Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Marion County Traffic Court Violates the Law?

This morning I went out to Marion County Traffic Court on the eastside in response to complaints I had heard about the operation of that court. As of January, the court has had a new judge, Judge Bill Young, a Republican. Now, I've always liked Judge Young as a person. You'd be hard pressed to find a more personable judge out there. As far as liking the operation of the new Traffic Court, not so much so.

At the outset, it should be recognized that Judge Young faced an enormous backlog of cases when he took over operation of the court. So part of his new approach to traffic court litigants is based on the very legitimate need to clear a congested docket. That, however, does not constitute violating the law in the process of doing so.

One of the first announcements you hear from the burly Deputy Sheriff in Traffic Court is that only the individual defendants can be in the courtroom, no friends, family members, etc.. The Deputy Sheriff warns you that if you are not a defendant and you are in "his courtroom" you will be arrested.

Not sure how the Deputy Sheriff came to own the courtroom, but, no, you can't close the courtroom. See Article I, Section 12 of the Indiana Constitution:

Section 12. All courts shall be open; and every person, for injury done to him in his person, property, or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law. Justice shall be administered freely, and without purchase; completely, and without denial; speedily, and without delay
The only time a courtroom can be closed is when it is a juvenile proceeding.

As the defendants were filing into court they were warned by the Deputy Sheriff that if they chose to try their case instead of pleading guilty they could be fined up to an additional $500. Before the proceedings started, the deputy prosecutors were shuffling off the defendants to issue the same dire warning.

I am almost certain that you can't fine someone for taking their case to trial. You can impose reasonable court costs, but fining someone for taking their case to court? Highly doubtful. It could well violate the "excessive fines" clause of Article I, Section 16 and Article I, Section 12 as well as several other statutes and constitutional provisions.

I stayed and watched a couple of the brave souls who dared take their cases to court. One guy talked about how an unmarked car was following him for a long period of time. The guy felt like the other driver was tailgating him and harassing him. Finally, he flipped off the other driver, who turned out to be a police officer. The cop immediately turned on his lights and pulled him over for speeding...doing 65 in a 55 according to the ticket.

In his ruling in favor of the prosecution, Judge Young stated he had a "sworn officer" who testified that the man was speeding and that was enough for him. So does that mean whenever a citizen is testifying against a police officer, Judge Young is always going to side with the cop? News flash: police officers lie all the time in court. All people want is a fair trial and that is what they deserve.

In addition to the $149 traffic ticket, the man was fined an additional $300 by Judge Young.

Update: Channel 13 did a story on traffic court the evening after I posted this: http://www.wthr.com/global/story.asp?s=10310448

37 comments:

varangianguard said...

"In his ruling in favor of the prosecution, Judge Young stated he had a "sworn officer" who testified that the man was speeding and that was enough for him."

That's all this judge needs. Nothing else seems to be credible. Not statistics, not national accredited standards, not a lack of radar. Officer Bully Boy LOVES this Judge.

Sorry, but this Judge is an a$$hat in this Court. Maybe, I should have used ALL CAPS?

I call him "the hanging judge" everytime I mention Traffic Court to other people.

No better than Judge Roy Bean to me.

Diana Vice said...

This sounds like a court in Tippecanoe County. This same thing has happened in Judge Les Meade's courtroom, and before that it was Judge Laura Zeman. You'd think Judge Meade would learn from the mistakes of his predecessor, which was one of the reasons many of us fought to have her removed from the bench with success. Sadly, she was replaced with someone just as bad. A couple of years ago, I went to support a family member who appeared in Meade's courtroom and we were instructed the leave the room unless we were a defendent waiting to have a case heard. Granted, the courtroom was crowded, but that's what happens when multiple cases are scheduled in the same time slot.

A few years earlier in this same court, the judge threw the book at another defendent who chose to take his case to a jury trial where he was found guilty of a misdemeanor. When the judge handed down his sentence, he specifically stated that he was imposing a very harsh sentence, which included six months in jail, for a first time offender in a misdemeanor case because that person "wasted the court's time" by demanding a jury trial and for not "testifying" in his own defense. The defendent's lawyer had advised his client not to testify, which was his Fifth Amendment right. The judge clearly abused his powwer, and after he was turned into the Disciplinary Commission, he amended the sentence. I'm sure he still abuses his power; he probably just doesn't brag about it from the bench.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Diana,

I think there is case law saying you can't give a person out a harsher sentence because you decided to go to trial.

There is no question that you can't sentence someone more harshly because they exercise their constitutional right not to testify. That's a no brainer.

Diana Vice said...

