Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread

I was hired at the last minute for a serious traffic case.  My client was from out of town so I never met with him but I had a chance to speak with him for about one half hour not long before court.  He told me that he was charged with possessing and presenting a fraudulent license, having no insurance on his vehicle and falsified registration and plates.  He told me that he was stopped on his way to New York.  He showed the officer his legitimate drivers license, showed him car registration and showed him proof of insurance.  Despite this evidence the officer confiscated the car and put these serious charges against my client.  My client's car was searched for weapons and contraband with negative results.  My client was marooned in Maryland for 10 hours with his passenger and baby waiting for help from out-of-state.  My client was just passing through.  I found my client's story to be compelling and I was outraged at the conduct of the officer.  I was wondering if there was racial motivation and my client was the subject of racial profiling.  I asked my client if there were any facts needed to tell me which might have a negative impact on his case.  Nothing that he knew about.

I met my client at the courthouse.  The courthouse was many miles from where I usually practice.  I did not know the judge nor the prosecutor.  I spoke with my client briefly and reviewed his documentation.  It did indeed appear that his license was legitimate, his insurance was in order, and the vehicle had proper registration.

I approached the prosecutor keeping my indignation in check at the civil rights violations my client suffered.  The prosecutor did not know what was coming.  He was looking to see if my client would pay one of the underlying tickets and the serious charges would be dismissed.  I told the prosecutor that my client was in no mood to deal and that we were inclined to contact the Department of Justice and begin a civil rights investigation against the conduct of the officer.  I wanted the prosecutor to call the case so that the officer would have to testify under oath and I could examine the officer fully as to the events of that day.  The prosecutor was not so interested in my crusade and elected to drop the entire case.  Of course my client was pleased with this result.

Out of habit even after the prosecutor committed to dropping the case I requested to review the state's evidence.  The state's evidence was merely a several page police report.  In the report the officer stated that he stopped the vehicle because it had temporary registration in the back window and he was unable to see the expiration date.  In my mind that is a legitimate reason to stop the vehicle.  The officer further stated that the passenger claimed that she had just purchased the vehicle two days earlier and showed a bill of sale which in my mind was grossly disproportionate to the actual value of the car.  The officer then ran the VIN number and was able to determine that the passenger had actually owned the vehicle for several years and that there was an insurance block from out-of-state on the vehicle.  Further, the passenger then admitted that the registration plate was fraudulent.

The case was done and over and I am certain my client had a legitimate license and did have legitimate insurance on the vehicle.  I have my doubts about the registration plate.  Had I seen the discovery prior to my crusade I might have tempered my approach somewhat.  Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.*

*Fools rush in where angels fear to tread is used by Edmund Burke in his work Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

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