If you ever begin to feel sorry for yourself, go spend a day in District Court in some county. Not Superior Court, where felony cases are heard-there the miscreants at least have the virtue of ambition. But District Court, where the low, the awful, the petty and unimaginably stupid go to confront the power of the State. It's surprising how often they prevail.
And there I was, on the long pews of the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough, not quite sure which category I fell into, but certain I had a claim to each. I had received a speeding ticket--a miscarriage of justice, I assure you--and I was there to fight.
At around 9:15 a.m., the assistant district attorneys began to call the roll of defendants. Some names were answered by attorneys who were there representing paying clients. Some attorneys actually answered for other attorneys, like graduate teaching assistants covering each other's classes. Some defendants--though obviously recidivists, they still hadn't gotten the hang of the system--stood up to piteously plead their case when a simple "guilty" or "not guilty" was called for.
I was there to answer "not guilty," though I knew it was both a lost cause and possibly a big mistake. I had hoped to capitalize on a chink in the system, wherein if the accusing officer does not appear in court, the case is dismissed. As I looked around the courtroom, I didn't see my accuser, a big and stolid DMV officer. I took heart.
While I watched one dull-eyed substance-abuser after another beg for continuances, probation and other forms of undeserved mercy, I worked through the ticket scenario again.
I was returning from Greensboro on I-85 after picking up a black Ferrari 456GTA. This car is to other cars what Ferragamo pumps are to discarded tennis shoes. It is breathtaking, a brilliant obsidian arrowhead, with a husky vibrato from the 12-cylinder engine. The speedometer goes to 220 mph; 65 mph barely registers on the needle.
As I drove east, I saw a North Carolina DMV enforcement car in the far left lane ahead, with traffic piling up behind him for a mile or so. Left-lane patrol is a common tactic with law enforcement personnel, and it is one of the most ill-conceived maneuvers in their repertoire. For while it does keep traffic traveling below the officer's speed, it also creates an unsafe situation behind them, with cars bunched up, tailgating and jostling for driving room, but unable to put any distance among them. This is the slow-motion version of restrictor-plate racing in NASCAR. None of the cars can speed up to establish a safe perimeter around them.
The DMV cop was traveling between 75 and 80 mph. As we traversed the hills going east, I eventually found myself at the front of the pack of cars, with frustrated drivers looming in my rearview mirror--a position no Ferrari should ever be put in. Eventually, as the DMV car slowed going up a hill, the Ferrari's effortless horsepower (415 hp) pulled me past him on the right. I wasn't worried. First, he and I were going about the same speed and it would have been hugely hypocritical for him to cite me for speeding. Second, I had dozens of annoyed motorists jammed up my tailpipe. As a safe driver, it is my responsibility to maintain a safe distance from all cars, whether they are in front of me or behind me.
He pulled ahead of me going downhill. Then, about two miles later, I pulled ahead of him again, at which point he pulled in behind me and flipped his blue lights on. I couldn't believe it.
"You know why I stopped you?" he asked, posing the question law enforcement officers are taught to use as a lure for self-incrimination.
"No," I said, "but if it was for speeding, you and I have been locked up for miles going the same speed."
"That's right," he said, "I paced you going 79 in a 65."
"But you were going at least 80 most of the--"
He cut me off. "Sir, you're going to get a ticket. Anything else, you can tell it to the judge." He actually said that. Then he went back to his car to write up the ticket.
He was young, with thick lips, thin hair and a big round head. I thought uncharitable things about him, I confess. This was a bogus ticket, and he and I both knew it. Then it occurred to me that the brand-new black Ferrari didn't help matters. Plainly, I had been the victim of police profiling: driving while rich.
Months later, I came to court prepared to lay out these facts before a judge, almost certain that an assistant district attorney or even a first-year law student could eat me alive in a trial proceeding. But, damn it, that cop was wrong.
Even better at the moment, he was absent. So at the moment I spoke to the ADA, I said "not guilty." She wrote it down and said that she would call the officer to court. He would have until noon to arrive and present his version of the facts. What? I was crestfallen. I thought he had to be in court at 9 a.m., when I had to be there. What was all this about summoning him? The ADA grew impatient.
"Last chance," she said.
"OK, OK, I'll take 74 in a 65," I said. Anything under 10 mph over the posted limit does not reflect on your insurance points, and those are the ones I was most worried about. She nodded, and told me to pay my fine. My chance to set a great legal precedent came, and I wimped out.
I am not a good driver; I am a great driver. Not only am I highly practiced in high-performance driving, in everyday around-town driving, I am extremely cautious and full of rectitude. I signal every lane change. Stop fully at stop signs and flashing reds. Drive defensively. Use my mirrors. Maintain safe distance. Yield courteously and never, ever ride in the left lane. I also drive with the speed of traffic, which seems only prudent and sensible. And yet I got a ticket.
There is no justice.