Agreed, Paul, and this situation was promptly reported to the Judicial Disciplinary Commission. I'm assuming there was a private reprimand because the judge rescinded his first order in lieu of a reasonable one.

Indy Student said...

The traffic court judge automatically siding with the officer is a surprise to you?

I agree with you that traffic court isn't run the way it should be, but it's not something that'll change any time soon.

Diana Vice said...

I think someone should organize "The People" and convince them to ask for a jury trial. If 30-40 people could be convinced to go to trial, it might send a message to the abusers of power. They should also make sure the jurors are aware of jury nullification.

Shorebreak said...

This judge and the criminals in his court need to be made an example of. Tyrants operating under the guise of the law should have no protection from prosecution. I'm sending links to this story as far and wide as possible. Let's see what happens.

In the meantime, I would appreciate it if anyone can post a link to the court records. I'd like to send those out as well. Thanks.

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

My ex-boyfriend who used to represent his traffic tickets pro se for sport, got a traffic judge thrown off the bench once.

The judge had made up a fake court! No lie. I'm pretty sure it was a Marion County judge.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Indy Student,

You're right...can't fight the bias towards believing police officers. Now getting the court to open the courtroom and stop fining people for taking their cases to trial, those are matters of law where the judge doesn't have discretion.

Indy Student said...

Paul,
I've seen little pocket books of the U.S. Constitution. Why not just get one of the Indiana Constitution?

Maybe I'll try this out over the summer during a free day , just to see what happens.

Indy Student said...

And a second comment, that I just noticed.

Did Judge Young have that officer in court? It sounds like he didn't. I was under the impression that if the officer who wrote the ticket isn't present for the traffic court, then you don't have to pay.

What did Judge Young do? Stop a "sworn officer" in the hallway, or in an e-mail for a quick chat?

Unfortunately, none of this is likely to change. Most people there want to get out ASAP, and the court will inevitably use that to their advantage.

Dr. Dan said...

First, the "court" has clearly shown it is PREJUDICED and BIASED. EVERY case it has "heard" should be RETRIED with an IMPARTIAL Judge. Second, Judge Young is NOT a 'nice person" he is proof "Judicial ETHICS" is an OXYMORON. Third, these are LAND PIRATES, call in the SEALS to deal with them as they dealt with the Somali Pirates.

Leslie Sourwine said...

This is the kind of information I'm looking for to include in a report I am preparing. If you know of someone who has had experience in this court room under Judge Young please ask them to contact me at The Police Complaint Center, admin@policeabuse.com I am seeking an investigation of several Marion County judges.

Leslie Sourwine says, it’s time to bring justice back into the court room

Saladin said...

I saw this up close and personal. About 10 years ago in Orange County CA. my husband went to court for a bogus speeding ticket. Before the proceedings began the judge advised everyone intent on pleading not guilty that when it came to their word versus the officer he would go with the "unprejudiced" word of the officer every time. Judge, jury, executioner, all rolled into one.

Diana Vice said...

Indy Student, be careful when you hand out those little pocket constitutions. I had a friend who tried to hand them out to a jury that was convened in Tippecanoe County several years ago and was threatened with a charge of obstruction of justice! He was actually detained, questioned, and threatened!

The Tippecanoe County court system used to be an absolute nightmare. It is improving and we're getting better judges, but there's still much work to be done there.

Unigov said...

I like the description - "Judge Bill Young, a Republican" - but a better description would be "Judge Bill Young, a Totalitarian."

In what way is a US Citizen better off in Bill Young's court, than a Soviet Citizen was in the USSR ? Really, what is the difference between America and a totalitarian state ? Less and less.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Indy Student,

There was an officer there testifying. I'm not sure why that wasn't clear, but yes there was. The person clearly had no chance against the officer.

varangianguard said...

Channel 13 quoted the Judge as saying "if you don't see the cop here, they are just a phone call away".

W

T

F

?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

If a defendant shows up at the appointed time, either the accuser does, or does not. They don't get a 45 minute lead time to come on down because someone had the audacity to challenge them.

Policing traffic is getting completely out of hand. I need to find the "Missions" of the ISP and the IMPD. I'm betting that "shaking down citizens for cash" isn't on the list.

varangianguard said...

Oh, and saying that the cop "is there" if the cop isn't is lying. Nice for a Court to show citizens that lying (for the Court) is AOK.

Diana Vice said...

We all know cops don't lie. Just ask that Peterson guy up in Illinois who has two dead wives and he doesn't know a thing about it.

varangianguard said...

Here is the IMPD "Mission".

