these allegations are horse manure and don't stand a chance in hell in court if anybody competent is on the other side. We also know, as any lawyer will tell you, that cops lie on tickets and reports. This is a known thing. So they'll bore down the entire process and do whatever they can to make it as miserable as possible, so much so that no sane person is going to want to deal with it. And they'll even give you a "discount" if you choose to avoid it altogether. It reeks of desperation.

"That's interesting," I said, "I looked at the fee schedule for this infraction before I came here and it says that the maximum penalty for this violation for a first offense is $190 and $250 for the second offense and I didn't see anything anywhere that indicated the potential for the exorbitant amount that you're describing. I would ask you to show that to me but I already got a better deal across the hall anyway. Certainly you're not trying to misinform me in an attempt to get me to change my plea are you sir?"

"I'll be back."

The man stood up, left the room and a few minutes later he came back and handed me another sheet of paper. I was permitted to leave the solitary chamber and told to wait at the teller window outside for further directive.

I didn't have enough time to get my book out again as this line was very short and only took a few minutes. I slid my papers under the 2 inch thick, bullet proof glass and a few minutes later the distant voice through the speaker-box informed me of my court date. I took out my phone and entered the date into the calendar, excited to have the better part of 5 months to conjure my defense.

To be continued...PART III


Anonymous said...

The system is designed to extract the maximum amount of money for the municipality for the least amount of their time. The moment you start excercising your rights and taking up ADA and clerk time, their profit is eroded. RIGHT ON. I got a big speeding ticket last year and did the same as you. Finally the ADA offered me a small fee and no points but only after I made it clear that I was willing to put time into my defense and I guess they figured I was capable of taking this much further. You have different aims, much more noble. Good for you. -Chad

Stuv said...

Great story. Can't wait for the next part.

Neba Nebet said...

Ooh, this gets more and more interesting as it goes. Looking forward to reading more!

How many parts is the story, by the way? Do you know yet?

Anonymous said...

Great, great storytelling - love the part of shackles and a hymn!!!! lmao

M Kathy Brown said...

Hi! Heard about your blog from Kristin Mastre. I think it's rather interesting that you are able to take what is actually a very simple incident and extend it into what appears to be 3 or even 4 would-be chapters of a good novel. Slightly reminiscent of the early years of best-selling author, Michael Connelly. Are you familiar with his books?

Anonymous said...

Most of the cab drivers in Vegas are drones. Serving the master, and participating in the scam. A few have a brain, and rage at the machine. Most of those are gone. Some dead, some blackballed. All drivers are pissed, but won't as a group stand up. I applaud your stand over an absurd law, meant to serve the industry. Even if they dismiss the ticket, you still are in a losing profession. Not knocking what you do, knocking the industry.
I definitely like the fact that you are shining a light on the industry, laws, and inequities. Plus entertaining us along the way. You write in a way that engages us, educates us, and delights us. You are in a way, a bright light on the underbelly of America's Sin City. A view from street level. I thank you for taking us along for the "ride".

MrFunkMD said...

"How many parts is the story, by the way? Do you know yet?"

I'll never tell

Anonymous said...

This is getting interesting...

Can't wait for the next part!

May said...

The issue is not really much to be debated. It's our own safety also and speed limits are very important in the road. Well, not everyone would appreciate that especially those who has not yet experiencing accidents due to this. But as I say and based on my experience it's really great and safety to all of us to follow traffic and warning signs.