Friday, June 6, 2014

Indio Traffic Court Scam, Part 2

I have written and spoken about this scam for a long time and on many occasions, and the public needs to know the latest chapter.

Two things are fundamental in our system.  One is that all people have a constitutional right to a trial if they are accused of committing a crime [and traffic infractions are crimes].  The other is that “bail” may not be imposed on people accused of crimes, conformably with the 8th Amendment, unless they are found to be flight risks.  The latter is rather regularly violated in this jurisdiction for all levels of crime, because it is understood that people who are held in custody for extended periods of time are thereby softened up into pleading guilty to something, thus releasing pressure on the bloated criminal trial calendar.  It takes literally months to obtain habeas corpus relief for illegal pretrial detention, by which time defendants have generally taken some sort of plea bargain.

In the traffic trial setting, there are troublesome tweakings of those two fundamental doctrines which have resulted in an overt scam on the public of a sort and depth that if it were practiced by an individual, he would be in state prison for extortion.
In traffic, the unwitting public are told that if they plead not guilty to traffic charges at arraignment, they will not receive their trial [a constitutional right] unless they post “bail’ [which constitutionally requires they be found to be flight risks before it can even be imposed].  That “bail” is suspiciously about the same amount, or slightly more, than the fine would be if they were to plead guilty.  They are told that they will not receive a trial unless and until they post that “bail.”  If they politely refuse, they are dealt with quite rudely and menacingly by the Court, which has even been known to threaten an additional sum, over and above that “bail” amount, if they have not paid that illicit tribute by the time of the future-set trial.

Here are the facts from a declaration executed by one motorist who was exposed to that horrid, virtually terroristic, attitude by the local traffic court:

1.      I appeared at the appointed time for arraignment on this traffic infraction.  No one said or suggested I was a flight risk.

2.      As part of the general advisals to the whole room full of people apparently there on traffic citations, the judge said that there are only three ways to respond to his reading of the charges to each defendant: Guilty, Traffic School, or Not Guilty.  He got seemingly great enjoyment out of mocking people who responded otherwise or who wanted to explain something about the charges.

3.      When my name was called, I came forward and pled “not guilty,” which was one of the alternatives that he had said was available.  Only after I pled “not guilty” and asked for a trial did the Court announce that I had to post $500.00 “bail” to obtain a trial.  When it was clear that I was not, at that point, going to pay the $500.00, he told me to go back and sit down.  As I was headed back to my seat, he said to the bailiff “Bailiff, get your handcuffs lubricated.” I thought I had a constitutional right to a trial.  I thought bail could only be imposed on someone who is a flight risk.  I know many people who have had misdemeanor charges against them, including drunk driving charges, and they never had to post bail.  This infraction is, I believe, of less serious nature than a misdemeanor.  The discussion of “bail” came up only when I insisted on having a trial.  The judge became visibly agitated at me and asked why I thought I didn’t have to do the same thing everyone else was doing.  I don’t and didn’t know what everyone else was doing; I only know that I was there on my promise to appear for an arraignment on a traffic infraction, I appeared when I was supposed to appear, when the Court asked me how I pled, I respectfully said “not guilty,” to which the Court responded that I had to post bail.  If that was happening to everyone else, then it was as wrong for them to be required to pay “bail” to enjoy their constitutional right to trial as it is for me.

4.      The Court suggested that I would not get a trial until and unless I posted $500.00 “bail.”  I started thinking then that what the Court was labeling “bail” was really an admission fee to the trial Court, sort of like the old tickets one had to buy and hand over to enter certain rides at Disneyland.  It was not clear whether this was an “A Ticket” ride or an “E Ticket,” but I again said I was pleading “not guilty” and I wanted a trial.  By then the judge seemed quite furious.  He snapped that the matter was being continued to June 6.  I said I was not waiving time and I wanted a trial.  As his closing comments to me, he said that if I had not paid the $500.00 by the time of the continued date, he would add $300.00 to the amount he was saying was due.  He did not supply the authority for that warning.  Nor was it clear whether he was thereby prejudging guilt on the citation charges, or whether he was going to impose that amount, regardless of what he determined, in his “neutrality,” was the truth of the charge, or what.  I do not scare out of enjoying my constitutional rights that easily, and I had said, for a total of three times, that I was pleading not guilty and I wanted a trial.  I have consulted with counsel who knows the law of these matters and he does not know what authority would support the imposition of that additional $300.00 figure, but since I do not intend to pay this admission fee to enter the trial Court, I guess we will find out the authority, because I have been led to understand that many criminal defense attorneys are interested in learning what it is.

5.      Before I left, I politely inquired how I would go about getting a transcript of what had transpired in Court that day. The judge responded “I don’t care what you do after you leave this Court.  You can go spend $3,000.00 to hire a lawyer and figure that out; I don’t care.”

6.     I don’t think I have ever seen such rude treatment of a citizen who was simply and politely trying to enjoy his constitutional rights.

This all occurred in America, Folks – right here in Riverside County and Indio.

Needless to say, the dismissal motion that this declaration was appended to was granted today and the case was dismissed.  But that was no great loss to the voracious traffic court fiscal coffers, because the dismissal motion was called first, granted, and there was a courtroom of more potential lambs to the slaughter of “justice,” ready to be arraigned, and ready to be assailed and exploited out of their hard-earned funds.