We are dedicated to upholding the highest professional standards while serving the community in which we work and live. We are committed to the enforcement of laws to protect life and property, while also respecting individual rights, human dignity, and community values. We are committed to creating and maintaining active police/community partnerships and assisting citizens in identifying and solving problems to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

Values

The protection and preservation of life is our fundamental objective. We will only use deadly force when absolutely necessary to protect the life of a citizen or officer when no other options are available.
We are committed to developing a partnership with the community, employing creativity, patience, persistence, and an appreciation of diversity both in the police department and in the community.
We shall perform our duties with an unwavering commitment to integrity and professionalism.
We will be accountable to those we serve for our decisions and actions.
We will accomplish our mission with empathy, compassion, and sensitivity at all times, with the highest regard for individual and constitutional rights.
We recognize that each member of this department is valuable, and we accept our obligation to each other and to the community to provide the maximum opportunity for each person to achieve his or her professional potential.

BWAH-HA-HAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

That is simply the funniest stuff I've read this week. Do the IMPD employees even have to read that thing??? My observations say "maybe once , at the academy", squeezed in with about 500 other pages of material to review.

Off to find the ISP Mission.

varangianguard said...

And here is the ISP "Mission", which I'll give them credit for at least being honest about traffic enforcement being a priority.

Mission Statement
The Indiana State Police shall provide the most professional, effective and courteous police service possible at all times and with every endeavor.

The protection of life and property will be our primary focus.
We will uphold and defend federal and Indiana state constitutions and enforce all laws.
We will address crimes and offenders with diligent, conscientious and proactive initiatives.
We will ensure public safety on our roadways with vigorous and directed traffic enforcement.
We will assist the public and all police agencies at any time and in any manner possible.

Shorebreak said...

I went ahead and looked up the Marion County Traffic Court Mission Statement:

The Marion County Traffic Court is committed to maintaining the highest standards in fairness, respect, integrity, honor, and ethics in all proceedings and matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the Marion County Traffic Court.

Unless there is a budget shortfall. In that case, all bets are off and each citizen is on his/her own. We'll take as much of your money as we can get. If you come armed to defend your rights, we will gun you down and fine and/or imprison you for your crimes. Good luck and Godspeed.

Unigov said...

IMO -

1) The constitutional thing that courts be "open" means "available to all that need them" - not that extraneous people must be allowed to be in court. The judge's actions seem shaky though.

2) If you argue your case the cop has to be there, you have a right to confront your accuser. Jeez.

3) The judge will always side with the cop unless there's proof otherwise.

4) There's got to be some constitutional bar against tacking on a $500 fine simply for pleading a case. Aha here it is - "Excessive fines shall not be imposed."

Freedom Fighter said...

To: Leslie Sourwune: I am a witness to the arrogance and injustice at the Traffic Court. I was present and was amazed when the "Stupid" "Arrogant" Marion County Deputy announced that "You will be arrested if you come into "HIS COURT" if you did not have a case pending. I was also a witness to Judge Young announcing after a trial that "he heard the police office say etc." and that was enough for him. I asked him if he also heard what the citizen-witness said during her testimony? Apparently Judge ? Bill Young only listens to police officers. Judge Young fined this young lady five hundred dollars for daring to plea not gulity in his Court. If you truly wish to investigate an arrogant and "bigger than the law Judge" you should investgate Marilyn Moores of the Juvenile Court. What a joke*

Leslie Sourwine said...

Freedom Fighter

Are you willing to write an affidavit as to what you have seen in the traffic court as well as the young lady that was fined 500 dollars? As for the juvenile court, tell me more. I am well aware there are more judges than just Judge Hill who violate civil rights and fail to follow the rule of law. My client has been intimidated, harassed and threatened by the Indianapolis Judicial system as well as the prosecutor’s office. I am fighting mad and action is being taken.
In Judge Hill’s court room you are warned if you fall asleep you will be arrested. In Judge Hill’s court room the deputy that brings in the defendants for their court hearing threatens little ole ladies by stepping in their direction with his hand on his pistol. The woman didn’t dare look up at her son for fear she would be arrested. In fact she was ordered arrested by Judge Hill when she was attempting to get documents for the federal court. She was so frightened she vomited in the court room. I’ve seen many things going on in the Indianapolis courts that do not represent anything in the constitution.
I was in another court room and witnessed a cop who lied under oath about how he obtained the identifying information for the defendant. The defendant was 6' 250 pound black man. The officer stated he received the information from the department of motor vehicles on the car the defendant was on. We know that was untrue because the car the defendant was in belonged to his wife, a 5'2" 120 pound white female. But that was ok; the female judge bailed the cop out and assisted his testimony.
Only when enough people speak up and demand justice will something be done. I am collecting evidence and signed notarized affidavits to include in my report. All information should be sent to admin@policeabuse.com For those with police complaints go to www.policeabuse.com for more information on how to get assistance in filing a complaint.
Leslie Sourwine

Paul K. Ogden said...

