Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The price of due process

Out in the hinterlands of Texas, near the Red River, is a place called Jack County. A total of about 8800 folks call Jack County home. Of course there is a local constabulary patrolling the (largely) empty roads of Jack County. Maybe they're looking for terrorists, drug dealers and liberals. They are most assuredly looking for speeders.

The folks in the JP's office are more than happy to let you know just how much it will cost you to get through Jack County as quickly as possible.

As with any place else in the Lone Star State, you can choose to have your ticket dismissed after completing a driver safety course or a probationary period, along with the payment of a bribe court fee. If you're the daring sort, you can even challenge the ticket in court.

And the court's minions will allow you to exercise your constitutional right to due process for the posting of a $200 appearance bond.

What a bargain!

What a farce.

Now I would imagine that most of the folks who receive a traffic citation in Jack County are just passing through (as quickly as possible, no doubt). And I can't think of too many good reasons to drive back up there to contest a traffic ticket. I would assume that the court collects quite a few pretty pennies from folks who just want to get their case dismissed without the hassle of fighting it.

But to charge someone $200 to exercise their right to a trial by jury in a criminal case is not only ridiculous - it's unconstitutional. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it state that the people have a right to due process if they can afford it. Nowhere in the Texas Constitution does it state you only get to exercise your right to due process if you can afford to post a bond.

The entire purpose of the appearance bond is to discourage the few people who are willing to stand up and challenge a speeding ticket. It should be no surprise that it's a justice of the peace court imposing such a rule. The criminal (in)justice system is replete with examples of judges at the bottom of the food chain acting like tyrants.

Sure, defendants in county and district court have to post bonds to get out of jail -- well, if you're a defendant in county or district court you've been charged with an offense that carries the possibility of confinement. Hell, you were handcuffed and carted off to the county jail.

But you aren't subject to confinement if you're found guilty of speeding. When the officer asks you to sign the ticket you are making a promise to appear in court. The requirement of an appearance bond to exercise your right to hold the state to its burden only serves as a restriction on the due process rights of motorists in Jack County.

Violation Sheet

1 comment:

Kirk said...

I would say there is an even more abusive tactic of these small venue courts: mandatory appearance at docket call. For people insisting that the State prove its case to a judge or jury (the gall!), the judges or justices will often hold a "trial docket" every month or so, and will require all of the defendants who have asserted their rights to appear in person: "If you fail to appear, a warrant will be issued for your arrest." This essentially works as a penalty for exercising your constitutional rights. For someone who lives hours away, it is much simpler to pay the fine than fight it.

The local constabulary of tiny county in the panhandle recently accused me of exceeding the speed limit within their jurisdiction. When I told the Justice of the Peace that I wished to plead Not Guilty, she was taken aback. She asked me, "Are you pleading not guilty because you're really innocent?" (Sigh.)