I Am Going To Jail

So here's what happened: I was dropping my mom off at LAX in late October. Not four feet outside of the short-term parking lot, I got a ticket for violating Los Angeles Municipal Code 89.05 - "failed to stop for stop signs in airport." My speed was "approximately" 5 mph, and, despite the wording on the ticket, I did not fail to stop at multiple signs. Just the one. The one four feet after the parking lot ticket payment booth.

I saw the cop when it happened, too. I was at a four-way intersection that was totally deserted except for me and the cop sitting on his motorcycle. I really honestly thought I stopped, so when I noticed him pull behind me with his lights flashing, I assumed he had just been called to the scene of, like, a real emergency, and pulled over to let him pass. But then he pulled over with me, and I wondered if my taillight was out or something like that. My license plates were fairly new; maybe I had put the registration stickers on wrong. He walked over to my window. I rolled it down.

"Why you no stop?"

It took me a second there to realize what he was saying, both because I wasn't expecting to be pulled over for not stopping at a sign when I believed I had, in fact, stopped at a sign, and because of the strange wording of the question. But I answered him very politely that I thought I had stopped, and he said:

"No, you go right through."

And then he made a motion and a "whoosh!" sound, as if anything going "approximately" 5 mph can even "whoosh!" Seriously, do you know how slow that is? It's so slow that it doesn't even appear on my speedometer, which starts at ten. That's TWICE as fast as my "approximate" speed, which is faster than I believe I was actually going, which was zero. Because I stopped. But anyway, here's a graph that shows my speed relative to members of the animal kingdom to give you some perspective here:

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That's right; even chickens move faster than me. The only animal I could find that travels at 5 mph, by the way, was a bird that has the unique distinction of being the slowest-flying of all birds, the Woodcock. The Woodcock also has the unique distinction of being called the "Woodcock."

He asked me for my license and stuff, and I asked him if he was giving me a ticket. He said he was afraid that he "had" to. I asked if perhaps I could just have a warning, as my record was clean and I hadn't even gotten onto the road yet when the infraction occurred and I was very sad about having to drop off my mother just now. He said he was sorry, but he "had" to give me the ticket. Now, you and I and everyone know that the police officer never "has" to do anything when it comes to traffic tickets. It's always the officer's discretion what your fine should be or if you should get one at all.

He took my stuff back to his motorbike and then I started crying because I was already sad about saying good-bye to my mom and I was hoping that crying might help me out. Everyone always tells you to cry to get out of a ticket, right? He came back and gave me the ticket and seemed kind of guilty that I was so upset. He reassured me that it was just an infraction, no points would appear on my license so it wouldn't affect my insurance, and I wouldn't even have to appear in court for it. I thanked him before I realized what I was actually thanking him for, and we went on our way.

There was no dollar amount on the ticket itself, but the courthouse I was assigned to (so much for not having to appear in court, Officer Douchebag) was on my way home from the airport so I decided to just stop there on my way back to find out how much the ticket was for and schedule a hearing to contest it. Because no way am I going to pay for a ticket for going 5 mph through a stop sign without a fight. I drove there, had to pay to park, waited in line, and finally saw a clerk, who informed me that since my ticket was issued in an airport zone (although by an LAPD officer, not an airport officer -- I have no idea what the airport officers were doing that day or why they needed help from an LAPD officer, who should have better things to do if the crime rate in my neighborhood is any indication), they couldn't tell me how much it was for, nor could I sign up for a court date. I'd have to wait until the courtesy notice was mailed to my house in three weeks, and then I'd have to go back to court, because all violations in airport zones mean you are required to appear in court, which means either that clerk was confused or the officer lied to me. I was thinking that Mr. Why You No Stop was in the wrong in this case, because I hate him.

