Trump’s Not the Only One With Legal Troubles

Well, Trump is not the only one with legal battles today. I, too, was in court to clear my good name. I was accused of running a red light and being in the intersection at the red light. I had turned left on a yellow, which was very short, and ultimately turned red when I was in the intersection. 

My defense team (aka me, Google and my attorney brother) researched the case and came up with talking points and precedent cases. (Law is super fascinating, by the way!) The short version of my statement is that this particular yellow light was set shorter than the guidelines recommended by the CA Manual on Traffic Control Devices. 

I pleaded “not guilty” via Trial by Declaration. I was unfortunately informed that I was still guilty and I can choose to do traffic school. I requested a Trial de Novo and prepared my defense.

Being a “legal deviant” is new territory for me, so the amount of anxiety leading up to this court date was at an all-time high. In anticipation of getting lost, directions, parking, security, etc, I left early. So early, in fact, that I arrived two hours before my time. Two ladies in the courtroom basically told me to leave and go hangout at a neighboring coffee shop until doors opened at 1:30. Mind you, my court paper told me to arrive by 1. *sigh* Government doesn’t appreciate the early bird.

I walked to the coffee shop. “I’ve already done my time,” a man shouted to a woman outside the courthouse. Crossing the street, I was stopped by a different man. “You look very nice and very chic. Like a lawyer,” he smiled. “Thank you.” Onward we go. I find it difficult to be social when there is a knot in my stomach the size of the pit of eternity.

I ordered a lemon ginger tea and read and re-read my statement a few times before it was time to walk back to court, deep breathing the entire way. Back through security, the police at security asked me why I wasn’t smiling. (RBF exacerbated by a court appearance, anyone? Do men ever get asked why they’re not smiling?!) I told them I had no reason to smile because I was here.

Several people were gathered in front of the courtroom. There was a woman who reminded me of my mom talking to some know-it-all guy who seemed to be reviewing talking points with her. Son? Attorney? Then the know-it-all guy approached me and asked why I was there. I told him about my red light case. Then he asked if I was an attorney and how I was going to argue. I replied that I was going to prove that the light interval was set too short. “Do you have video?” I answered in the affirmative. “Wow, you’re prepared,” he said.

“Nice power suit,” one woman said to me as she walked by and smiled. “I wore my glasses today even though the prescription is off,” the know-it-all guy informed me. More and more people started to gather. A man with a tattoo in his left cheek and tattoos up and down his arms sat next to me scrolling (strange) photos on Facebook stories. A person with green hair circled the lobby. My “mom” sat in a chair quietly flipping through papers.

The know-it-all guy and I looked around. Every person waiting for court was a person of color. “This is such bullshit,” he said and chimed in on the new Jim Crow laws and how they’re designed to keep minorities in prison. I did not feel this conversation was helpful to me in this moment, so I just stared at my hands in my lap and focused on breathing.

The know-it-all guy must have gotten the point. “I hate this feeling. I hate feeling like this,” he said to me.

“The palpitations and the pit in your stomach?” I asked. “Like you’re in trouble?”

“Yes!” he exclaimed. “I wonder what my life would be like if I had learned to stand up for myself and express my emotions instead of being scared all the time.”

So profound!

A white lady arrived and stood in front of the courtroom door.

“This entire system was set up to intimidate us. The off-shift cops still wearing uniforms, the guns, the elevated judge desk, the cape, the dreary interiors. We’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty but they make us pay a bail first.”

The courtroom door opened and we all went inside at 2 pm.

“Can I sit by you?” the know-it-all guy asked. 

“Sure.” I replied.

“So what’s your heritage anyway?” (Note: the correct way of asking me why I look the way I do.)

“I’m Pakistani descent.”

“You look like you could pass for almost anything.”

“All rise!”

Court was in session.

Attendance was taken. Names of presumed traffic offenders and various officers were called.

“Present,” I answered when my name was called. I haven’t answered to a roll call since high school!

The judge, the same white woman standing outside, entered the courtroom and took her seat at the judge desk. Yay her! I love seeing accomplished women in their elements! Various people get called up and speak, much of it was barely audible.

“Make sure you tell them your record is clean,” the know-it-all guy whispered to me.

My heart was pounding in my ears, my stomach was twisting and turning and my fingers were bordering gangrene from feeling so cold. I try to focus on breathing. 

I mentally recap my statement: 
  1. My record is clean
  2. The law advises the yellow light interval be set to a certain time based on speed of traffic
  3. This particular light was shorter than the recommended (video evidence in hand)
  4. It wouldn’t have been safe to stop and stand in the middle of the intersection 
The judge called my name and I slowly made my way to the defendant stand. “Officer Smith,” (real name not used) the judge called. She scanned the room and waited about ten seconds before saying “Officer Smith is not here. This case is dismissed.” 

*bangs gavel*

Ten seconds. 
One absentee.
One fate determined.

That’s it?! I am obviously relieved. A small part of me felt robbed of an opportunity for coruscation. Because my attorney brother’s prep really was that good (I kept it succinct here)!

“Thank you, your Honor,” I say.

“You’re welcome,” she answered.

I turned and walked out of the courtroom, an exonerated woman.

In Medicine, we reference the “fight or flight” reaction in response to any major threat or stress. Emotions are processed in the amygdala and signals are sent to the master command center, the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus triggers the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol. When the “threat” is over, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and dampens the nervous system.

I ran into my “mom” as I walked out of the courtroom. She was bubbling with glee. “My case was dismissed,” she squealed. “I’m so glad I came to fight this.” 

I think over the sheer terror I felt walking into the courtroom. I learned about my rights. I learned to stand for what I believe in. I faced a fear. I learned about the law and what a gamble it can be. I learned that sometimes people don’t show up and that’s on them. “I’m so glad I came to fight this too,” I reply as we walked together out of the courthouse into the crisp blue day outside. 


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