It’s true. I got a speeding ticket. Back in November. Surprise. Hopefully, you are not my parents. But if you are, not to fear. I have been to court and paid the fine, and even had the charge reduced due to my charming remarks to the judge – but probably more so because I have a decent driving record.
I was pulled on November 11th, coming home from richmond at 1:30 in the morning. It was a good thing I actually wasn’t speeding according to my definition of the word. I was slowing down for the little white signs (you know, where the cops hang out and have picnics) and then speeding back up to a comfortable speed in between. Not the worst of speeds. Of course, also not the best. Well, I must have been clocked by a sneaky little copper sitting behind an on-ramp, because I didn’t see or pass any police the whole time. When I saw the headlights pulling up to me, I assumed it was someone going to pass me, like usual. But then the headlights slowed. And I decided to slow. And he slowed. And I slowed some more. And then the white lights went to blue. And I was screwed.
He was actually a really decent guy. Trooper TS Mills was his name. He asked me how long it had been since I drank alcohol and all of those ridiculous questions. I remember it was cold. I took off my seatbelt by mistake right before I had pulled over so I could get my registration out of the glove box. He noticed this absence of a buckled seatbelt. That could have gone very wrong, but he gave me the benefit of the doubt when I told him I had taken it off 30 seconds ago. He ran my info. I text messaged. He came back. He explained that I was clocked at 85, which is reckless, but that when he was tailing me, I was only going 80, which is borderline reckless, but technically not reckless, but still something to be concerned about. He said if I appeared in court, the judge would likely lessen the sentence.
Which is exactly what happened.
County court was very entertaining. What was not so entertaining was that it took the judge four hours to get to my case. Officer Mills was the very last of all of the trooper brigade to be called forward. Just my luck. I had to miss a class. But in the meanwhile, I watched case after case of interesting people defending themselves in all sorts of different styles. Some people, its amazing, they really think they can play dumb and act like they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong, and then hope they get away with it, or get a reduced charge. Heh. Nope. And all of the cases are very personal. It’s an intimate environment. About 100 people sitting in chairs underneath this oval ceiling, with the judge and the clerk stooges with radios on their shirts standing up front. Everybody listens to the exposing details of everyone’s case. Some people laugh. Some people cry. But everyone listens, because, yes, we are voyeuristic Americans, and we thrive off of other people’s pain. That’s the exact reason why the news can be as depressing as it is but still sell so well.
We had a woman who used to be an alcoholic and drug addict come to the judge with a court appointed lawyer, pleading for mercy after her last drug possession. She seemed, from appearance, to be an upstanding member of society. I wouldnt have pegged her as a drug dealer. But, apparently, she used to be. And she had this great, sympathetic, heartwarming testimony all planned out, with her lawyer asking her questions and making her seem like she really had turned over a fat juicy new leaf. And maybe she had. But the judge didn’t buy it. To top it off, she was getting married in three weeks, and then was moving to california with her husband. Too bad! She got 30 days jail time. And she kinda just burst into tears on the witness stand. It wasn’t pretty. Then she had to walk through all of us to the back of the courtroom. It was a big scene. No fun at all.
We had some inmates who could barely speak english, and whose pants kept falling down. We had some dufus who had no idea how to pay bills. We had some greek guy who claimed that the night he got pulled for 85 in a 65 was actually the worst night of his life and he couldnt think straight. But he wouldn’t reveal the details of what had made his day so bad. We had a lady who said she was late to Massanutten for skiing, and that’s why she was going 95 in a 65. She also didn’t want a lawyer to defend her. We had another lady who left her three year old clammering in the seats in the back of the court, ALONE, while she went up to the stand. The judge then suggested that she might not want to do that, as three years olds are unpredictable and very temperamental, and offered the woman the right to bring her daughter up to the stand as well. We had a guy who received his first ticket this year when he started driving in 1976. The judge just let him off scott free. We had a guy who had 39 demerit points on his record since 2005, which is something like 18 driving convictions, 11 in 2006. The judge said that was close to the record. He definitely went to jail.
Then there was me. I walked up to the stand, introduced myself, swore in, and then pleaded guilty to the charge of 80 in a 65. The judge asked me for my record. I pointed to the sheet, that I had only had one charge before in my record, and there were 5 clean years of driving before that. He nodded in half-approval. He then asked if I would like to say anything about my case. I said “yes, but not in defense of it. Only as explanation.” He said “well, its your case, you can say anything you want to.” And I said “Okay. Well, I was coming back from richmond to charlottesville, where I am in school. I really don’t have a reason as to why I was going 15 over. I was in a really great mood, I recall. And typically, I consider myself to be a very aware driver. I always try to be mindful of traffic and speed limits and the like. But I think, your honor, what we have here was just a case of losing my attention on my speed, since it was 1:30 and there were no cars on the road. I think it was just one of those times where you’re foot is on the gas pedal a little too much and you don’t notice. Yeah. The foot on the gas pedal problem.”
I didn’t necessarily mean it to be funny, but the courtroom let out this easy little chuckle, and I turned around, and people were laughing. I mean, I know that I said “foot on the gas pedal problem,” and I guess that sounds sort of redundant, but it also is a real thing. Sometimes you just dont notice when you are speeding up.
The judge looked at me and said: “Mr. Jones, I think you said it about as well as anyone could. The foot on the gas pedal problem. My my. If I were to write a book… I’m not, of course, but if I were, I would make sure to include you and your phrase in it. Thank you for your time. 78 in a 65.”
So I only saved twenty five dollars off my ticket. So I still have the conviction on my record. So it was a general waste of four hours, all for 90 seconds of glory. So what. It was still worth it. It was all worth it. I can see it now:
“From The Defendant’s Chair: Memoirs of the Dumbest People I Have Ever Met In Court” by Hon. Paul M. Peatross Jr.