Thursday, March 25, 2010

My day in court

A week without poison is a wonderful thing. My amazing increase in mental concentration and physical stamina is remarkable and reassures me that the recovery period (once I stop pouring poison into my body every Monday) may be a lot faster than I had been thinking.

Today was the day I was required to appear in court because of that speeding ticket that I received about a month ago while en route Gainesville to get my labs tested. the assigned time was 2 PM.

Today was also the day I had to drive to Gainesville to get my labs tested. So I started my day rather early in order to get to GAinesville, collect all the labs, get back to Atlanta, and find the court which is a long way from my house in southwest Dekalb County.

I have been quite worried about my stamina and ability to manage the court date. I have also been worried about spending time in a crowded court room full of people, some of who were likely to have things like colds, flu, possibly even multi-drug resistant TB. But there was nothing optional about the citation. Show up or your driver's license will be suspended and a warrent issued. No other alternatives were offered.

So it was a relief that my last transfusion was last Saturday in prep and that this week I happen to have bonus energy because of the deferred chemo. Little did I suspect how important that would turn out to be.

After dressing in a suit and putting on make up for the first time since I quit working, I drove to Gainesville, gave blood, and got back, and went to CVS to invest in a supply of surgical masks with still an hour to spare before I was required to be in court. Seemed at that point like I was doing excellently well.

About the surgical masks: those are the little green masks that people can put on by looping things over their ears (used to have to tie them around your head). How good a job do they do preventing infection? Well that is debated. We used them when I was a medical student and only about a quarter of our class converted their PPD skin test and had to take a year of medicine to prevent TB illness. The official recommendation for both H1N1 flu and TB from CDC is currently an N-95 respirator, which will make it almost impossible for a virus or other microbe to get in. As it turns out I own an N-95 respirator - a large grey mask with large bright pink filters on either side issued to me during the Hantavirus outbreak. Any of you who received Christmas letters back in 1993-4 may recall one with a photo of me, gowned, gloved, wearing a large loud face-obscuring, alien-bringing-to-mind face mask and shaking a rodent out of a trap into a plastic bag. Yup. that is the one.

So I considered wearing it to court today. Probably if I had been a doc advising a patient how to prep for a long day in court surrounded by lots of people of unknown health status that they could not avoid closely associating with, I woudl have said "Look, it is your health on the line. Just wear the mask and look foolish but protect your health".

But doctor's make bad patients, I was not eager to draw so much attention to myself in a public display, and a little afraid that the court woudl think I was grand standing or trying to be a smart alack, so I went for surgical masks instead.

Circumstances of my citation: entering the Interstate to drive to Gainesville I noted 3 Dekalb count police cars lined up on the right hand edge of the interstate (an uncommon sight) with the door of the middle one open and a policeman aiming what appeared to be a radar gun directly at me. So naturally I checked my speed. Fortunately for me it was 63 and since I thought I was in a 65 zone I breathed a sigh of relief and continued with my habit of immedaitely moving over to the 5th lane just next to the HOV lane. This is the least trafficed lane. Further more when I exit for Gainesville I do so by moving onto 985, which exits from the left. So... it is certainly the easiest and probably the safest way to make this particular commute. I remember noting that the traffic was heavier than it usually was on my Thursday commutes to Gainesville.

So cruising along in the 5th lane, imagin my surprice when a cop car comes up behind me with his lights flashing. I pull over (which took a while since I had to traverse 5 lanes back to the right hand side and pull over). (but it also took the cop a while to get up the nerve to get out and walk up the edge of the interstate to my car. you would think that if you were driving along and you saw a car pulled over to the right and a cop car right behind it you would automatically move into at least the second lane to decrease the liklihood that the cop would get flattened when he tried to exit his car and walk up to mine. But apparently this thought did not occur to my fellow motorists so... Flinch...flinch... eventually get out and come up.

to my surprise he told me that the laser gun, operated by a different cop whose name he gave me, had clocked me at 75 in a 55 zone. I told him I thought it was a 65 zone. I was wrong. I also told him that I would protest that because my speedometer when I was directly by the guy with the gun had read 63, which is no where near 75. He repeated the name of the guy who had the gun, in a way that seemed to disclaim responsibility for the accuracy of the clocking. And gave me a citation that required me to present to court today at 2 pm. No option not to just pay the fine and skip the court call.

