Court of the absurd

How a red-light ticket turned into a bizarre plea bargain

The author is the coordinator of the Butte County Coalition of Reason and works as a computer-systems engineer managing enterprise-level large-scale disk storage systems.

When you’re young, if you’re not a radical you have no heart. When you’re old, if you’re not a conservative, you have no brain. A version of this has been attributed to Winston Churchill, among others. Lately this has been gnawing at my very soul. When I see all the young students in Chico, it’s clear I ain’t young anymore, but I’m a still a progressive, not a conservative.

In June of this year I got tagged by a red-light camera in Marysville for crossing the limit line when the light was red. The bail/fine was $479! Go to court and lose, and there could be additional costs. After a little research I found that you can plead not guilty without going to court, just file form TR205 and include the check for $479.

I know we live in cities that are in severe financial straits. Cities need money to provide the services we expect. However, while raising taxes is never popular, what cities are reverting to are excising hidden taxes against some and not others. These gigantic fees for minor traffic offenses are regressive taxes.

Do the math: a $479 fine against someone with an income of $25,000 per year compared to someone who makes $100,000 per year? The difference is more than 400 percent.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is but one sentence. “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” For an illegal right turn, even if guilty, does not this fine of $479 meet the burden as stated? Excessive.

After filing Form TR205 I received the verdict from Marysville Superior Court. Guilty! “However, pursuant to the policy of Marysville Police Department and at the request of the Officer [the camera is now classified as an officer?], the Court finds Defendant guilty of the lesser offense of Section 21710 a non moving violation; $233.”

Here’s Section 21710: “The driver of a motor vehicle when traveling on down grade upon any highway shall not coast with the gears of such vehicle in neutral.” Both the court and I know I am not guilty of section 21710. This is justice in America? It’s a plea bargain. Do I take the plea (since when is $233 a bargain?) or insist that I never crossed the limit line? I’ve got 20 days to decide.