I had my day in court last week. It says a lot about my life that I’m becoming accustomed to the courthouse – though familiarity has not made it more pleasurable.
This time I was in court to contest the ludicrous charge of having my feet up on the train seat. You might remember when I wrote of this back in August, when it happened. A trivial moment in time, but an exorbitant penalty, which is what impelled me to challenge it.
Given I was a few days into a new job the timing was pretty ordinary, but at least in my new role I have some flexibility with my hours. The hearing was set down for 1.30, and so I wandered down ahead of that on a bright, sunny day, subjected myself to the usual security protocols, and found myself in the allocated courtroom – only to find they had conveniently adjourned for lunch.
I waited around for about 20 minutes before the court clerk came in. I gave my name and when she asked how I would plead I answered not guilty. She suggested that I speak to a prosecutor before the hearing began to discuss my options – I was welcome to change my plea at any time.
The prosecutor found me. She was young – a little under 30 – attractive, and very reasonable. I explained the situation and circumstances to her and she agreed the penalty is ridiculous, saying that it is deliberately set so to be a deterrent. I explained how I intended to plea and she informed me that if I did so then the case would be adjourned for a later date with witnesses being called. Alternatively I could plead guilty and have it settled today. Worst case scenario with a guilty plea was the penalty stands; best that I’m let off with a warning. Most likely was something in the middle – a discount on the penalty, or an order to pay a nominated amount to a nominated charity.
It seems counter-intuitive, and somehow wrong, that the easiest option is to plead guilt, even when you dispute it. Upon reflection though that’s what I did.
Fortunately I was the first person called. One thing familiarity has done is ease the nerves. There’s something quietly amusing about being in such a situation. You find yourself observing as if from outside yourself. There is something peculiarly surreal about the situation which doesn’t seem quite real. Who? Me? In court? Get out of here!
Coupled with that is the formality and the rituals associated with the process. I know it intimidates some, and perhaps intended to, but as an observer it feels a little as if it takes itself too seriously. I guess there’s an excuse to think that when it’s some trivial transport violation being heard. I imagine if it were a capital case the solemnity and ritual would seem entirely appropriate.
In any case I pleaded guilty, making it clear all the same that I disputed the listed record of events. The magistrate said his bit and at the end of it I was asked to donate $80.00 to a charity and to stay out of trouble for the next 12 months – effectively a suspended sentence. I could handle that.
It was a huge relief to have it over and settled. I walked back to the office with a skip in my step. Unfortunately further court appearances likely await.