Law Professor Fights TraffiCam Ticket, Hilarity Ensues
Abraham Lincoln said that someone who represents themselves in a legal proceeding has a fool for a lawyer. Somewhat removed from his popular homespun image is the historical fact that Honest Abe was an experienced, high-powered attorney whose clients included entities like railroad companies. The man knew a thing or two about the practice of law.
The same can probably be said about Adam MacLeod, who teaches law students how to litigate at Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. Prof. MacLeod not only risked living down to Lincoln’s aphorism, he also violated many of the rules that he teaches his students how to act in court when he fought a ticket generated by a traffic camera in Montgomery, Alabama.
“Before the trial, I moved to dismiss the case. I wanted the judge to pay attention, so I tried to make the motion interesting. Okay, maybe “interesting” isn’t the best word. It was over the top. I alluded to Hobbes and Locke. I quoted the Declaration of Independence. I suggested the success of the American experiment was at stake. I resorted to superlatives. You know: all the stuff I teach my law students never to do.”
One reason why he fought the ticket, issued to him as the vehicle owner, was that MacLeod was in a classroom teaching when the supposed speeding violation occurred.
Though he came out of the experience with his reputation as a lawyer intact, and no points on his driving record, MacLeod discovered that traffic court can be an Alice in Wonderland system where the statutes that empower municipalities and their contractors to enforce traffic laws allow them to exercise powers inherent in both civil and criminal proceedings while ignoring the due process protections associated with both civil and criminal law. That’s like Catch 484 (22 squared).
Along the way, MacLeod was told by a city attorney that they didn’t need any evidence to prosecute traffic cases. When he was declared guilty by a magistrate, he was forced to post twice any possible fine as a “criminal” appeal bond for a “civil” case just to get a trial before an actual judge. At the trial, he got a police officer to so casually admit, under oath, that he had perjured himself when signing traffic camera affidavits. Said judge did a double take and dismissed the case.
And so on. I then asked the question one is taught never to ask on cross—the last one. “So, you signed an affidavit under the pains and penalties of perjury alleging probable cause to believe that Adam MacLeod committed a violation of traffic laws without any evidence that was so?”
Without hesitating he answered, “Yes.” This surprised both of us. It also surprised the judge, who looked up from his desk for the first time. A police officer had just testified under oath that he perjured himself in service to a city government and a mysterious, far-away corporation whose officers probably earn many times his salary.
The city then rested its case. I renewed my motion to dismiss, which the judge immediately granted.
MacLeod then had to file redundant motions to try to get his bond back.
In case you’re wondering, the mysterious, far-away corporation is American Traffic Solutions of Mesa, Arizona.
As a veteran of numerous tilts against windmills, I have to admire MacLeod’s persistence. In a post at the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse blog, he describes his experience and explains how offensively unconstitutional he feels the entire scheme of traffic ticketing and related court proceedings are. Equally offensive is how city officials continue to rely on that scheme for revenue generation, even though the state attorney general says they shouldn’t and Montgomery’s own state legislative representatives agree.
The city is still issuing tickets via ATS and, to add insult to injury, the municipality has tripled some traffic fines. It’s true what they say about fighting city hall.
Even if you win, you lose, because the process itself is a punishment. “Case dismissed. That will be $25 in fees.” At least, however, Prof. MacLeod was able to blow off some legal steam and get his ticket dismissed. He’s still waiting to get his appeal bond returned to him.
[Image Source: American Traffic Solutions]
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