Thursday, April 26

trial and error

For a political science class in high school, we held a mock trial. Every student had a part to play; defendant, plaintiff, attorneys, witnesses...I no longer remember the particulars of the case, but it occurs to me now that only in a democracy would this sort of thing be taught in schools for fun.

I was remembering mock trial yesterday because I found myself the defendant in a real court case. Well, technically I was also subpoenaed as a witness, so it's a good thing we practiced various roles in high school.

You may recall a couple months back when I received three traffic citations in one day. In a rare moment of gumption and faith in the judicial system, I decided to plead not guilty to two of the three.

I could also have pled "no contest," but was told jail time was possible, and as tempting as that kind of blog material is, I couldn't quite picture it on my record...or myself in handcuffs, for that matter. I suppose it might make good fodder for daytime television: the story of a one-time high school valedictorian turned jail bird.

My court date was set nearly two months in advance, which allowed plenty of time to prepare my case, freak out, become convinced that I was going to lose, resign myself to failure, and finally remember that it was just traffic violations and the chances that I would end up in jail with Big Bertha and her tattoo sleeves were slim to none.

I was to appear before the judge on Tuesday in the early afternoon. I spent the morning figuring out where exactly I would have to go, who I should talk to, and most importantly, how far I was going to be from the nearest Starbucks. After walking several blocks in the midday sun, I discovered that I was much farther than I would have liked. At least I was fueled by a coffee frappuccino on the way back.

Walking into the courthouse, shuffled through security with all the other lawbreakers, I was awash with shame, and telling myself this was American democracy at work did not help to alleviate it. Given the choice, I think I'd choose tar and feathers over a fair trial. And my charges were so insignificant, I didn't even qualify for a public defender.

No more zoom zoom.
But by the time I was comfortably sitting in the courtroom, hopped up on caffeine, I felt completely collected. I had my argument memorized and the evidence outlined in bullets. The time had come and I was ready to take my stand. 

All eyes were on me as I approached the bench.

"Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I plead not guilty to the charges against me on the grounds that not only was I not driving carelessly, but was in fact driving with great care in a situation beyond my control. I was framed, your honor, the victim of corruption in the police force...

[dramatically pointing to the police officer who issued the citations]

...and I stand here today, an innocent woman, before my fellow Americans and in the eyes of God."

At least that's what I would have said if I hadn't agreed to a bargain with the police officer, who looked about half my age, to go to traffic school, before even approaching the bench.

It was all very anticlimactic. The only thing I had to say to the judge was "OK." I wanted to ask if I could submit my evidence anyway, but thought better of it.

"Well," I thought chiming down the elevator, "At least I got a coffee out of it, and my mock trial teacher would be happy to know my education didn't go to complete waste.

And now I can tell my traffic school peers that I lost my arm due to careless driving.