The Traffic Trial with the Vow of Silence
Occasionally, I am “forced” to handle traffic court trials. I do not like these kinds of cases. The defendant’s frequently lie, slander the officer, and refuse to accept responsibility for their own conduct. I would much rather deal with “real” criminals, who are more generally more honest and responsible.
I shall never forget one traffic court trial I conducted. I had about fifteen minutes available, and so when the traffic court asked for help, I volunteered to take one trial. Most traffic court trial last 5-10 minutes.
The officer entered. He looked like “Robo Cop.” He wore a helmet and dark sunglasses. He had a leather belt with equipment and knee-high black leather boots. His leather squeaked when he walked.
Then the defendant entered. He looked like he just walked off the set of the movie “Cool Runnings.” He was a towering thin dark man dressed in bright floral prints. His hair was in long dread locks with all sorts of bones and other objects braided into his hair. He was charged with failure to stop at a stop sign.
When I asked the defendant if he was ready for trial, he wrote out a note on a piece of paper and handed it to my bailiff, who in turn passed the note to me. The note read: “I am a member of an Ethiopian religious sect. I have taken a vow of silence. I will never utter a word until Emperor Haile Selassie is resurrected and returns from the dead.” Since the resurrection of Haile Selassie did not appear to be imminent, the defendant agreed to write all of his responses.
When I asked the defendant if he was ready to proceed, he held up a large piece of paper upon which he had written “Yes.” When I asked him if he had any questions for the police officer, he held up the “Yes.”
I asked him to write out all of his questions while we “patiently” waited. I then asked the officer if he would read the questions out loud and then answer them. And so, it went. The defendant holding up cue cards every time I asked him a question.
When it came time for the defendant to testify, he wrote out his entire story, while we “patiently” waited. When he was finally finished writing, he handed his account to my bailiff. I read the defendant’s testimony out loud.
Finally, I asked the defendant if he had anything else to present. He held up a large piece of paper with a “No.”
This trial took over an hour. I found the defendant guilty as charged. I was tempted to write “guilty” on a piece of paper and hold it up for the defendant to read, but I thought that might not be appropriate.