June 20, 2012

Mr. SKIA's Bad Ideas*, Vol. I: Fighting a Red-Light Camera Ticket

* By popular demand -- okay, one person kind of semi-intimated that she'd like me to write about topics that are non-sports related -- and to celebrate the one-year anniversary of this blog, I present to you a real-life story from my real-life life.

For years now, I've been telling anyone who would listen (and believe me, there's not many of those people left) that there was no way I would ever pay any sort of automatically-generated traffic ticket, keeping in line with my distinguished record of self-important, half-assed antiestablishmentism. I would make my usual poorly-formulated arguments based on a vague familiarity with constitutionality -- It's a violation of due process! and the like -- and would contend that I was actually hoping to get one so that I could fight it to the bitter end.

The end comes quickly, as it turns out.

Bitterly too.

A few months ago, Mrs. SKIA (we've been a one-car family for almost two years now) received a violation notice in the mail. I'm sorry, make that a VIOLATION notice, because that's how ominously it was written on the envelope.

According to the VIOLATION notice, there was a video of our often-calamitous rolling-right-turn-on-red transgression available at www.RedLightViolations.com. Shockingly, each time we tried to watch it -- and regardless of the seemingly infinite number of recommended software/codecs I downloaded -- we got an error message and could never see our alleged misfeasance. I, of course, took this to mean that it was entirely unprovable.

Given my oft-stated stance on these things and my continued unwillingness to just throw away a hundred dollars, I decided to fight it. And not via the milquetoasty Contest by Mail option -- I have no faith whatsoever in the power of my words to persuade -- but by choosing to Request a Trial, as I felt like I could be oh-so-compelling in person. Plus I wanted to make it as costly as possible for the dickwads trying to screw me.

And so I researched (about an hour ahead of my scheduled court date, naturally) how to fight these tickets. Unfortunately, everything I found was either A. In regards to California law (and Illinois is still stubbornly refusing to be in California); or B. Said they were basically impossible to beat.

Undeterred, I set out for Mrs. SKIA's 3 p.m. court date -- she has a real job and can't be bothered to pursue such trivialities -- at 2:53. My original plan was to walk, but in a development strangely out of character, I was running late, so I had to drive the 3/4 of a mile down the street to the hard-earned-tax-payer-money-extraction zone, or as it is more commonly known, the courthouse (which is really just a room in the police station.)

As I strode haughtily into the courtroom, Judge William H. Rainonmyparade (note: not his real name) announced, "All of you are here -- well, 99% of you, anyway -- because you didn't come to a complete stop when making a right turn on red," immediately neutering my typically-false cocksurety, which had been entirely predicated upon 'Well I didn't run a red light; I was making a right turn.'

Stripped of my greatest weapon -- and, yes, I'm so misguidedly delusional that I thought I was turning right was an unimpeachable defense -- I glumly listened to people being called to the bench only to have their justifications and entreaties fall on deaf ears.

However, about 10 people in, the summoned guy flashed a badge to the bench. I couldn't hear what he was saying, but Judge Ruth Bader Favoritesplayer responded, "Well how would that go over in Chicago?" The guy -- apparently a city cop -- answered in a way the judge must have found pleasing, because he said something in low tones and let the guy walk out of the courtroom without stopping at the currency vacuum set up in the back. A murmur arose from the rest of us. "Mur-mur," we said.

The next person was called up, and in the face of the video evidence -- Did I mention there was a big screen TV facing the judge, and the court lackeys queued up the incident for the judge and accused to see? -- proclaimed with a heavy Latin-American accent that his car had, in fact, stopped. Said it more than once, and forcefully so. But Judge Sandra Day O'Yourefullofcrap wasn't buying, and after some back-and-forth found him guilty. At this point, the guy went off; I'm going to quote him directly here, because you weren't there and I defy you to dispute the accuracy of my transcription:
I guess if you flash a badge, then it's okay. You're going to take a hundred dollars from me in this economy? It takes me a week to make $100 right now! This isn't right.
The judge tried to explain himself, but the guy kept interrupting him with either the badge comment or the not-right thing, until Thurgood Marshalllaw finally said, "If you don't let me finish, I'm going to find you in contempt of court. I let you say your peace, and if you don't stop interrupting me, you're going to go to jail."

Now, I don't think this poor fellow had a very good grasp of the machinations of the judicial branch of his adopted nation, because here he got really upset and really, really loud. "You're going to throw me in jail for a ticket! You just let that guy off! This is bull-."