So today, after weeks of worrying about my physical stamina and risks of infection, i went to court. So did, by my count, about 50% of Dekalb county. When I arrived the first clue this was not a normal day in court was the fact that I passed 3 filled parking lots and had to keep driving into what felt like the wilderness to find a lot I could park in. the second clue was the line of citizens that snaked around 2 sides of the building just waiting to get into the building. The third clue was the fact that the traffic violations were being tried in 3 courtrooms divided by first letter of your last name. The final clue was that a policeman was screening at the door telling you if you just took yourself over to the far lane and got into the line where you immediately paid your fine today they would knock 10 miles an hour off your citation.

Amazing - I have never been aware of the police having fire sales for discount citations before. I have never seen such a mass of people being herded into court before. But then I have never seen the police lining up on the interstate with 3 cars on the sholder using a lazer gun and the other 2 police to chase and issue citations before. The effort seemed puzzling since this is not a part of the interstate that has many accidents. I travel it regularly and have never seen a crash. But the county and city governments are experiencing financial hardship leading to furloughs of critical public safety personnel, and therein lies, I suspect, the motivation behind this set of speed traps (I witnessed the same performance 2 more times in the next couple of weeks with 3 Dekalb county cars, and now frequently notice one gwinnet county or Hall county car further up the interstate sitting on the side of the road in the more usual (and safer) manner looking for speeders.

The problem with this is, puzzeled how my speedometer could read 63 and the laser gun read 75, unable to convince myself that between the ramp where i entered and the very next exit where I pulled over I could have possibly sped up more than 12 miles per hour beyond the last measurement I noted on my speedometer, I had done some research on the accuracy of laser guns. And here is what I learned.

They are most accurate when following the car for longer periods of time. Whether a laser gun or a radar gun, they cannot lock onto a car and follow it despite larger vehicles passing in between then with out a clear line of sight to that car. So for instance when I was riding along in the 5th lane (the only time I could have sped up without noticing it) with 4 lanes of moving traffic between my little compact car and the guy with the gun, it is likely that the speed the speed of the intended target car (my car) but rather that of some in between vehicle. And lastly there was information I did not fully understand that talked about cosine effects and stated that if a radar was 30 yards off the target lane with a 300 ms sample period (I assume this is 30 millisecond but who knows...) and a +/- 1 mph accuracy, the gun could not measure a target going 65 miles per hour accurately if it was less than 230 feet (77 yards) away. While I did not understand all the physics, I did understand that the only time he could have directly tracked me before I crossed over to the 5th lane I was far closer to him than that, due to the position there on the shoulder.

So I had decided that I would not just pled guilty and pay the fine, I would agree to pled guilty to my offense (63 in a 55 zone) but not to the citation (75 in a 55 zone) which was obviously an erroneous measure for all the reasons outlined above.

a note, the week before I got the citation a law had changed that raised the ticket price considerably for anyone going more than 20 miles an hour above the speed limit. Further suggesting to me that it was not a coincidence that the citation said 75 in 55. The county needs money.

but between then and now the little parades of 3 police cars on the edge of the interstate targeting cars have disappeared. and today the county is offering a deeply discounted sale on tickets if you just quietly give them your money right away and go away. I interpret this to mean that someone in the county police office had figured out the same things I did about the likely accuracy (or lack thereof) of laser citations under these circumstance. That Plus the more junior cops probably got tired of putting their lives on the line pulling people over on the interstate and then having to get out and walk along the side of traffic flinching every time a vehicle sped past for no reason that had to do with public safety.

