I’ll See You In Court

Until we convince the Alabama Department of Transportation to adopt the 85th percentile and get off our backs — along with every other government agency from here to Timbuktu — we’re going to have to deal with traffic tickets. Because the vast majority of us are decent, law-abiding citizens, almost all of us will choose to pay a ticket rather than fight it in court, even if we’re convinced we did nothing wrong.

According to statistics provided by the National Motorist Association (NMA), only five percent, on average, of ticketed individuals choose to fight a citation in court. Combined with the fact that Alabama is the fifth-most ticketed state in the nation, generating millions of dollars in revenue every year (as much as $2 billion is generated annually in the U.S.), it is unlikely drivers will be getting a break from speeding tickets any time soon.

Even with so few people willing to fight tickets in court, anyone who has ever taken on the man knows what a giant pain in the butt it can be. Still, with courtrooms full of people defending themselves on a variety of issues, not just traffic violations, judges are already overwhelmed with cases. Jim Oakes, Alabama volunteer activist for the National Motorist Association, believes just a slight uptick in the number of people willing to fight tickets would result in a tsunami of change.

“I believe if that rate went from five to eight percent it could overwhelm the system,” says Oakes from his Huntsville home. “It really wouldn’t take that many more people willing to fight tickets to create a significant change.”

While Oakes and the NMA advocate fighting traffic citations, it doesn’t always end well for the person involved. Take the case of DeLane McCurry, formerly a resident of the tiny north Jefferson County town of Kimberly.

Shortly after purchasing a new car in late 2009, McCurry was pulled over on Stouts Road by a Kimberly police officer, initially for not having a tag on his car. With all of the satellite Jefferson County courthouses closed due to financial constraints, McCurry informed the officer that he was given extra time to purchase his tag. McCurry says the officer was satisfied with his explanation and returned to his patrol car, only to return minutes later with a citation for speeding.

“I said, ‘What is this?’ He said ‘I stopped you because you were speeding. You were doing 42 in a 30,’’’ McCurry says. “I said ‘You did not stop me for that. You stopped because I didn’t have a tag, but now that I’ve proved that I’m getting one, you want to give me a speeding ticket.’”

Believing himself to be innocent, McCurry decided to fight. His first court appearance a few weeks later was when his nightmare began. Twice McCurry signed in and checked the box “not guilty” only to be told his court date would have to be rescheduled. By the time his third court date rolled around, McCurry was so dispirited that he decided to plead guilty with the intention of paying the fine and getting it over with. He immediately regretted his decision when Judge Buddy Wise issued a fine of $350.

However, in order to keep the ticket off his record, McCurry agreed to enroll in a driver’s education program. In addition to attending a Saturday class, which included a pastor and a UPS driver, McCurry was forced to put a sticker on his bumper for one year printed with the web address www.tellonme.com.

“I went this whole year with a sticker on my car and had to explain to everybody what it is,” McCurry says. “What I got out of it from everybody was not, ‘Wow, this really makes me want to stop and go slow through Kimberly’  — and I’m all for that — but it became an indictment against that city. To me, it’s not a positive image on the town at all, and I love that area. I grew up in the Warrior-Kimberly area. It’s just disappointing that they treat their people like that.”

What should you do if you’re a driver who believes you’ve been unfairly ticketed? Birmingham attorney John Amari, who defends many people in traffic courts throughout Jefferson County, says the first thing you should do is pick up the phone and call a lawyer, particularly when the state’s traffic laws are so complex that almost any driver can be ticketed at any time for any reason.

“The system of traffic laws in the state is so complicated that it’s almost impossible to get in your car and drive down a road without committing at least one violation,” Amari says. “I will tell you one thing. If (McCurry) had been my client, he wouldn’t have had to go to court three times.

“With the economy the way it is right now, many lawyers are looking for business and are taking on these kinds of cases,” Amari says. “Many lawyers are willing to have an initial consultation for no fee, so the only thing it may cost you to sit down and talk to an attorney is a little time.

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