Thankfully the defendant thought better of appending that with shit, and his father -- who I don't think spoke English, and I'm guessing was the actual accused red-light violator -- then began ushering him out of the courtroom, although you could still hear him lamenting his fate and the unfairness of it all in the adjoining entry area, to the extent that the court-appointed officer was sent out in order to shut him up/shoo him away/throw his ass in jail. But it was then that I began to accept how fruitless trying to fight this thing would be. They'd have video evidence that our car slowed to 3 mph instead of zero, I'd sound just as pitiful as that guy, and I'd be hopelessly screwed.

I tell you, I stood up a broken man when I heard Mrs. SKIA's name called, but as I walked up to the bench, some of my cockcertainty started to return. I can do this, I thought. I'm smart, I'm charming, I'm convincing, I'm ...

Dead wrong.

That thought occurred to me in the midst of what I fancied as a remarkably compelling argument. I began by pleading not guilty -- telling my new bro Oliver Wendell Homes about my video-based internet travails, and that I could not in good conscience say I was guilty of something I couldn't see -- and then I was shown the video, in which I (or the missus) clearly did not come close to stopping.

Mr. SKIA: Yes, but I remember there being an green arrow.

Judge: But there is no arrow there.

Mr. SKIA: Well where would the arrow be?

Judge: (pointing) In that area there. And there is no arrow.

Mr. SKIA: But there's so much light behind it. How do I know it's just not getting washed out?

Judge: Because I've seen the arrow before, and I'm telling you that it's not there.

Mr. SKIA: But how do I know the camera was functioning properly? Can you show me a video from that night with the green arrow on?

Judge: No, but it never turns green in this video.

Mr. SKIA: (more to the A/V tool controlling the feed) Can't you queue another one up that shows the arrow?

Judge: No, I'm telling you it's not there.

Mr. SKIA: I understand that, but how do I know ...
And it was here that I thought to myself, What the hell am I doing? They don't have to prove jackshit to me. I was acting like I could just deny it forever, and as long as I never capitulated, I wouldn't have to pay. I realized at that moment the utter futility of my whole approach, so I abruptly shifted gears, adding, "I mean, not that it matters what I think, you're the one that's important."

Now I meant this as a sign of respect for the court and this man's position. But Charles Evans Hugestickuphisbutt, perhaps inflamed by previous insolence, instead took offense. "Now hold on there. Don't just say that. There's a reason you can have this trial, because I am not the only one that matters. You're wrong if you say that."

And at that point, I just gave in. I had a semi-pissed off judge, had lost any chance of garnering sympathy, and didn't even care that my attempt at prostration was totally misinterpreted. There was no burden of proof to show me the camera picking up a properly-functioning arrow, so I just wanted to cut my check and get the hell out of there. Judge Byron "Whizzer" Whitenoise said a few more things that I don't even remember, and I dejectedly shuffled off to fork over the hundred bucks.

I suppose I should have realized that You can't beat City Hall didn't become a common refrain by accident; that shit's true, man. But I did learn one very important thing, a lesson I'll take with me for the rest of my life, and one I hope you will too: You can passive-aggressively stick it to City Hall via check ...


  1. I feel like less of a man just having read this post.

  2. You should have tried a heresay argument as the person who took the picture of you was not in court to testify to the evidence. You were on target in asking how do you know if it was working, but you should have asked for a dismissal since the prosecution had not provided any witnesses to testify against you as it was their burden to prove your guilt, nor did they give you the opportunity to depose a witness. At the very least you should have filed a motion to bar the prosecution's evidence. If you want to start a movement to ban these money making nightmares, I will be first in line to join your cause.

  3. I spelled hearsay wrong.

  4. you should have watched season 4 of night court.

  5. Be happy they didn't charge you court costs for contesting the ticket and wasting the city's time-the cameras are just a random tax collector having nothing to do with traffic safety at all.

  6. I've been down this same road (not the road you were ticketed on) and had the same result. I to thought I could plead my way out of the ticket and after showing the video of me turning within a mila second of the light changing, I asked the judge to let me know the exact cut off point when I could turn without violation. His comment was "obviously before you made the turn". At that point I knew I was going to pay and nothing I said would change that. I'm out $100 as well.

  7. lol, I wonder how much that dickwad judge gets paid to sit there and look at youtube videos of people turning right on red. I don't know how these people sleep at night knowing that their ticky-tack offenses are stealing money from people's pockets. And in their minds, they think they are right and are upholding the law when in reality they are no better than the militiamen in Iran who beat men with sticks when they hold hands with a girl in public. Pathetic.

  8. I would be Anonymous too if I thought a traffic judge in Berywn was the same as human rights violating militia in Iran. I'm offended by the ticky-tack process of financing local government just like everyone else, but to compare it to that...come on.

  9. Funny, I thought his comments were rather understated.