Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What does "Must Appear" mean on your ticket?

How does a $15 skateboarding ticket run up to $151.00?

If your ticket for a petty violation in Woodstock of riding your skateboard on a sidewalk on the Square, "Must Appear" means that you'd better have your backside in court, when your case is called!

But you need to pay attention before your case is called. The attorney for Woodstock (from the law firm of Zukowski Rogers Flood & McArdle) will call your name before court starts and ask if you want to "discuss" your case and see if you can make a deal; i.e., negotiate a plea.

He might even say that he'll ask the judge for a minimum fine and even offer a suggestion of an amount, such as $15 for a skateboarding fine. Listen carefully to whether he mentions Court Costs and Fees. He might toss it away with a "plus court costs", but he probably won't tell you that the court costs will be $136. He might say that he doesn't know, when he really does. The City's attorney doesn't set the court costs and fees. (Those outrageous amounts are, in fact, set by the Illinois General Assembly and the McHenry County Board.)

Your first court date is for your plea. Do you want to plead Guilty? Since the officer marked "Must Appear" on your ticket, he has already arranged for you to incur court costs, if you plead Guilty or if you are found Guilty in a trial, either by a judge or by a jury. Since some of that money comes back to Woodstock, he could be looked at as a revenue generator, bounty hunter or (what's that other word I'm looking for?).

For $136 are you willing to make Woodstock prove its case? It might not be able to. Or maybe the cop will be on vacation or sick or be otherwise indisposed and not show up for a trial. Then you can ask the judge to dismiss the case, because the City's witness is not there. If it's your time in court, don't let the City get away with asking for a continuance. If you don't object, they will get away with it!

Now the cop did not HAVE to make you show up in court on a petty ordinance violation. He could have left the "Must Appear" box blank on a skateboarding ticket, and then you could have just paid the $15 fine at the window. Or mailed it in.

Or the cop could have put your case into Woodstock's own Administrative Adjudication Court, which meets once a month on the second Thursday.

The Woodstock Chief of Police should explain to the public, to the City Manager and to the City Council what his orders are to his officers about choosing the Woodstock court or Circuit Court, and also when officers are to mark "Must Appear" on the ticket.

And, if Chief Lowen wants to send me an explanation of procedures for publication here, I'll be happy to print it.

When tickets were $25 and $25 costs, that was one thing. Now that the minimum traffic ticket is $120 and court costs are well over $100, clear rules are needed. What are these rules?

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