I often come across news articles and think, based on personal experience, “that can’t be right” and that there must be more to the story than what the media is saying. Whether from bias, or a lack of curiosity, or outright concealment on the part of the writer (or, let’s be honest, the parties), the story just ends up making no sense as written. Doesn’t mean that it isn’t correct in every aspect, it just doesn’t feel right.
Take this little bit of joy.
Now it may well be that a municipal traffic judge in Georgia has Awesome Cosmic Powers above and beyond what one might find in other courts, but a quick comparison makes me wonder about these bits:
“Riley went to court to try and get the fine reduced, but the only way he could talk to the judge, who is the only one who could reduce the fine, was to go to trial.” Most judges of my acquaintance are not going to go through the trouble of setting up and conducting a trial just so that defendants can “talk to them,” though a majority do require a guilty or no contest plea first. In fact, one of the worst things in the world to hear is on the order of, “No, the officer is completely correct, I just wanted to talk to the judge.” It’s a waste of court time, of officer time, and occurs generally because the defendant misunderstands the process, not because the court requires it as “the only way.”
“There was no recording made of the courtroom proceeding, but records showed Riley received a much stiffer sentence than just a $250 fine.” Not unusual for a traffic court to not be a “court of record,” as they are called when there are recording devices. And stiffer-than-presumptive-fine sentences are possible as well. But, again, those are generally not handed out on whim but because of other factors that occur during trial. In theory those other factors should be limited to things like “lack of understanding” or “lack of remorse” by a defendant, but, granted, there are almost certainly judges who go with some sort of add-on from a trial request. Might even be statutorily allowed, for all I know.
Quoth the defendant (who apparently was not memorable enough for other court personnel to remember him and on whom the judge refused comment), “”I asked him to lower it, but instead he give me a $1,000 fine, 12-month probation, driving school and he banished me from the county,” Riley said. The only thing here is that the story is, again, single sided. The judge claims he can’t comment (possible in Georgia), other personnel won’t comment, so we have no real clue as to how or why the judge turned a $250 fine into $1,000 and a banishment. The method of “asking” becomes something of interest – there’s a huge difference between, “Please, Your Honor, I’m on a fixed income and it will be a hardship. Seeing as how it’s a first offense could you lower it to the minimum or suspend?” versus a defendant who clearly had no defense besides hoping the officer wouldn’t show and, at sentencing says, “F**K YOU, YOU FAT-A$$ED B*****D, you’re only doing this for the money!” as part of the “request.” Also, no note is made as to whether there is any suspension of that fine, and the fact that there’s probation involved suggests it may well be something like that. And Georgia must have some serious probation out of traffic court – here it’s more of a “don’t let me see you back in this court again or I’ll impose the suspended portion” thing.
Gotta say, though – that law allowing a judge “to banish someone from the county,” power, backed up by possible jail for offenders who return, is interesting, even if it’s rarely used. It reminds me of what I’m told was called a “sundown pardon” in Oregon: “If you’re out of town by sundown, and don’t come back, there’ll be no further prosecution.” True, it just moves the offenders around to different jurisdictions … but they’d be happier in California anyway.