Finally the courtesy notice came in the mail. It says I owe $147, and that in order to plead not guilty, I'm supposed to send them a check for the full amount and write "not guilty" on the memo line. Having to pay for my ticket in order to contest it is like serving ten years in jail for robbery before you're allowed to plead not guilty, by the way. It's not like that in Connecticut, where you get to have your traffic ticket hearing and then pay, depending on the outcome. Not like I'd know that, seeing as my record is totally clean. Once they have your money, they're not really going to want to rule in your favor and give it back now, are they? But it was still worth a try, I figured. $147 isn't much to pay, but you also have to consider the fact that my insurance rates will increase exponentially for the next seven years, as I'm figuring that the officer was lying about that like he was about not having to go to court, as well as the fact that I don't have a job. So it's a lot for me, in the end. Especially when I shouldn't have to pay anything at all since I stopped at the sign.

I have until December 13th to act on the ticket. I really don't trust anyone to look at my check hard enough to see that "not guilty" comment, nor do I trust myself to not write something like "not guilty, you assholes," which wouldn't help my cause at all. So I decided to go to www.lasuperiorcourt.org and schedule the court date through there.

I look up my ticket and get an error screen. It says that no citation exists with my ticket number. And yet, I'm holding the ticket and the courtesy notice in my hand, so I know that it certainly does. I called the phone number and tried to use the automated system to look up my ticket, and that, too, said my ticket did not exist. So I had to talk to a person in the office. I called back during the time when the message said the call volume was at its lowest -- Friday between noon and 2:30.

I am 78th in line to talk to an operator.

By the way, I'm using my cell phone to call since it's not local and my land line can only call locally because I have the cheapest possible plan. So I'm 78th in line and I'm paying for every minute I have to spend listening to Vanessa Williams' hit single "Save the Best for Last." Also, I hate that song.

Finally, I get to talk to a real person. I tell him my ticket number, and he says he can't access my ticket because it's for the San Pedro courthouse. That's odd, since my ticket said I was supposed to deal with the West Los Angeles court. The courtesy notice said San Pedro, but I figured that was just the courtesy notice headquarters or something. The guy was nice enough to give me a direct phone number for the San Pedro court so I wouldn't be on hold again, and I called that.

The San Pedro courthouse clerk was kind of annoyed that I had even managed to get her phone number, but she looked up my ticket and finally figured out what had happened: my ticket had been in the computer system, but sometime between when my courtesy notice was mailed out and now, it had been deleted. I was pretty psyched about this, figuring that a deleted ticket meant that I no longer had to worry about anything. Not quite, said the woman. The reason why it was deleted was because whoever entered it in the first place had entered the wrong courthouse -- San Pedro instead of West LA -- and then once the error was realized they deleted it and it's sitting on someone's desk waiting to be reentered correctly. I can't act on the ticket one way or the other until it's in the system again, but, unless a miracle happens, that won't happen until after the 13th, meaning that whenever it is entered, I will immediately be penalized for failing to appear, which means lots of fines, my license being suspended, and, best of all, a warrant being issued for my arrest.

There's absolutely nothing I can do to prevent this. They won't go through the thousands of tickets waiting to be entered into the system to find mine and do it before the deadline, and they can't flag my record to show that I didn't actually fail to appear. My only option is to spend the two or three hours driving to and from the West LA court, where I will then have to wait in line to see a clerk, explain the situation to him or her, and then get a piece of paper that says that I tried to deal with my ticket before the due date, but was unable to through no fault of my own. I will then show this notice to a judge when I get caught for not appearing on the first ticket, and he will dismiss everything. And then I'll get to go back to court yet AGAIN to deal with the ticket that I shouldn't have even gotten in the first place.

What this means is that at some point in the future -- and there's no way to tell when -- my ticket will be entered into the system and a warrant will be issued for my arrest. Hopefully it won't interfere with getting a job, because they do check one's criminal record when you apply for certain things, and an outstanding warrant never makes one look like employee material. As for getting arrested, that would suck too, but at least I'd get a cool mugshot that I can use for my Christmas cards, even if it happens next July, which may very well happen, as the justice system moves extremely slowly. How slowly? Well, I just happen to have a graph showing its speed relative to certain members of the animal kingdom right here:

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That's right; -4 mph.

Incidentally, I'm not the only person who something like this has happened to. Also, if anyone has the name of a good traffic lawyer in LA, please pass it on to me. Or even, at this point, a criminal lawyer. Because as of December 14th, that's what I'll be. A CRIMINAL!