Aunty goes to Court – 2 Strikes and a Walk
Hawaii’s courtrooms are very beautiful with a lot of quality wood on the walls, long gorgeous church-like pews, paneled dividers, and the dominating elevated judge’s bench.
Two months ago, Aunty received a subpoena as a witness to appear in court for a hit and sleep (girl fell asleep and her drifting car clipped Aunty’s parked car and nearly totaled the neighbor’s car) 3 years ago at 3:00 in the morning. Even though Aunty didn’t see what happened, the prosecution wanted a witness because they were finally able to serve the girl.
After a brief wait in the hallway, Aunty was released without even having to step foot in the courtroom. For Aunty, this was a big disappointment because court proceedings are quite entertaining in a very local way. “Aw shucks,” Aunty thought, “I wish I could go to court.”
Beware of what you wish for
Two weeks later, Aunty gets pulled over by a police officer for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. It required a mandatory court appearance. Oh-oh, sometimes getting one’s wishes isn’t so good. However, Aunty believed that she had a good chance of beating the rap because the slow walking little old lady with the maroon and white umbrella crossing the street was not on Aunty’s half of the road as the right turn was completed, even if the police officer who was also turning right just behind Aunty at the intersection of 6th and Waialae said she was.
Aunty’s court date was set one month later at 8:30 am (so early!) on the 4th floor of the District Court at 1111 Alakea Street. Aunty left the house at 8:00, ran into some pretty bad traffic, and was already late by the time a parking space was found at the Alii Place on Alakea Street. [helpful note: This parking lot is just after the Mandalay Restaurant (with their fantastic look fun noodles with shrimp and lobster sauce, slurp, slurp) on the block before the District Court building and has the cheapest parking in Downtown – 75¢/half hour.]
The doors to Courtroom 4A were closed but not locked, and Aunty slinked in. The room was only half full with other traffic violators. A bailiff, judge, and court reporter were the only officials there. No police officer to point out and identify Aunty. The judge was a woman who appeared to be fair and had a nice haircut. She would always ask if the defendant had any prior tickets. It was rather dumb to lie about ticket history because the judge had a computer that had all the info that she needed about the person in front of her. When they didn’t tell the truth, she found them guilty and threw the book at them.
Admit or contest
By the time Aunty was called up, the room was almost cleared out. Most of the previous cases were HOV lane violations and the judge zipped through them, usually fining them a small fee.
The case just before Aunty’s was very similar to hers – a woman was turning left with the green light and instead of yielding to some pedestrians that were crossing and almost at the median strip dividing the street (Kalanianaole Highway and Keahole near Roy’s), she figured that she had the right to go since they would stop walking at the median strip. She even had pictures of the intersection and read out loud the definition in the Hawaii Revised Statutes of section 291C-72(a)(2) about pedestrian’s right of way in crosswalks. This statute stated that drivers must yield to pedestrians if they are on the driver’s half of the roadway. The woman said that they were not on her side. The judge pointed out that it also applies if the intention of the pedestrian is to step over the line and by proceeding through the intersection, the driver could put them in danger. Oops.
The woman contested and the judge asked if she had any prior traffic tickets, to which she said yes. She was fined $150 plus $40 admin fees and $7 driver education fees. This will probably also affect her auto insurance rates since it is a moving violation. Ouch.
Aunty up to bat
Aunty gave her name when asked and smiled, again thinking that she had a really nice haircut, and the judge smiled back. She read off the infraction and asked, “Admit or contest?”
With this judge, honesty and humility was the best policy. Aunty replied that after hearing the former interpretation of the statute about the pedestrian’s intention to enter the driver’s half of the road, Aunty should admit rather than contest the ticket. The judge helped Aunty out a bit and said to contest and tell my story.
Aunty did. The judge then asked about prior tickets (Aunty’s other at bats), and Aunty admitted to a few when Aunty was WAY younger. She smiled again and said that she was dismissing Aunty’s case because of no recent priors, and gave instead a warning, which she said the officer should have done instead of a ticket.
Booyah!! No fines, no moving violation, Aunty scored a walk to first base!!! Very different from the previous times of being in front of a judge.
Aunty’s other at bats, Strike 1
Back when Aunty was really really young and still in college, Aunty was cute and sassy in her spiffy little Karmann Ghia. One morning while zooming down 10th Avenue in Palolo, a bunch of kids were hanging around one of the blocks with a police officer, and as Aunty kept zooming, the kids started jumping up and down and clapping as the police officer signaled her over to the side of the road. Oh oh. Busted for speeding. Rats!
