by Joshua Alan Terry
Traffic Court Memories

Last week I continued my tour of Davis County traffic courts after a near ten-year absence. First I appeared in Centerville, then in Woods Cross, now Farmington takes spot number three.

Three down, ten* to go…

Attending traffic court is always a kind of strange limbo experience, since it's not a full-blown criminal court, but you do feel like a menace to society by attending. Most of the people there are present to address fairly nondescript offenses, but the occasional hardcore criminal in attendance always casts a strange atmosphere on the proceedings.

The first time I had to appear before a judge came thanks to a ticket I picked up at senior prom for driving through Smoot Park in Centerville. I still can't reconstruct any logical thought pattern that led to my off-road adventure other than to say that "it seemed like the right thing to do at the time". Maybe it was just over-excitement at spending my prom on a first (and last) date with the captain of the drill team. Maybe it was some sort of a Benihana-induced drug haze. At the very least it was a brain fart.

At the time I was worried that the officer would arrest me on the spot. (He was in the process of breaking up our little group party when I suddenly came driving up on the grass). He didn't book me, but I still had to make my token appearance in court. So one nice evening I stopped by the Centerville courthouse with my dad to answer my charges. After checking in, I sat in a crowded room for about an hour and a half while offender after offender made their way to the big desk at the front of the room. Unlike the other courtrooms I've visited since, the Centerville one was held in a cramped little room with bad lighting coming from a single window behind the judge. The judge himself sat on one side of the huge wooden desk, straight across from the offender. It was like appearing before Don Corleone.

"I'm sorry, Your Honor. I'll never speed again."

"One day, and this day may never come, I will ask a favor of you…"

The only thing he was missing was the orange cat.

I became increasingly sheepish as I heard the judge address a series of offenses that put mine to shame. DUI's, driving on suspended licenses, possession of controlled substances…I still felt like a criminal, but had the disturbing feeling that if we were all in one of those community holding cells they showed on TV, I'd be the one cowering in the corner in fear while Bruno the tattooed carjacking cop killer sat next to me cracking his knuckles.

My situation wasn't helped by the guy that got escorted into the room wearing an orange jumpsuit and leg irons. The traffic violations were put on hold while the judge took a brief hearing for this guy. I can't remember the exact offense the prisoner was in for, but I'm pretty sure it fell somewhere between first-degree murder and genocide.

At last my turn came, and I approached the desk wishing (like all offenders do) that instead of have a public hearing, I could just step back into the judge's chambers for a minute and have a heart-to-heart. Unfortunately, the principal's office this wasn't, and as I sat down the man in charge loomed in front of me wearing a dark shimmering robe that seemed to represent the black hole of justice itself.

The judge looked over my brief without a change of expression on his hardened, wizened face. I always feel a little sorry for judges that have to handle traffic court. Not that any other part of the job is any better, it's just that you're always dealing with a bunch of regular citizens that aren't given to civil disobedience, and are desperate to demonstrate this, often to the point of making the situation a lot more complicated. It's like the "pull-over" situation itself. To the cop it's a job; to you it's personal. So the judge gets stuck listening to a lot of unnecessary babble by people that would be in and out in five minutes if they'd just follow the program.

Anyway, I was surprised the judge didn't laugh out loud when he read my ticket brief. Or at least smile. Instead, he just looked across the big table at me with the weary stare of a tired parent.

"Josh, are you familiar with Statute 439A Section 4**?"

In response, I gave him the token "I have no idea what you're talking about" nod, complete with thoughtful squint and chin rub.

"No, I don't think I know that one."

"It means you're not supposed to drive on the grass in a public park," he replied. I just knew there were people snickering behind me. My dad was probably one of them.

Maybe it was a relief for him to visit with such a harmless twit like me for a moment in the midst of all his other cases. Maybe he was just feeling generous. Then again, maybe he was just interpreting the law. At any rate, the ticket carried a $40 fine, which I gladly paid. And it didn't go on my record, since it only counts as a moving violation if you're on a paved surface.

As I made my way out of the cramped room, I thought someone else might try to stick me with a shiv. What business did I have going to court, anyway? From then on, I would leave the court to the criminals. Well, until seven months later, anyway, when I would appear in Woods Cross for following too close on the freeway. Then there was that little thing last week…

Oh well, three down, ten to go.


A photo taken about five hours before my first ticket. It's photos like this that make me think shaving my head isn't such a tragedy.


*I don't know how many courts there are in Davis County. If I get my way, I'll never find out, either.

**I have no idea what the statute ID really was. For all I know I just typed the ID for illegal consumption of genetically enhanced poultry on a holy day.



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