Let me share a experience that might give some of you an idea of Traffic citations court in America. I went to court to plead my case of invalid driver’s license. The basic reason I could not renew license was because I was waiting for my H1B extension. For more info read the article : Why NOT to drive with Expired driving license, H1B visa extension issues.
On the day of Court date for hearing – Procedures, Time, Dress.
First thing that comes to mind is how to dress for court ? I did some homework and figured out you should dress appropriately to court. Not everyone get dressed, but it is kind of the procedure. I ended up wearing business casual dress. I did not dress with suit or anything, but just formal dress. To my surprise, there were people dressed professionally in court. All the lawyers were dressed in Suits. There were lot of people who were not dressed appropriately. But, those people were either poor or just from a ghetto….The point is, dress well. Be professional. My case hearing was at 10:30 AM. I was asked to be there around 9 AM. I got there at 9 AM. Guess what, you have to go through a security checking just like in Airport. The only difference was you do not need to take your shoes for checking…so there was huge line at 9 AM and it took 15 min to get out of the security line. It is good to go early to court like an hour before your time, you get the idea of the process and figure out rooms etc. I asked the lady and she said to wait outside or get in court room. I just went into the court room to get a feel of what was going on. The process is, before judge arrives, you should check in your case with the clerk next to Judge, just to indicate that you are present. They just verify that you are the right person and check your papers quick. If you have a lawyer, he does everything for you. He is representing you. You just go to him when he calls you. In fact, my observation was lawyers get priority over general public when calling cases…
Court room experience – Traffic citations Court :
The court room was not as fancy as you see in the movies… I was a little disappointed…well, what can you do ? Anyways, the court room that I was assigned was specifically meant for all kinds of traffic citations. There were people from Speeding tickets, Suspended licensee, DUI (Driving under influence) tickets, Accidents, etc…all kinds of crazy people. The court room was packed with all kinds of people….honestly, it was a little extreme ambience with some crazy and weird people around you…The cop comes around and says that you should not read anything, turn of cell phones, no crossword puzzles, no talking, etc once the judge arrives. Once the judge arrives, everyone stands and then sits with him. Just respect. Once it is done, the judge calls cases and you go to the desk and plead.
Here is a typical conversation for most of the tickets except DUI and accidents.
Judge : Judge Calls your name. We see clerks call the name in movies, in reality at least in my experience, the Judge called the name.. You go to the desk. You are the defendant.
Judge : Asks, “ How do you plead sir ?”. “Guilty or NOT guilty”
Defendant : “Guilty”, if you say guilty, Judge just says, pay your fine and points to clerk that’s it. If you say, “ NOT guilty”, then you show the proof and tell why not guilty. In fact, I did not see anyone say NOT guilty. Everyone pleaded guilty and paid fine.
My Case : My case was very simple, I was called. The judge asked me just one question, “Do you have a valid driver’s license ?” . I just showed my renewed driver’s license. The judge said, “Your Case is dismissed”. I asked the clerk, “do I have to anything else ?”. She said, “Nothing”. That’s it. I drove back home.
You might wonder, that’s it. Nothing else was asked…The reality is, there are so many complicated cases they have to deal with in the court like DUI and accidents. They do not give much priority to the cases like mine where license was invalid because I did not renew on time or if I was speeding under 21 MPH.
My Observations & Lessons Learnt in Traffic Citations Court room :
I was in Court room from 9 AM to 12:15 PM. I was there was good 3 hrs of time. I saw all the process and all the cases. It was very interesting to see live court in action. Let me tell you, it is not like in Movies. I felt it was informal. I really felt bad for Judge doing all the calling. I expected the clerks to call the names…Judge does a lot of stuff like calling names, telling all the rules, etc. You cannot really talk in Court or read anything in court. Just listen to the trial or look at people.
I was shocked to see the complexity in cases of DUI and accidents tickets. They call up the Cop (who gave the ticket) and you. The trail is between cop, who is plaintiff and is represented by state lawyer and you, who is the defendant and is typically represented by a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, Judge will appoint a public lawyer for you for free to deal with your case. Anyways, the fact is, it gets real complicated if you got a ticket for DUI. You really do not want to be driving, if you had consumed alcohol. It is not worth the pain, tension, time and money you spend to get your case resolved. My best advice to you all is, DO NOT DRIVE under influence of Alcohol.