Back then, we could contest the ticket by returning it in the mail and request a court date. Then, we could request a later court date, kind of like kicking the can down the road. Aunty kicked as far down as possible so that time would dull the memory of the police officer.
Aunty would usually wear tight low waisted jeans and hippy tops with long straight hair, center parted. On the day of the court appearance, months after receiving her speeding ticket, Aunty pulled her long hair into a ponytail, wore a baggy but pretty red and white voile long muumuu, and glasses.
The plan was simple and one dimensional. If the police officer could not identify Aunty as the defendant, the case would be dismissed.
After Aunty pleaded not guilty, the prosecution called up the police officer. He was asked to identify and point out Aunty, WHICH HE DID! Oh no, oh no, oh no!! That was Aunty’s one and only wiggle out strategy! After a brief question and answer period of the officer testifying to the events of the crime, Aunty was allowed to cross examine.
In the most lawyerly demeanor that Aunty could summon, the officer was asked HOW, after so many months had gone by, HOW could he remember and still identify Aunty?
His response was, “You are so attractive, I could not forget you.”
The judge and everyone in the courtroom busted out in laughter and I stood shocked and red faced with absolutely no defense left. The judge then asked what I had to say to that, and all I could say, in a very soft voice was, “Thank you.”
What else could be said or done? Aunty was sentenced with a small fine and mandatory attendance to the State’s Drivers Education course.
A couple of years later, still in college and still driving her cute little Karmann Ghia, Aunty crossed an intersection on 10th Avenue and Pahoa after stopping and then heard metal screeching on pavement as a motorcycle riding police officer skidded and fell sideways with his bike to avoid hitting Aunty’s Ghia. Yikes! Where had he come from? Rats!!! Double Rats!!!
Slowly, very slowly, Aunty kept inching along on 10th Avenue hoping that what had just happened didn’t happen and that the police officer was okay.
Well, he was okay because he had soon gotten up on his bike and was quickly on Aunty’s tail, signaling Aunty to stop.
“Sorry, so sorry,” was all that Aunty could say to the rather ticked off policeman. “Are you okay?” Aunty lamely asked.
After a few choice words and a bit of scolding for running away, Aunty was presented with a ticket – failure to yield to oncoming traffic. No mention of almost killing a police officer or of him falling off his bike or of the very slow speed getaway attempt.
This time, Aunty didn’t kick the can down the road and went to court on the day of the ticket summons sick with fear. The judge was stern looking and very business-like. He would boom out his verdict, declare the fines, and pound his gavel with no nonsense finality.
When it was Aunty’s turn to declare guilty, not guilty, or no contest, Aunty said, “It depends on how much it will cost if I plead guilty.” Aunty wasn’t sure if she would be charged an arm and a leg and a motorcycle repair bill, and was already in credit card and doodad debt to her eyeballs.
The stern looking judge glared at Aunty and said that Aunty would have to plead guilty to find out how much the fine would be.
“Will it be a lot of money?” Aunty asked, pitifully.
Again, the judge said that Aunty would have to plead guilty first.
“Well, Your Honor, will it be hundreds of dollars or not too many dollars?” Aunty pressed as people in the courtroom started to giggle.
In frustration, the judge said that he could not tell me the fine amount until after I pleaded guilty.
“So, Your Honor, you already know how much it will be if I plead guilty, right?”
“Yes,” said the judge.
“Then, Your Honor, can you please give me a hint? High? or Low? Not too much?”
By this time, everyone in the courtroom was chuckling and the judge looked less stern. He raised his eyebrows in resignation, and in a low whisper said, “Not too much.”
“Okay then, GUILTY!” declared Aunty with hands up in the air.
“$70!” pronounced the judge as he banged his gavel down and Aunty clapped as others in the courtroom also clapped.
Looking back, Aunty’s 2 strikes were actually fun. They were from another era. Aunty no longer has her cute little Karmann Ghia and instead drives a car for comfort instead of looks. Aunty is now Aunty – an old lady to young people. The police officers of today are all so much younger than Aunty without any common ground such as “What school you went?”
Before, the lesson used to be – Don’t get caught. If you do, then try weasel out somehow (though you can tell that never worked for Aunty before).
Now, the lesson is – Don’t do it. Easier said than done, but Aunty is trying. And sometimes, being an old lady helps in a courtroom if the judge is kind and you can make her smile.