September 2002 Rant
On July 4th 1997 Randolph Taylor was riding his moped in Charlottesville. A cop stopped him and discovered that Taylor had a suspended drivers license. So the cop charged him. Taylor was afraid of what might happen to him in court Ė heíd been there before - so he hired not one but two attorneys to defend him. When he did go to court he was found guilty of operating a moped with a suspended drivers license and had to serve 30 days in jail and pay a fine of $289.
What is so unusual about this? Driving a moped with a suspended drivers license in the State of Virginia is not a crime. There is nothing in the Code of Virginia about it. The police, the Commonwealth Attorneys, two Albemarle County judges and both of Taylorís attorneys never checked to see if this was indeed a crime. I have no idea what code the cop wrote on the ticket. I have no idea where the judge that sentenced him knew what the penalty was for this ďcrimeĒ.
In the zeal to collect revenue for the state and localities and to punish evildoers some errors are going to be made. Itís terrible when a person is convicted of a crime they didnít commit and has to spend years languishing in jail until they finally get a DNA test to clear them (after the prosecuting attorneys have fought against DNA testing for months or years). Itís also bad when you go to court for a traffic ticket - with all the others who have been charged with a traffic violation Ė and you and the others are herded through the system. A system that is certain you are guilty of something (in Taylorís case he was found guilty of something that wasnít even a crime). Why is court always packed? Doesnít someone know how many seats are in the courtroom? And you canít leave to use the bathroom because your case may be called. I think people are packed into courtrooms not because there are too many court cases but because someone is trying to send a message.
The message is a simple one: donít waste our time with your little traffic ticket. Weíve got even more people to find guilty. Just pay the fine or sign up for traffic school. And you can forget about all those rights to a fair trial by your peers and that stuff about being innocent until proven guilty. This is traffic court and we donít have time for that nonsense, weíve got people to convict and fines to be levied. You are just a cog in the works of big government. Pay up and go.
The good news for our friend Taylor is that his conviction has been thrown out and he is getting a trial before the Virginia Supreme Court on a lawsuit. He hired two new lawyers that are suing his old lawyers for failing to defend Taylor properly. He is suing for $50,000. Taylor canít sue the cops or the Commonwealth Attorneys or the two judges. And a Charlottesville Circuit Court judge has already thrown out the lawsuit against his two former attorneys. Of course thatís not a surprise. What is a surprise is that the stateís supreme court will hear the case. Maybe some justice is still left.