Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Criminal court visit

I just got out of court - criminal court, not traffic. In New York, some moving violations are serious enough to be considered criminal - about the same level of crime as drinking a beer on the sidewalk or peeing in public. I was worried what this might mean; I've never been in front of a criminal judge before.  I've been to traffic court and TLC hearings before, but never criminal. I was a tad nervous.

The cops pulled me over about six weeks ago and gave me a summons for idling more than three minutes. This law was enacted in order to cut down on pollution, of course, and was primarily aimed at buses and big trucks. Those diesel fumes are pretty nasty after all. But, the law does apply to all motor vehicles, and is almost uniformly ignored by all vehicles.

This law is a bit difficult for cabbies to obey, though. If we are on duty, we must, according to TLC regulations, be available to pick up passengers, whether we are cruising or waiting in a taxi stand. If, while in a taxi stand, we shut of the engine, the computer that controls the meter shuts off. When we start back up, the computer takes a few minutes to reboot. During those few minutes, we cannot turn on the meter and must wait before picking up passengers. Imagine hopping in a cab at a taxi stand, only to have the driver say that you have to wait a few minutes - need to boot up. Not gonna happen.

Now, when I was idling, I was not in a taxi stand, but waiting in front of a nightclub. And, I confess, I was double parked, but that has nothing to do with idling. Cop could have given me a ticket for double parking if he wanted to.

The fine for idling ranges from $800 to $2000. I was a tad nervous, and went to court with my TLC rulebook ready to explain that two laws contradicting each other is unjust. I was hoping for the best, and not really prepared for the worst.

Before I got a chance to say a word, the judge offered to let me plea guilty and receive a $25 fine. I accepted with relief. I barely managed to avoid shouting out in joy.

Now, oddly enough, there in not a chance a regular traffic court judge would immediately offer such a plea deal. I would have to pay the full fine. Why are criminal tickets, a supposedly more serious offense, treated so much more leniently? I shouldn't complain about such a deal, but the city really ought to rethink its system.

Now, I wonder if it's too early for a beer.

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