Thursday, November 29, 2007

Traffic Ticket Court

Yesterday I ventured into traffic ticket court. I don't go there all that often anymore. I know some of you "big criminal defense lawyers" scoff at traffic ticket lawyers, but they've got the greatest gig. They don't charge much, they have a steady stream of volume business (even though they continuously undercut each other by $10 just to get the edge), no one goes to jail, and for the most part, there's no prosecutor in court. What could be bad?

But yesterday I had one of those clients all of us criminal defense lawyers have; the old client, great client, client who wont walk into any courtroom without us, or just that client for which we have a soft spot.

Such was yesterday, and I was shaking my head at what I saw and overheard.

I'm not one of those criminal defense lawyers who "hates cops," or "hates prosecutors," but yesterday I saw some pretty sad behavior.

There were only 4 officers in court, but 3 of them were acting like they had arrested mass murderers, instead of merely handing over a citation for a minor traffic infraction.

I first heard one say "I had a great Thanksgiving, gave out a ton of tickets." "Yeah, I like to park by the high school the Wednesday before Thanksgiving every year and give tickets to the kids leaving."

He then went on to brag about arresting a doctor who refused to sign a citation. Truth be told, it is an arrestable offense. The officer has discretion to take the person to jail, or give them an additional ticket for refusing to sign. The officer was enjoying telling his story about taking the doctor to jail, and explaining how he listened to him apologize over and over again.

Another officer was getting annoyed answering questions from a lawyer who was trying to verify whether the officer was the one who gave the tickets to his various clients, for the purpose of advising his clients to plea guilty. At one point he said "now, I'm done talking." I could see a detective on a serious felony cutting a conversation short with a defense attorney, but this was a traffic ticket. When the lawyer walked away, he bad mouthed him for about 5 minutes in front of me, complaining about his behavior which was nothing more than conversational.

This was the same officer who told the judge that the woman who was ticketed for an expired registration and came to court with a new registration, should not be found to be in compliance because she had no proof the registration was valid on the day of the ticket.

Seriously.

The judge did not call cases out of turn for lawyers, but for officers. He explained that he does this because he "wants these officers out catching bank robbers, not sitting in an air conditioned courtroom on traffic tickets."

When I left after resolving my case, I saw the result of the judge's efforts to return these officers to the streets, as one of them was handing out a traffic ticket to someone outside the courthouse.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com