Thursday, July 29, 2010

Who's burden is it?

Memo to: Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman
From: Paul B. Kennedy
Date: 7/29/2010

I'm not sure if y'all realize this but when a police officer stops a motorists and issues a citation for speeding, that motorist is being charged with a criminal offense. I understand it's only a Class C misdemeanor - but that motorist may still have to pay a fine and deal with DPS surcharges.

The motorist is presumed innocent unless the state can prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt. That's right, the prosecution has the burden of proof. The motorist has a right to a trial before a jury of his peers - no matter how inconvenient that may be. The motorist also has a right to confront the witnesses against him - even if the City of Houston is going to have to shell out some overtime money for the officers.

The motorist is issued a notice informing him of where and when he is to appear for his trial. The officer who issued the citation is served with a summons to appear at the same time in the same place. If the motorist is not sitting in the courtroom when his name is called, the judge will have a warrant issued for his arrest. If the officer isn't present, the case is dismissed. But now y'all have decided that the law doesn't apply to the city and that officers don't have to be in court for the morning docket call.

It's the government who's attempting to take money out of the motorist's pocket. It's the motorist's money. It's the motorist's time. If the government wants to infringe on someone's liberty then it's the government who needs to deal with these messy inconveniences of our criminal justice system, not the motorist. Yet it's the government who decides to make innocent people sit in a courtroom for hours waiting for their accusers to show up in court. The state may have the burden of proof, but I guess the citizenry have the burden of exercising their rights.

It seems to me that the government is taking offense at the notion that a motorist dare stand up and proclaim himself not guilty. We've already seen the city proclaim red light camera violations to be civil violations in order to avoid dealing with due process and confrontation issues. How long until y'all declare all traffic offenses to be civil violations, too?

What's going to happen when nobody pleads out their cases in the morning and the courtroom remains full at 1:00 pm? What's going to happen when everyone in the courtroom demands their right to trial by jury and the Municipal Courthouse grinds to a halt?

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