In the olden days, if a person got a speeding ticket, for instance, he could sign the back of the ticket (which meant he plead guilty), call the courthouse for the fine amount and send the ticket and a check by mail to take care of the matter.
Lots of people chose the other alternative: appear on the court date indicated on the ticket. The would then either plead not guilty and the matter would be set for trial or they’d plead guilty with an explanation – something they wanted the judge to know before the plea was accepted or the fine imposed.
The days when these matters were set on for hearing was called the arraignment calendar, or simply, traffic court. I rather looked forward to those days. If the 70-year-old who had been driving for over 50 years appeared on her first traffic ticket, I could accept the plea, but waive the fine in recognition of a half century of good driving. I could take other matters into consideration as well. And if traffic court fell on Christmas Eve, well sometimes the Christmas spirit would influence the amount of the fines levied that day.
That was all very good, but it did take time. And not just the judge’s time – court administration, the bailiff, it all added up. So, over time, more matters were added to the list of charges that could be handled without a court appearance – the payable list. Later, a person could call into the courthouse with the ticket number, find out what the fine was and take care of it over the phone with a credit card. Most recently, a statewide center was established to handle payable tickets from all over the state – just call in with your credit card and in a matter of minutes, the case would be resolved. No need to take a half day off of work so you could go to court and settle up.
Very convenient. Very cost effective.
But, in many cases, very unfair. Many folks don’t know that if you plead guilty to, say, driving without insurance, that your drivers license will be suspended for 30 days. Or, if you call in your plea to driving after suspension, your license will be suspended for an even longer time.
Sometimes, I would like to see that young person with their third underage consumption charge. Are they chemically dependent and need counseling or treatment? Putting them on probation might help save a lifetime of misery. But now, they can simply call it in and pay the fine.
But, the budget is always a major concern, so I doubt very much that these cases will ever go back on the “mandatory court appearance” list.
Not all change is progress.
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Sorry this was late being posted. No electricity this morning! Then at judges conference all day...