The Minnesota State Patrol had a clever television ad that showed drivers giving excuses why they were speeding. Law enforcement officers have told me that these are not made up – they have heard most, if not all, of the excuses shown in the commercial!
I recall being in a different courthouse for a criminal calendar and seeing another judge’s notes on the blotter on the bench. He had listed excuses (“The car wouldn’t start.” “My ride backed out at the last minute.” “I have the flu.” Etc.) with checkmarks behind each excuse indicating how many times he’d heard it.
One of my colleagues recently noted that a sure way to solve the unemployment problem was to get arrested and appear before the judge, because he (and all of us!) routinely hear that the defendant needs to get out of jail because he is supposed to start a new job today (or tomorrow).
Another of my colleagues came up with the top ten reasons a person who was recently arrested should get out of jail. Like the excuses shown in the State Patrol ad, these are not made up – I, and I suspect every judge in Minnesota, have heard each one several times.
1. I was supposed to start a new job this morning
2. The neighbor is watching my children
3. My grandmother is dying (or just died)
4. I am not getting proper medical care for (pick any communicable disease)
5. They had my address wrong
6. If you let me out to get to an ATM machine I can pay the bail
7. I have never missed a court appearance
8. My animals need to be fed
9. I am getting evicted and I need to get my stuff out of my apartment
10. Did I tell you about that new job?
I must say that routinely I and other judges hear legitimate and well-reasoned grounds to consider releasing defendants who appear before me. We all must base our decisions, whether it be setting bail and release conditions or any of the myriad of other decisions that are presented to us on a daily basis, on the facts as we know them in the particular case and the law that governs that specific decision.
That doesn’t prevent us, however, from a chuckle now and again when it is obvious we are trying to be sold a bill of goods.
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Next Week: Court Reporters