Have you ever been to traffic court?

I had to go years ago when I was living in Florida. I had been a resident of the Sunshine State for almost a year but never got a Florida driver’s license. I just couldn’t part with my Jersey one I guess. I also couldn’t part with my Jersey plates, and before long I got pulled over for having expired tags.

Turned out that having an out of state license while living in Florida was an offense that held a penalty larger than just paying a fine. I had to go to court, and I was petrified. As long as I could prove that I’d procured a Florida license and plates, I would only have to pay a small fine, but still, I was scared.

As I sat in court, my nerves began to dissipate as I watched other cases go by. Many of them were for passing bad checks – all at Publix. One man was accused of bashing in his ex-girlfriend’s front door. And another man was convicted of exposing himself to children in a park. This was some heavy stuff…and here I was with my out of state driver’s license offense. By the time it was my turn I was almost proud of what an upstanding citizen I was.

That was around 15 years ago. Day before last I found myself in traffic court again, but this time, it was hubby who was on the docket.

He was driving home from working an overnight shift, and I’m always thankful when I hear him come in the house, safe and sound. He often talks of coming close to nodding off on the long and boring ride home. It’s why I understand the mistake he made.

He was less than a block from our development, where he has to make a right hand turn. It was 5:30 am, there was nobody else on the road with him. But off the road was a State Trooper parked in the weeds. Hubby saw him, checked his speed to make sure he was not going to fast, made his right hand turn, and was shocked to see the lights in the rear view mirror.

He got a ticket for not using his blinker. Can you believe that? Now, I’m a rule follower by nature, but come on. I can see if he’d been speeding – then you can pile on the fines. But is business that slow that you have to break someone’s balls for failing to flip a switch? Don’t get me started on how I feel about cops in general. It’s not a pretty topic.

When he came home that morning he was crushed. The fines totaled over $100 – that’s money we don’t have to spare these days. I suggested we go to court. Maybe he could talk his way out of it, or the cop wouldn’t be there that day. Oh, turns out that is rarely true – we discovered that the officer is held in contempt of court if he fails to appear on the scheduled court date. So much for that urban legend.

Hubby’s court date was Tuesday morning, and we got there with 20 or so minutes to spare. An officer made him leave the courtroom to tuck his shirt in. We also got scolded for whispering to each other. One couple was not allowed to enter at all because the defendant showed up in a dirty T-shirt and jeans. Even Judge Judy yells at you for that shit. Duh.

Once again, it was interesting to see the other cases go by, and once again, hubby felt like a fine, upstanding citizen next to some of the offenses other people were brought up for. There was one DUI – he had to do jail time. One gal was speeding and wasn’t wearing her seat belt. And one woman was brought in wearing an orange jumpsuit and was shackled at wrist and foot. I couldn’t quite hear what she’d done wrong, but I suspect it was for more than a minor traffic infraction.

By the time hubby stood up before the judge for not using his blinker, he was too nervous to do any smooth talking and simply plead guilty. The judge was feeling generous, and knocked off $25 because hubby’s driving record was good. I was relieved that he’d given us a break, and it proved that appearing in court rather than blindly paying the ticket was beneficial.

I’ll tell you, knowing that there are cops out there ready, willing, and able to ruin your day, I’ve been paying attention to my driving. It’s easy to get lazy – how often do you slow roll through a stop or forget to flip on your blinker? I know I was super lazy, but this ticket of hubby’s opened my eyes. Money is too tight to throw it to the county – I’m going to make sure I give them nothing to pull me over for.