I was on trial for the first time today.
Back up a minute. To November 2013.
I got pulled over for the first time in my life, for the first time in my 13 years of being a licensed driver. I have never, ever been pulled over before.
What was I pulled over for?
“Improper display of license plate.”
That’s right. My license plate was propped on my dashboard because we couldn’t figure out how to bolt it on and I hadn’t gotten a chance to visit a shop. I mean, it was displayed on the front-end of the vehicle. Wasn’t that enough?
Nope. Not for this cranky Monday morning Virginia state trooper.
He trudged up to my window. I handed him my license and registration. He just stared at it.
“You a student?” he asked, frowning (more like sneering) at my Alaska ID.
“No, sir. I just moved here,” I replied. Jonathan and I had barely been in our new house a month.
“When?” he asked.
“Since August,” I said. Mistake #1.
“You’re supposed to get a Virginia driver’s license within 60 days of moving here,” the officer grumbled.
Sixty days? Really? I have friends who have lived in New York City for nearly a decade and haven’t changed to a New York area code let alone gotten a New York state ID. I didn’t think it was THAT big of a deal. I was already a registered voter in Hanover county. The DMV didn’t give me crap about that. And after all, I had been waiting to get into our permanent residence before getting a Virginia ID.
By the time all these thoughts had run through my mind, the trooper–who couldn’t even be bothered to look me in the eye–had disappeared back into his car.
I was in shock–I couldn’t make it to 30 without being pulled over. Damn!–but surely, these were both honest mistakes due to my ignorance at being new to the state. He wouldn’t be so mean as to ticket me for these. Right?
In fact he didn’t ticket me. He gave me two summonses to face a judge in Goochland county court in two months’ time.
He told me to bring a photo of the license plate properly mounted and the judge might let me off.
So, today snuck up on me. It’s a super busy time at work and quite frankly the whole court proceeding seemed like a waste of time. I could pay the fine for the drivers’ license issue, but not the license plate. Since I was going to court anyway, the former just seemed like a dumb idea.
The courthouse is about three minutes from my house. My office is a 40-minute drive from my house. I get to work at 8:30am. I was due in court at 1:00pm.
Suffice it to say, I had to take a long lunch break. (On a day, I might add, where we were so busy only something as necessary as an unnecessary time-sucking appearance in court would be considered an okay-out. Regardless, I felt like a schmuck.)
After stopping at the wrong county building, and then driving a mile down the road to the right building, then running across a parking lot to what looked like a courthouse but was in fact another wrong building, and then finally finding the right building only to be turned away by security because I couldn’t bring my iPad (which contained the photo of my properly mounted license plate) into the courthouse and having to run back to my car, frustratedly fighting back tears at this point, and now ten minutes late and expecting a “YOU’RE DISRESPECTING THE COURT!” screaming lecture from the judge, I found myself back at the security scanner and the two white-haired gentlemen guards, who tried to reassure my tear-streaked face that I was not in fact late and that “everyone’s court time is 1:00pm.” Oh, great. That meant that there were a few people ahead of me. How long would I have to be there? I had already been gone from work for an hour.
They pointed me to the bathroom where I could dry my raw, puffy eyes. I stared at myself momentarily in the mirror: hideous. Red and blotchy, mascara smudged, eyeliner all but gone, acne scars standing out as red as stoplights. Fuck it, I told myself, and went outside to stand in front of a glass window manned by a friendly looking middle-aged blonde woman.
“Miss!” the two gentlemen security guards said. They pointed to the doors next to the kiosk. “The courtroom is over there.”
“Don’t I need to sign in?” I asked, so confused, so not used to this sort of thing. They told me they would just call my name inside.
I stepped into the courtroom — the crowded courtroom.
There had to be at least thirty people in there, all waiting to be tried next to the same jerk trooper who’d pulled me over.
The defendants were being called alphabetically. Even though I was 10 minutes late, 15 if you counted my time in the bathroom, they were only on the As. Pretty much everyone was being tried for speeding. Mostly excessive speeding. The judge let most of the people off at only nine miles over the speed limit. Some people he left off scot-free. Others he couldn’t not give some sort of penalty. One woman in particular, a middle-aged suburban white woman, had had a reckless driving infraction before and the judge couldn’t do much.
The judge and the trooper were pretty polite. As long as you plead guilty and were polite, they’d pretty much let you off with nothing but a court fee.
I took a seat, flustered, red-faced, and sweaty, my eyes still somewhat leaky. I couldn’t stop shaking, I was so frustrated with every stupid thing I’d already done to myself that afternoon.
I started to feel confident that they would be nice to me when I got up there. Sure, the trooper wasn’t the warmest, fuzziest guy when he pulled me over, but maybe he’d just been having a case of the Mondays that day. I knew I’d get off. There was no reason to charge me with anything.
When I got up there, though, the trooper went straight into Dick Mode.
He had DMV proof that I’d gotten my VA license right away, so that was dismissed almost immediately.
But the judge questioned me about my improperly displayed license plate.
Why hadn’t I bolted it on? Didn’t I know there were bolts pre-drilled into the bumper?
No, I replied. We’d bought the car used and it came from a state that doesn’t require a plate in the front. There were no holes or bolts on my bumper. We tried to put it on before but it wasn’t working. I’d been told the plate was alright to be displayed in the window, so I figured I’d get to it eventually (I left that out) and it was fine as it was.
The judge asked the trooper if I’d said that when I was pulled over. He said I didn’t. I tried to counter that by saying that yes, I had said exactly that. But the trooper said all I’d told him was that the person who sold me the car said it was okay to prop the plate on my dash. Lies!
The trooper (or the judge, I don’t remember) asked me if I’d brought a photo of my mounted plate. I said I had, but it was on my iPad–
“I TOLD you to bring in a photo! A PRINTED photo!” the trooper yelled at me. Yelled!
What was his deal? Did he get his jollies making people feel dumb? I had no idea I wasn’t allowed to bring in electronics, and I said at much. The trooper just scolded me again. What am I, I thought, a kindergartner? Gee, some of us haven’t ever had any traffic violations, so sorry I don’t know what I can and can’t bring into a county courthouse!
Meanwhile, the people before me had been driving 10 to 15 MPH over the speed limit and they’d gotten off without being made to feel small. I was the only person who hadn’t inadvertently or otherwise put others in danger.
Ooh, look at the chick from Alaska with her improperly displayed license plate! Danger to society!
The judge took my word that I had mounted my plate–and I had–but the trooper looked at the judge and said, “If she hasn’t”–he turned to me–”I’m sure I’ll find her.”
I was so frustrated that as soon as I was out of the courtroom my eyes started to leak again. I wanted to make snarky remarks to the trooper, ask him why he felt the need to be such a brat. But that wouldn’t have helped anything.
For now, I’ve been let off with no penalties save for that $96 court fee (bullshit!) that I wasn’t allowed to waive because for some reason an improperly displayed license plate required an appearance in court.
What a waste of time. But, thankfully, that’s all over. Now it’s just a matter of getting that $96 court fee paid.
All donations welcome.
Let’s close the books on this Monday.