Cops who lie. Under oath. And the rubber-stamping bureaucrats who make it easy.

What’s the point in being a law-abiding citizen when truth and justice have gone separate ways?

I’ll try and make this short, but even now, years later, it still bugs me.

It was an early Spring weekend evening, and my girlfriend wanted to go to a church contra dance. I despise dancing, as many men seem to, because I feel everyone is watching me make a fool of myself as I struggle to learn the basics. Imagine my surprise when the church folks were friendly and understanding, and went out of their way to make it comfortable for me. Somehow, against my nature, I ended up having a wonderful time, and was feeling almost euphoric with my achievement, my progress from inhibited recluse to one of the people.

We were driving home on Route 4 in Carlisle, MA. It’s a long, fairly straight road with some hills here and there. It was 11:15PM on a Sunday night, and the road was deserted. The speed limit is 35. In my joyful state, and having the road to myself, I wasn’t watching the speedometer. I only knew I was fine. My girlfriend and I were reminiscing about the high points of the evening, and in general basking in the glow.

I was traveling down a long hill, looking ahead. Through a thick tangle of early-Spring, leafless branches, I saw the headlights of another car, straight ahead, coming toward me, and traveling down another long hill. Here’s a key point: since each of us is traveling down our side of a road with a “V” shaped cross-section, the many trees almost completely block our view of each other, let alone the accuracy of radar shooting through hundreds of holes in the canopy. If it weren’t for the headlights, I probably would not have known there was a car present for a while longer. Anyway, as a matter of routine courtesy and safety, I check my speed: 45 mph. I slow down for the moment, so that when the cars pass it will be at a safer relative speed.

This all happens in a second or two. When I look back up, the approaching car is still visible through the thicket of overhanging branches, but has begun to pull into a driveway. Good, he’s home, I think. I continue courteously at 38-40mph, even giving a bit of leeway to the car in the driveway, in case it pulls out suddenly. Of course, it was a Carlisle police cruiser, and the cop zips behind me and pulls me over. I figure I’m going to get a warning, since I wasn’t going very fast, the road was deserted, and he couldn’t possibly have gotten a visual or radar read on my speed through all the tree branches. I was looking through those same branches, and I barely knew his car was there.

No such luck. While he was not rude, it was instantly clear that he’d made up his mind I was a Violator, and a ticket was forthcoming. I was polite, and as always very careful to move slowly, keep my hands in view at all times, and address the man with respect. As he walked back to his cruiser, I made my single plea: “Please. We’re just coming from a church dance, and I’m very excited I did as well as I did. I was a bit distracted, and may have been a bit over the limit, but I was driving safely.” I thought, being a man, he might identify with a guy being dragged to a dance by his girlfriend. Nope. He replied that they’ve received many complaints from the residents of this road, and that I was getting a ticket. Unwisely but politely, I asked what was involved in contesting the ticket. Was the courthouse nearby. He said it was in Concord, and returned to his car. Since the carrot hadn’t worked, maybe the stick of having to go to court, and his knowing his case was pretty weak might make him reconsider. Again, nope.

I remained polite, read where the ticked indicated my radar-clocked speed was 49, and signed where it said, “Violator’s Signature,” and proceeded home in a dark mood. Everything about this was stupid. How could radar work through all those branches? I doesn’t even work in rain because of all the false echoes. And as it happened, my girlfriend was a PhD. working with synthetic aperture radar. She agreed it was pretty silly. I mailed in my form asking for a court date, and waited.

Fast forward a few years. I haven’t heard from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Did they just tear up the ticket? Since I may be moving there soon, I start calling various government agencies to find out what happened. It turns out that they sent the court notice, not to the address on the ticket or return address on my envelope, but they dug up my last known address in MA, where I haven’t lived in over fifteen years. Naturally, I didn’t receive the notice. I even have a copy of the envelope that was returned to the courthouse, saying “Not at this address.” In their wisdom, someone in the DMV decided I was a fugitive from justice, and suspended my license to drive in Massachusetts. If I was ever stopped by police in the state, I’d be arrested.

I’ll skip this messy middle part, and simply say that it took months, many phone calls, and several meetings with middle-level administrators to convince the good Commonwealth that I was in earnest, I was not responsible for the inexplicably misdirected mail, and that I deserved my day in court. It was a frustrating, uphill struggle, fraught with rude people with too much power on their hands. But in the end, I was given “another” court appearance.

I prepared meticulously. I took pictures and made blow-ups of the sight angles showing the canopy of trees. I got my (then ex-) girlfriend to sign an affidavit stating that we were always traveling at a safe speed. I had the whole presentation worked out. Perhaps foolishly, I didn’t hire a lawyer. I thought the truth would be self-evident, especially considering the great lengths I had gone to to correct the state’s mistake and actually get my say. Mine was the last hearing of the morning. As I entered the dark brick room, I met the elderly man who would conduct the hearing, and a friendly, young, handsome police officer with short blue sleeves and thick biceps. This man was probably 27, and looked like a clean-cut Californian, tanned and smiling. He projected an aura of confidence and integrity. The second bit of bad news was that it was immediately clear that my cop wasn’t present, and even worse, the elderly guy and this cop were pretty friendly coworkers.

After the formalities, the honest, friendly cop read the report my cop had written. The guy must have sat there in his car for 20 minutes composing this twisted drivel. For instance, he wrote that, “the driver asked for a warning rather than a ticket, because he was driving home from a party.” Visions of drunken excess were probably tickling the old guy’s consciousness at that moment, and I knew it. Even the tone of this new cop was condescending, as if to say, “we know you’re guilty. Don’t make a scene. Just accept it.” He continued with the cruiser cop’s report, “Although radar reported the Violator’s speed at 49 mph, I observed him going as fast as 65 mph.” A fearless fabrication, but it was the final straw for the old guy. I hadn’t said a thing yet, and my hearing was over. Oh sure, he did ask me what I had to say in my defense, but he didn’t buy it for a second. He replied with impatient certainty that trying to shoot radar through a partial obstruction like the overhanging branches was like shooting radar “through this brick wall. And if it didn’t work, the officer on duty wouldn’t have reported your speed at 49 mph.” The old guy checked the “Guilty” box on his paperwork and signed it. I never got to show my pictures, my affidavit, nothing. There was clearly no point. I had been labeled a Public Menace, and one who would recklessly, perhaps drunkenly drive 65 on a back country road and try to weasel out of it. Never mind the facts, or the heroic lengths I’d gone to so I could have my two minutes of humiliation. In their view, I’d gotten off easy. You can pay the clerk on your way out.

I have never forgiven the Carlisle police for the railroading I experienced at the incompetent, even malicious hands of one of their finest. I bicycle through their lovely town often, and almost every time I go down that same hill on my bike, I force all my fury into my tired legs, give it everything I’ve got, and intentionally match my true speed that night. I’m that angry, and I figure they owe me a few hundred freebies. When I drive or bicycle past the courthouse, the supposed last bastion for the wronged and downtrodden, where are men and women are equal before blind lady Justice, I mutter a curse and spit.

So, what is the point in being a law-abiding citizen when truth and justice have gone separate ways? Only the satisfaction of having done the right thing. Even if the fine says otherwise.

The opinions expressed in Steve’s Peeves are intended to entertain and uplift. They may not be appropriate for young readers or the satirically challenged. Parental supervision is advised.

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