When I first became aware of this sort of exploitation years ago, I brought the matter to the attention of the then-presiding judge of the Court system, Judge Thomas Cahraman, and he wrote me back that (a) it is not happening, and (b) if it is, it is okay.  Huh?  It was and is happening, and it is not okay, if we are a nation of laws and not of governmental hooligans.

That patent and purposeful rip-off of the public, denied to exist by a previous presiding judge, is what impelled me to run for judge against one of the greatest victimizers of the public in this scam the last time around, but his supporters also denied that what happens every day happens at all, and the easily fooled public fell for it.  You got the judiciary you deserve.  I and other liberty-oriented people did not.

Citizens who cannot afford counsel, who are the majority of people appearing on traffic arraignments, don’t know their rights in this regard, and cannot afford to litigate their rights on the subject, and hence they default into quietly paying their fines and leaving the courthouse, without trial or dignity.

There are circulars in the county law library regarding traffic court procedures that announce that a person appearing on a traffic arraignment who pleads not guilty must pay “bail” to obtain a trial.  There is no authority for that, and the Constitution speaks loudly against it, and I suspect most of the judges know it to be a fraud.  Paperwork from the Court, and some judges, cite Vehicle Code section 40519 as the authority for this scam.  Apart from the clear point that state statutes cannot trump state or federal constitutional doctrines, this one does not pretend to do so, if it is read.  That provision announces that if you have an arraignment date and you want to come in early and plead not guilty to the clerk, not in court but to the window clerk, they can require you to pay this “bail” to obtain a trial.  Neither it nor any other provision authorizes the collection of “bail,” which is really just an admission ticket to the traffic funhouse, to obtain a trial, if you have pled not guilty in open Court.  The Court cannot even read or understand the very authority it invokes for ripping unsuspecting people off.

There is nothing more loathsome that for a person’s government, the government of, by, and for the People, to rip off those people in the guise of administering “justice.”  The traffic court system has really morphed into a glorified appendage of the state tax revenue system, stealthily detouring Prop. 13’s limitation on taxation by duplicitously labeling the moneys thus extorted “fines” and “fees” and “assessments.”

This scam has to stop, and it has to stop now, and all judges who have enabled it should hang their heads in shame and resign.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Marijuana Madness; the Jury Got it Right, Regardles of What "The Man" Wanted

This recent item from the San Francisco Public Defender's Office illustrates, in stark tones, why "jury nullification" should continue to be understood to be the Framers' intended and legitimate protection for us all against governmental over-reaching, whether by the executive, the legislative, or judicial branches. [Yes, the fundamental power of civilian juries protect us against bad judges as well as against other agencies of government, which is why juries, when told by judges that they don't have that power, should merely smile and say "Uh, ya wanna bet?/!"]

San Francisco, CA— A good Samaritan who offered a pinch of marijuana to soothe a stressed out stranger only to have his compassion repaid with felony charges was acquitted following a jury trial, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.

After three hours of deliberation, a jury on Wednesday found Stetson Qualls Jones, 24, not guilty of possession of marijuana for sale and sale of marijuana. If convicted, Qualls Jones faced up to three years in state prison, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ariel Boyce-Smith.

Qualls Jones’ ordeal began Feb. 5 while hanging out with friends in the “Hippy Hill” area of Golden Gate Park. The group was socializing and smoking marijuana when Qualls Jones thought he recognized a man approaching the group and waved him over. Upon closer inspection, Qualls Jones realized the man was a stranger, but welcomed him regardless. When Qualls Jones invited him to smoke with the group, the man declined, asking instead if he could buy marijuana.

Qualls Jones testified that he told the man that he did not sell marijuana. The man appeared agitated and stressed out, so Qualls Jones reached into his personal stash, pinched off a small amount of marijuana, and handed it to the man, who turned out to be a police decoy.

Qualls Jones, who lives a communal lifestyle and frowns upon capitalism, testified that he refused the $20 the man offered him in exchange for the marijuana.

After the interaction, Qualls Jones was swarmed by five to six police officers, who were conducting a sting operation. Police found a bag of less than 1 ounce of marijuana in his jacket pocket. Police testified they found the $20 under a blanket where Qualls Jones was sitting.

Qualls Jones spent four days in jail before being released by a judge.

During the trial, Qualls Jones testified that he considers marijuana to be medicine and feels it should be freely shared instead of bought and sold.

Under questioning from Boyce-Smith, two police officers admitted they were receiving overtime pay in exchange for the buy-bust operation. One of the officers also acknowledged on the stand that his department receives federal grants for the stings.

“Despite conducting a well-funded operation, police did not bother to gather any corroborating evidence. There wasn’t a single photograph taken or a single witness interviewed, despite the fact that Mr. Qualls Jones was sitting with six other people in a public park,” Boyce-Smith said.

Throughout the trial, Boyce-Smith repeated a rhyme that captured the frailty of the case: “He didn’t accept a dime/they made up this crime/while they were getting paid overtime.”

In 2006, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance making marijuana offenses the police department’s lowest priority. However, public marijuana sales are not included in the policy.

Qualls Jones was found guilty of possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, an infraction, and fined $25.

Adachi said Qualls Jones never posed a risk to public safety.

“A tremendous amount of city resources were wasted in a manufactured case against a man who was minding his own business,” Adachi said. “San Franciscans have been very clear about marijuana enforcement and I am not surprised a jury rejected this case.”