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Driving on a Suspended License

One time, when I lived in Jackson, Mississippi, I walked out of my front door to find a ticket on my windshield. My car was parked in front of my house in a quiet neighborhood, facing the wrong direction. There were no other cars on the street. The ticket was timed at 3:00 a.m.

I was outraged – how dare a cop give me a ticket in front of my own house? I asked around and everyone said, yeah, that cop is kinda crazy. I decided to go to court and give them whatfor. On the way, in the next block of my street, I saw a parked police car . . . facing the wrong direction.

Never before had I sat through criminal court. One by one, violators facing loss of their licenses stepped forward to plead their case. One couldn’t get her child to daycare without a license. Another couldn’t make it to his job. One had a sick relative who needed healthcare transportation. I was a lawyer. I was there “on principle.”

By the time my turn came, I no longer cared. It was ridiculous, really, for me to huff and puff, wasting the court’s time when other people’s lives were falling apart. I sputtered a few things, and the judge told me to pay the fine. Luckily he did not, for whatever reason, assess me court costs.

I thought of this today as I sat through hearing after hearing at 201 Poplar for “driving on a suspended license.” I can’t tell you how much time this took up. The judge threw the book at one fellow who was cited for driving with a suspended license on his way to court for his hearing on driving with a suspended license. I think everyone with a suspended license must just drive with their fingers crossed, hoping they don’t get stopped.

I don’t have an opinion on this, except to say that the criminal justice system struck me this morning as form over substance. We—by which I mean me, who has always praised the theory of our system—we place our trust in the form we’ve rigged up, and don’t look at how shaky the reality is. Maybe I’m jaundiced due to the rusty way I saw the system herk and jerk this morning. For whatever reason, it seems to me that when it comes to the criminal justice system, we are driving on a suspended license.

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