That time I was an accidental lawbreaker
Mid-February, 2018. I was simultaneously buzzing from an inspirational workshop, and I had a headache. I really wanted to get home to lie down. It was afternoon rush hour. I got on a streetcar downtown, tapped my payment card and took a seat.
I wasn’t paying attention.
The consequence of not paying attention
The fare inspectors were checking passes when I got to my first destination stop.
The male inspector (Provincial Offences Officer) asked me to step aside and explained that according to his magazine, I hadn’t paid — and the last ride I took depleted the funds on my card.
I tried to plead my case. The female inspector (Provincial Offences Officer) seemed sympathetic. The male inspector appeared to pressure her into giving me a ticket. Eventually, she did. I got ticketed for “failure to comply with posted sign”.
Original set fine: $195.00
Total payable: $235 including “victim fine surcharge and costs”.
The female inspector advised me to tick the box that says that would like to meet with the prosecutor by telephone. I took that to mean that I could speak to someone to get out of it.
A day or two later I inputted the ticket number into the online system to check for it and to submit my request. My infraction wasn’t in yet. The copy of the ticket that I held said that I had 15 days to exercise one of my options or else. (It didn’t really say “or else” but the word “conviction” was used.)
I tried entering my ticket number into the online database several times over the next week. Eight days after being issued the ticket I called the customer service line. I took notes, hoping that they record these calls in case I was given incorrect information. I was a little bit worried. The customer service agent confirmed that my ticket hadn’t been inputted into the database yet and assured me that it’s not really 15 days, it’s 45 because there’s a 30-day grace period for payment.
One month minus four days after the ticket was issued, it was finally in their database, and I was able to proceed.
Then I got my “Early Resolution Meeting Notice” from the Ontario Court of Justice for about two months later.
In those two months, I rehearsed my story in my head many times. I knew precisely what I was going to tell whomever I was meeting with. I imagined that a sympathetic man would hear my case (I don’t know why I envisioned a male), agree with me, and cancel the ticket. I also paid extra attention every single time I tapped my damn payment card, and I noticed how often their machine does not work on the first tap. Sometimes it takes several taps to work but damn it, I keep going until that card reader turns green and makes the happy noise. (If my card lacked sufficient funds, the screen on the card reader would become red and make a sad noise.)
This morning I woke up, meditated, did some other routine stuff, looked at my email and realized that I had to be at the court in a little over two hours. Good thing I didn’t make other plans.
The day of “resolution”
I arrived shortly before my call time of 12:45 p.m. Security searched my purse, and I walked through the metal detectors. I passed. I was told to “wait in the general vicinity” of the room. That was interesting. Several people clustered around a room with no particular order, all with a 12:45 meeting time. No lineup, no numbers to take. The clerk comes out, calls “NEXT!” and the next person walks in. A few moments later they walk out. Occasionally I would hear laughter. Once, I heard voices raised. The man who was disputing his charge was unhappy.
I walked in, sat, pleaded my case and learned that I had two options:
- A lower payment
- Go to trial to fight it.
How do I plead?
Guilty, I guess.
So my fine was reduced. $235 to $80. *sigh* Not my ideal solution but it was the better option. It was an expensive lesson to learn but not as expensive as it would have been had I not gone down there.
After that part was over, I ran into a friend who was also there for “failure to comply with a posted sign”. It’s a common charge, I guess.
My friend told me that from what she’d heard in the waiting area and from what she’d read on Reddit (why didn’t I think to check Reddit?) the fare inspector officers always do the good cop/bad cop routine.
From there, those of us who’d been there for the 12:45 p.m. proceedings were corralled and lead into a courtroom to sit in pews and then, one-by-one, stand before a judge.
It was a courtroom. With bailiff. Do you have an image like this in your head?
(Up to 0:14.)
I didn’t, because I’ve been to court before (once I was up for jury duty, another time I helped sue someone and won). However, the following line always makes me think of Night Court:
“All rise, the honorable [judge name] presiding.” I heard that today.
One-by-one our names were called. A few people chose to go to trial. Two had language interpreters.
Each person asked the same questions:
“How do you plead?”
“Do you understand the consequences?”
Honestly, I don’t know what the consequences were. I guess I wasn’t fully paying attention. All I knew was that I didn’t want to go to trial and I’d rather pay $80 than $235.
I stated my name. I plead guilty. I agreed to pay the fine. I stated that I’d do it today. Then, done. I went to the cashier. My friend had taken a number for me and so I sidled up next to her and waited for my number to be called.
Then we went to lunch. I saved half of my lunch for dinner. I’d just paid an $80 fine.
P.S. Re the story title: I’m not saying that I’ve never broken the law nor do I ever. I used to pirate TV shows. As a teenager, I went through a shoplifting phase. I’ve inhaled. As a pedestrian, I j-walk and cross the street on red lights.