I declined the deal, but sat in court watching long lines of folks who had accepted it being processed before court started for the rest of us who stubbornly chose to skip the sale. Which, by the way, still packed the courthouse. Then they processed us into two groups - those pleding guilty or nolo and a second group pleding not guilty. This group was much larger and would have to go to court at a later date. I suspect that it is rare for more than half the people required to show up in court to pled not guilty and agree to go to court. So maybe many of them had been doing the same research I did.

But court is intimidating and scary. Sitting there I began to worry that I had made a bad decision. Could I prove what my speedometer said? Well, no, I was alone in the car. Did I want to incur the cost for the state of a court trial (which woudl likely exceed the cost of the ticket) for something so trivial? Well not really. Suddenly it seemed utterly inadequate to stand up and explain what had seemed really logical before - the discrpancy between my speedometer reading and that of the laser gun which exceeded all reasonable margins of error, the multiple aspects of the physical situation that raised the probability that the laser reading was, indeed, inaccurate. As it appeared to be too late to just knuckle and pled guilty, which I truely do not believe I am but court and disagreeing with police is scary, I decided maybe I needed to call a retired judge that I knew and ask for a good lawyer. This whole thing seemed to be blowing out of proportion, but then that was what they counted on when they did mass citations of people targeted under conditions that likely did not result in accurate laser gun readings, then required them all to show up at the courthouse and offered a deal where 10 miles an hour were knocked off the citation if you just lined up and paid your fine immediately. Which does not seem right, no matter how much financial trouble the county is having. And tends to undermine trust in the police. At least my trust.

In the end, when I was called up to talk to the clerk to schedule a courtdate I handed her my paper pleding not guilty and told her I was unwilling to pled guilty to 75 in a 55, which I believed was erroneous. I did, however, prefer to avoid going to court and I was willing to pled guilty to what I was guilty of, which was 63 in a 55 zone. She told me if I went downstairs to the cashiers and paid the fine today they would knock 10 mph off the citation, so it would be 65 in a 55. I said fine, hot tailed it to an ATM, took out a bunch of cash, and went back to the cashiers where I stood in line for nearly an hour to pay my fine. Sometime during that hour it occured to me that this was the same deal the cops were offering to anyone they could convert before the court hearing.

Not sure if I won or lost that one. But no one in DEkalb county should really need to pay property taxes this year and I am confident we raised enough money this one day in traffic court alone to practically stop all furloughs of public safety officers and to build new schools all around.

Another odd thing - the crowd was more than 95% black. I don't know the composition of Dekalb County, but the repsentatives from 3 of the 6 districts are black and the other 3 are white. If that reflects demographics, the people in the courtroom were way disproportionately black compared to the county population. Racial profiling? hard to imagin since the cops, court clerks, and cops present in the courthouse were almost universally also black. But it does seem that something is disproportionate in who winds up being required to come to court for traffic citations. Maybe there was some deal I missed where you got to have 10 mph knocked off your citation AND did not have to actually show up and spend your day in court.

But for now, it is over and I am grateful. And when I remember practically lying on the counter when forced to stand in line for an hour in the post office to mail something important by overnight mail, and compare that to today when the only weird thing about my behavior was wearing a surgical mask, I am grateful that this was the week chemo was deferred and my energy level way up.

On the way home I dropped all my tax prep paperwork with the accountant. Another chore knocked off before I again start droping poison into my system weekly.

1 comment:

  1. Louisa, I am appalled by not surprised by the revenue enhancing measures DeKalb county has resorted to. Seattle has red light cameras mounted on poles at heavily traversed intersections and is raking in the dough from the pictures and videos generated when a car is too slow getting through, or like me, turns right after making a California stop because it was midnight and I wanted to get home after a long day's work. I contested mine and got a reduction in the citation amount.

    I think your decision was a wise one. And, again, I have my fingers crossed for your final round of chemo.