NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #27

Justice, Arizona Style

Last week we discussed the erosion of due process in Massachusetts, where defendants now have to pay a fee for the “privilege” of going to traffic court. Just to show that the East Coast doesn’t have a monopoly when it comes to abusing motorists we decided to share the experiences of one of our members who challenged a speeding ticket in a district court in Tolleson, AZ.

Our member, we’ll call him Charlie, was absolutely convinced of his innocence and he spent untold hours researching the law and planning his defense. Charlie lives six hours from Tolleson, in California.

On the day of his trial Charlie showed up early, prepared, and actually looking forward to conducting his defense. His planned defense included a ticket that had five errors, including the failure to mention what level of crime he was being charged with violating. There was the failure of the police department (acting as prosecutor) to provide any of the items Charlie had subpoenaed. Adding to the litany of errors was the fact that the trial date was beyond the statute of limitations for a speedy trial. There were also factual matters that he had planned to raise.

At the beginning of the trial, Charlie asked if the hearing was being recorded. He was told that it was and he was shown the recording device, which was turned on.

The judge, actually a “Hearing Officer” with apparently zero legal training, told Charlie that the only input Charlie would be permitted at the hearing was to rebut the officer’s testimony. Charlie protested and explained that he had prepared a solid defense and he wanted an opportunity to present it.

The Hearing Officer ignored his request and told the officer to give his testimony. The officer spoke so quickly that Charlie could not hear or understand what was said. (Charlie is not a native speaker but his english is quite understandable and he is articulate). The Hearing Officer retorted that it wasn’t his fault Charlie didn’t understand english and maybe his wife should interpret for him.

When Charlie attempted to raise his valid legal issues, for example violation of the state law that regulates construction zones and determines when the speed limit can be reduced, the Hearing Officer refused to allow him to proceed. (The Hearing Officer, nor the officer issuing the ticket, had any knowledge of the relevant state law and admitted as much.)

Every motion Charlie made was denied without explanation.

Following the insulting and demeaning treatment and the complete absence of meaningful due process Charlie was pronounced guilty. After a failed attempt to get Charlie to pay his fine twice he proceeded to fill out the form for an appeal. He asked the clerk for a copy of the tape of his just completed “trial.” She said it would cost $24 and he gave her $24. She then left to retrieve the tape. Ten minutes later she returned and said the “tape was lost!” (Anyone who was part of that charade would want to make sure the tape was lost.)

Charlie will be asking for a change of venue as part of his appeal process. We have high hopes that his next six hour trip to Maricopa County will be less like a trip to Cuba.

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