SPRINGVILLE — You know the feeling. You are on your way to work, maybe running a few moments late after spilling coffee on your tie or snagging your tights, just as you were heading out the door. You’re praying that law enforcement decided to take the morning off, as you try to make up time by nosing the speedometer needle a little bit higher.
And then you see flashing lights behind you, promising that you will definitely be late this morning.
In addition to the embarrassment of being pulled over on the highway and having to explain to your boss why you scooted into the office half an hour late, now you have a court date to look forward to.
And you will not be the only one paying out the nose for your crisp new ticket. Enter the rest of us, the taxpayers, who get to hand more of our hard-earned paychecks to court judges, clerks, bailiffs and prosecutors.
After an Erie County driver receives a speeding ticket and sends his or her plea to the town, village or city in which he or she was caught speeding, a summons with a court date is issued.
In many Erie County courts, the proceedings are conducted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Ticket-holders sign in and wait for what could be hours for their names to be called. Next, they are brought into a court representative’s office and told what their plea options are, before heading to the courtroom to wait a little bit longer to go before the judge. Each defendant gives his or her plea again and a fine is handed down. Finally, the ticket-holders pay another court representative and may then go home.
In the meantime, we are keeping the lights on all evening, as the lines of innocent-until-proven-guilty townspeople snake down the court hallways and we are paying the judge(s), police men or women, prosecutors and clerks.Our justice system is backlogged and slow and, in my opinion, outdated. In a day and age where everything, from making toast to flying to Japan, is being streamlined, we are wasting time and money by having judges see each and every speeding ticket recipient, often handing the same sentence down dozens of times in one evening.
In parts of the United Kingdom, drivers who are detained for minor offences such as broken headlights, speeding or following too closely, have the option of paying a “fixed penalty” directly to the police, without going to court. Drivers are never forced to pay on the spot and may choose to see a judge, whether to plead innocent, receive a lesser fine or for some other reason.
The option of paying a police officer on the spot sounds like a great option for individuals who know they were speeding and who would like to pay their fine and get the proceedings over with.
While some other states may have this policy in place, New York does not, and I believe this is an oversight that could greatly help our overspending justice system.
If detained drivers were able to pay the police officers on the spot, court employees could focus their energies on more serious offences. It would also streamline the court process, by cutting down on the number of cookie-cutter pleas the judges are required to hear.
Fines would still be paid to the local government. Lawbreakers would still receive the requisite scoldings and have to pay their fines. Citizens would continue to be offered their sixth amendment right to a trial.
To me, this would be a win-win scenario. No government can afford to waste money, especially when there are other, viable options out there.
A New York founding father, Alexander Hamilton, said, “It is of the greatest consequence that the debt should ... be remolded into such a shape as will bring the expenditure of the nation to a level with its income.”
That practice should begin on the local level.