When I was younger I didn’t have such a tough time obeying the law, but lately, in my mature years, it seems I’m hanging out more and more with a pretty hardened bunch of criminals. At least, to hear the city and state tell it, a whole raft of my friends and relatives have stamped themselves as notorious scofflaws … myself included. Of course part of the issue is that we have a lot more laws to run afoul of these days. And the penalties are getting stiffer all the time. I realize that as a society we are jaw-clenchingly determined to stamp out illegal activity. But a few recent examples from among many told to me by folk who don’t actually seem all that hard-core suggest that, possibly, our law enforcers have gotten way, way out of hand. Case No. 1 involves a local woman (OK, she’s my wife, but she asked me to preserve her anonymity) walking through Kit Carson Park with two collies on leash. She’s headed for the dog park next to the zoo, where dogs are legally free to romp off-leash, but she’s not there yet. She kneels down to re-tie a shoelace, letting go of the leashes to use both hands. Before she can stand up and grasp the dogs’ leashes (they are standing next to her, patiently waiting for the completion of their walk), a leash-law-enforcement officer races over from his undercover vehicle and cites her for letting her dogs run free in a park.It wasn’t the modest fine that bugged her, however; it was that there was no way to pay the fine as an uncontested action. No, she had to make two separate trips down to Metro Court (once to have a hearing set; then three weeks later to hand over the fine, after waiting through a docket filled with DWI, failure to appear and public indecency cases before she trudged forward, head bowed in abject contrition to fess up and fork over the check). Two trips meant two separate half days lost from work. Two trips meant utter frustration squared. Two trips meant judge, clerk, security personnel, the whole shooting match at the courthouse had two occasions to deal with her uncontested dog leash case. Can we have a little sanity here? Why aren’t these simple uncontested actions handled in a more economical, more common sense fashion?Case No. 2 involves the state liquor authority agents, hard at work conducting one of their ballyhooed “sting” operations at our neighborhood restaurant. The whole place was still buzzing about it when we showed up there for dinner three days later. Our favorite waitress (more than 20 years of cheerful, accurate and unfailingly courteous service) was distraught. She’d been working behind the bar when a young person (and this is not a place that attracts very many young people; we are a more, uh, settled clientele) showed up and asked for a beer.When asked for an ID, the young woman produced a vertical driver’s license. The waitress read the year of birth aloud from the card (a fact corroborated by two of those sitting at the bar): “Oh, 1987 … OK” and returned the license to her. At that point two plainclothes agents rushed up and arrested her. The girl (and her license) left immediately. There was no way to protest the accusation she’d served an underage person. She wasn’t allowed to look at the license again.This then deteriorated into an utter nightmare for the waitress and the restaurant owner. She was handcuffed (!), led away to jail (!), booked (!) and locked up in the Metropolitan Detention Center overnight (!) until she posted bail. Ultimately, she was given a stiff fine and placed on probation. She cannot serve alcohol for 60 days. The restaurant owner, who to his credit has staunchly supported the waitress through all this mess (others taken that night at similar sting operations at other local bars told her in lock up they had already been fired), wound up getting socked with a $1,000 fine.I think that’s nuts. I think that’s a system that lends itself to abuse. Where is the justice in that kind of system? Where is the proportionality between “crime” and punishment? That isn’t serving any socially useful purpose; it’s power running amok.Case No. 3 involves another hardened flaunter of the law … me. I can’t plead ignorance. I’ve been warned before: last year and then earlier this spring. Last Thursday I recidivated. I turned our water sprinklers on too high and some (it is not an admissible defense for me to plead it was just a gallon or two that actually accumulated in the gutter, I know) ran off the flowers into the street.I came home at noon to discover a bright pink violation card taped to our door, detailing my offense. At first I was worried I’d have to wear a bright pink letter “W” on my forehead, like Hester Prynne’s “A,” but when the punishment notification arrived by certified letter, I was relieved to discover that all it amounted to was a $1.00 fine.Hold it; my wife says there is no decimal in that figure! I owe $100!A hundred dollars? Get me an attorney! I’ll fight this all the way to the Supreme Court! At least now, with a wise Latina on the bench, maybe I’ll get a little empathy.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.