Not Responsible

Today was my hearing for the speeding ticket I received in May, driving home from Beverly over the Tobin Bridge. In preparation, before bicycling over I drew up a page of notes on why I felt the ticket was unwarranted, and packed a change of nicer clothes.

The hearing was held in the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse, a beautiful, modern building full of matched acute angles, aligned to the 45 degree corner of the plot. One side is marked by a stone colonnade with diamond cross-sections, seemingly 5 feet wide and 5 stories tall.

I arrived a half-hour early, changed out of my bicycling clothes, and went to the courtroom to wait.

Everything in the building is tall and narrow. The doors are even nonstandard sizes. The courtroom in which the hearing was held had 5 rows of thin, solid upright wooden benches, varnished dark to match the paneling that covered the lower portions of the walls. The doors, wall panels, and even the windows repeated a common pattern: paired tall narrow rectangles. The courtroom had about an 18 foot ceiling, but 20 foot windows, looking out over a busy intersection with an occasional Segway- or Duck-Tour. It seems that the whole building has been done with great care… except the bathrooms, which look identical (apart from the high ceilings) to the ones in my high school.

Seventeen people came for the hearing, not including the judge (he referred to himself as an Assistant Magistrate) and a Trooper, in uniform, representing the Massachusetts State Police. The judge and I were both wearing khakis and light yellow dress shirts; it seemed a good omen.

The judge informed us that we would have to pay our $25 filing fee (recently instituted) upstairs, but I had already paid by mail, so I just waited. There were 17 people in the room, I think, a few of whom were there to provide moral support or transportation.

The judge called people to a desk at the front of the room, where they were seated, and the trooper read off the counts. Each person would then make a case, and the judge would discuss it with them briefly. The trooper would sometimes make an argument as well, such as noting that a speed measurement was made by a LIDAR device that is unlikely to mistake one car for another. The judge would then make a determination. His determinations, in roughly equal proportion, were “Not Responsible”, “Responsible, penalty reduced to $75″, and “Responsible, penalty reduced to $150″. He would also note, in each case, that either the State Police or the driver could appeal the decision. If the driver requests an appeal, there is a fee of $50; at any appeal, the specific trooper in question is required to attend.

For speeding tickets, the judge seemed to care about only one thing: were you exceeding the speed limit in the specified zone? If you said no, and provided a plausible explanation for why you were not, then you got a Not Responsible. Otherwise, you got a Responsible with a reduced fine. I mentally crossed off my diatribe about how horrified the civil engineers would be to see their road, with a design speed of 70+ MPH, designated as a 30 zone.

Halfway through, my name had not yet been called, when the judge left, and a new judge took his place. This one was a woman, at least my mother’s age, with an impervious expression. I became a bit worried.

Eventually, there were only three applicants left in the room, and my name still hadn’t been called. The judge asked for our names, and sure enough, two of us were not on the list. We had both paid in advance, and it seems that they had left out our paperwork. We went to the office upstairs to clear the matter, and then went back to the courtroom.

As a result of this snafu, my case was the very last one heard. Being last gave me a decided advantage. The girl before me had a record 7 pages long, and was one infraction away from losing her license. The judge gave her a “Not Responsible” and a very stern warning.

It was clear that neither the judge nor the trooper wanted to be there any longer than necessary. I began to make an argument based on the idea that (1) I was braking because I could see the officer in the middle of the road and (2) the sightlines are long, so he must have been measuring my speed in the preceding zone, with a higher limit, and (3) I was the third person in the session contesting a speeding ticket from this particular location, but the judge cut me off. “Are you a good driver?” she asked. “I don’t have your record, because of your Connecticut license. Have you been stopped before, in Connecticut?”. “No,” I said, “I’ve never been stopped prior to this.” “Good.” said the judge. “You seem like a nice young man, and you have a clean record. Let’s keep it that way.”

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