Unigov,

No, there is no doubt that a judge in Inidana cannot close his courtroom except in cases involving juveniles and paternity. In fact, that's one of the hallmarks of the judicial system in the United States - open courtrooms. We don't have star chambers in this country where people's cases are heard behind closed doors outside the view of the general public. The opportunity for "extraenous people" to witness what is going on is one of the things that keeps our judical system honest...or as honest as it is.

I missed the Channel 13 story on this.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I just read the Channel 13 story.

http://www.wthr.com/global/story.asp?s=10310448

I posted my blog post in the morning on 5/5 and Channel 13 does this story on the evening news the same day, posting the story around 11:30 p.m.

Could we bloggers actually be influencing news coverage?

Unigov said...

Paul K Ogden -

I got $5 that says my interpretation of Article 1, Section 12 is correct - that "open" means available to all, not that the public can be present.

If it meant what you say it means, then no court could ever be closed to the public - even the juvenile cases you cite.

Best example supporting my POV is the case mentioned here:

http://www.masson.us/blog/?cat=13

April 6 entry.

Cheers - "Unigov"

Shorebreak said...

Paul, regarding the story by Channel 13, read my post from May 5, 2009 3:05 PM.

My concern is that rather than reporting on the legal concerns, Channel 13 decided to report only on strict penalties. They were provided a link to your blog post and they could have followed up with you if they wanted a piece that truly served the community. Instead, they delivered a piece that serves the courts by sending the message that "this is the way it is - period." No questions asked.

spooknp said...

Policing traffic is getting completely out of hand.Yes because we should just let everyone blow stop signs, stop lights, and do 20+ over the speed limit.

spooknp said...

By the way, even if someone gets "court costs" thrown out, counties and municipalities will just start levying the maximum fine. The max fine is $500 for a class C infraction.

varangianguard said...

You know snooknp, if that were all that was being ticketed, then I'd be all behind that.

But, that isn't the case all too often.

Leslie Sourwine said...

Varangianguard

You are correct in your statement. Too often officers stop citizens on a fishing expedition and need a reason for stopping them. Speeding works as well as any excuse. In addition sometimes the officer will make the citizen get out of the car claiming they smell alcohol. Again this allows them to perform an illegal search of the car and the citizen driver. While there are plenty of guilty people breaking the speeding law, there are also a lot of innocent people trying to get their day in court and are being threatened with huge fines if they decide to challenge the ticket. I know a young man in my area that was stopped for driving 50 in a 55 and during the stop the officer searched his car. Later he justified stopping him by saying he was driving suspiciously.

Leslie Sourwine says, it's hell if you do and hell if you don't.

JB said...

so i got a ticket, the ticket says come to court within 60 to 90 days, it does not say a time, place, or actual day. Also, by the time I could pay the ticket I had about 2 weeks to come up with the money, unfortunately the day I did come up with the money i get a letter in the mail saying my license is suspended, until the court decides to reinstate my license, so I guess what I am trying to say is, How does the Marion County court decide to reinstate it if A) I have no clue what court house to go to, B) it only really gave me 2 weeks to pay it, C) it says I missed my court date...see the aforementioned,(no court number there are like 20 marion county court houses or more) D) the number the ticket tells you to phone only gives the amount to pay off, and not a date to pay off by, and E) it was a pretty bogus ticket anyways, the officer said I was going 47 in a 35, and i guess he just did not notice a camero driving very speedily around my slow butt because i had my child in the car and never speed when he is in my vehicle and I am pretty sure that camero was another officer, and if I did go to court I would probably have had a bigger fine, it took me 2 weeks to come up with the money for the ticket, because I doubt the officer would have been present and from what i hear it does not matter if the officer is present for me to ask if he even knew what a radar gun was let alone how to work it. Also, I am pretty sure it would not have mattered if I did ask him those questions because the judge would have agreed with the officer no matter what. wow I just got screwed out of my job, just got screwed out of being able to buy diapers and food for my child, and pretty much its all downhill after that because if I cant work, how will I afford to live? Does the judge really want more people on welfare just so he can justify his need to not see citizens in his traffic court? I really thought people wanted to get people out of welfare, but if the system is going to throw a bs judge in the mix go figure that people will not be able to work therefore have to resort to getting on welfare, dumb asses.

casey hindman said...

Can we do something about this please??? Where is the safety? Where is the justice against over reach and tyranny? I'm not scared of criminals when I leave my home, or even inside my home, I'm afraid of going to jail for being poor. Who can help stand up? I'm willing to fight if people are willing to stand with me and one another.

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