What I Learned in Traffic Court

If you have to go to court, be prepared and be respectful!

If you have to go to court, be prepared and be respectful!

I had the misfortune of getting caught going through a red light back in October of last year. And before you ask, yes, it was in the car for the campaign, with the candidate in the car. I went in to request the trial within the two weeks and received my notice to appear in court a short time later.

I spoke to a friend who had been in this situation a couple of times before and his advice was amazing! This was the first time I was appearing in court as a defendant and I haven’t had an issue on my driving record in over 15 years.  He suggested that I go at least an hour in advance of the court time and speak to the prosecutor. They will set up a table outside the court at which time, I could try to negotiate for a quick trial and a potential settlement. I was forewarned that an offence of this type is usually viewed as being more severe than other offences, including speeding.

The Joe Pantalone Smart Car

The car I was driving when I was pulled over for failing to stop at a red light.

As suggested, I arrived an hour in advance, with my ticket, my notice to appear and a photo of the car, just in case. The gentleman said there was nothing he could do about the three points that would be taken off my licence, but that the fine might be reduced. I asked if there was anything that could be done to which he replied: “No.” He said that I would have to wait in court until my name was called and that I needed to understand that I would in fact be pleading guilty to the charge. I said that I did and waited until the judge came in.

I’ve watched enough court shows to know that there are formalities and procedures to be followed. I was also taught that if you are going to appear in court, you should dress appropriately. I saw people coming in wearing flip-flops, t-shirts and shorts. When some people addressed the judge, they had their hands in their pockets, even though they were instructed not to do so. At least two men did this.

In one case, a representative of the defendant was in front of the judge asked for a continuance because he had been retained the day before court. The offence was around the same time as my own, the judge granted it, but asked that it be noted on the file that this was highly improper and that the defendant should have been prepared long before one day prior to the trial date.

There was one man in the back row near me who was leaning over in his seat. The judge actually stopped court and told this young man to sit up. “This is a court of law and it should be respected,” said the judge, pointing at the shield behind him. As the young man sat up, the judge noted the coffee in his hand. “Young man, you are not allowed to have coffee in the court! Please, sir, remove it from the court,” the judge scolded, then turned to everyone else. “There is no coffee, food, water or any thing of that nature allowed in here.” After the man came back into the court, he sat back down and the judge asked the prosecutor for the next case. Guess who? Yep. Same guy. When he stood up, the judge said, “You? You’re the next case? No, have a seat, sir. We’ll deal with you later.”

One thing I observed was that when a case was called, the prosecutor may turn around, ask for a badge number and if the officer was not present, the prosecutor would ask that the case be withdrawn. This seemed to be planned or at least was known in advance of the prosecutor and the defence being in front of the judge.

Eventually, after all the lawyers had been dealt with, my case was called. Seeing them go first, I at least could see what might or might not be appropriate to say. I had a pretty good idea, but mostly from US television shows, so it couldn’t hurt to see the differences between there and here at home. I moved as quickly as possible without fumbling over everything and remained calm. I put my briefcase on the floor and put my hands behind my back, not in my pockets. I was asked to state my name for the court, which I did. The judge at least gave a small smile indicating that he was pleased with my actions and attention. The prosecutor then asked his honour if he could have the case withdrawn. Did I miss something? Did he even ask if the officer was present? Before I knew it, the judge stated that my case was withdrawn and that I was free to go. I thanked his honour and the prosecutor, wished them all a good weekend (since it was a Friday) and left. I couldn’t believe my luck and I wasn’t sticking around in case they changed their minds. I asked a young woman sitting outside if I should expect anything in the mail or whether that was it. She said that no, it’s entered into the record and that’s all there is. Looks like my karma ran over my traffic ticket!

The lesson here is simple: Show some respect, do what you are supposed to do, be prepared, speak only when asked to do so and say as little as is needed. As long as I did these things, I had no difficulty. It seemed to me that these things were common knowledge when you go to court, but after this event, I’m not so sure anymore. So take note if you ever have to appear before a judge, even if it’s just a traffic ticket.

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