Friday, March 17, 2006

Beating the Rap

I hooked up my accelerator pedal in my car to my brake lights. I hit the gas, people behind me stop, and I'm gone. ~Steven Wright

Speaking of moving violations (as I was a few days ago), I have been amazed at people who will go to incredible lengths to try to beat a speeding ticket. Years ago, an Ohio man decided to challenge his ticket for speeding in a 25 MPH zone and took his case all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court. More about him later, but first I have to tell you about A. B. Cummins, PhD.
A side note: My memory is fuzzy, so I may be misspelling Dr. Cummins’ name (it may be Cummings). It’s been about 35 years since I last saw the good Dr. Cummins, so I hope he and/or his descendants forgive me.
Dr. Cummins was one of those rare individuals who is not only a jack-of-all-trades, but also he was a master of those trades, too. Cummins was a professor on the staff of the Business School of Case Western Reserve U., and he was well into his sixties . A lot of professors, when they have reached the Elysian fields of tenure, have a tendency to go into cruise control, particularly when they are nearing retirement. Not Doc Cummins. First of all, he had no intention of retiring. Second, he was teaching subjects that hadn't even existed in a business curriculum 10 or 15 years before, like “Organizational Dynamics.” 

As if that wasn't enough, the good doctor was a Professional Engineer in a couple of states, a registered arbitrator in three states, and a lawyer. The first and the last were why he also held a fistful of patents. This was not a man to be trifled with. Nor was he a man to suffer foolishness.

Thus it was that, when Doc got a speeding ticket, he took it seriously. The attitude of the ticketing policeman didn't help either. I have previously discussed the almost obscene politeness of Highway Patrolmen. I don't know, maybe it's the hat, but these peace officers always look confident and professional, which is probably why they maintain their polite demeanor. Unfortunately, some policemen don't do as well. Suburban or small town police, in particular seem to take a little too much glee in pulling you over.

I did some time as a desk clerk, because my dad said I'd make more money doing that than washing dishes. Since I was the destitute college student dependent on the paternal handout, I generally took his advice. Anyway, this particular Holiday Inn was located in a little town called Boston Heights (population: not enough to care about). They had three policeman, who used to stop in, particularly at night. I certainly appreciated that because I preferred not to be robbed and having a policeman standing at the desk drinking coffee was normally a pretty good deterrent.

At any rate, they like to tell stories about how they pulled folks over and jerked their chains if they got the least bit snarky, with threats of jail and immense fines (this is especially effective with tourists). It was apparently one of these sorts of fellows who gloatingly pulled over Doc Cummins.

Well, Doc knew his law. It seemed that, at least at that time, there were only two legal speed limits: 35 MPH in a residential area and 25 MPH in the city. Anywhere else, you could drive at the federal statutory speed limit: 70 MPH. Most police are aware of this and don't write the ticket for “speeding.” They normal write it for “driving too fast for road and/or traffic conditions” or “reckless driving.” Unfortunately for this budding Dick Tracy, he wrote the ticket for speeding. Doc went to court and demanded a trial.

The officer gave his testimony, then Doc Cummins got up and read the applicable law to the judge. Since he had been clocked doing about 60 in what was shown as a 50 MPH limit, he was within the law. According to Doc, he wasn't sure what was more fun, the judge grinding his own teeth to powder or the policeman shriveling up in his chair. Doc got off.

He did avoid driving through that area for a few months, though.

Oh, the guy who went to the Supreme Court? Evidently, he also had some awareness of the way the law was written. He was pulled over for speeding in a 25 MPH zone that really should have been a 35. In his case, the judge was not impressed and found him guilty. Now, we're talking about a fine and costs of, at most, $50. But, no, this was a matter of principle. He took it to the higher courts.

By the way, we asked Doc Cummins if he would have appealed had he lost. Of course not, he told us. Why waste the time and money?

Well, one guy evidently had the time to waste and the money to spend and spend it he did. After several months, the Ohio Supreme Court sent the case back to the traffic court because the 25 MPH limit had been improperly applied.

Regrettably, while principle was served, so was justice. It seems that the gentleman had been clocked at 37 MPH by the following police car. That whopping 2 MPH over the limit earned him the same fine he would have paid had he simply pleaded guilty in the first place.

 You got to know when to fold 'em, brother.

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