Hoboken Legal Beagle – 4/15/2008
This week’s Q&A is about getting arrested for unpaid parking tickets. Very interesting indeed (both the reader’s & The Flying Dog’s viewpoints).
HPD: They protect you AND can arrest you!
“Dear Legal Beagle,
Upon recounting this story to a friend recently, she advised me to seek legal counsel, believing this was a clear violation of my rights. I’m writing to ask your legal opinion, and if possible, to recommend the next steps if there is a legitimate violation here. Here’s the story, in THREE parts:
PART ONE: This past summer, about 10 a.m in Hoboken., I received a traffic ticket for a minor traffic infraction. I got an $85 summons.
PART TWO: About 2 weeks later, I got a parking ticket in town. A few days later I ran down to city hall to pay both tickets (these were my only two outstanding tickets). I had the Parking ticket with me and paid that, but did not have the traffic ticket with me, assuming it would be in their system already— it had been over 2 weeks at that point. The woman checked the computer and said it wasn’t yet in their system, the officer hadn’t handed in the ticket yet. So, I couldn’t pay it that day (ridiculous but true). In the weeks following, being consumed with business and personal projects I completely forgot about that summons. So without realizing it, I missed the court date.”
Read the rest of her letter, and the Legal Beagle’s response after the jump…
(Legal Beagle, continued…)
PART THREE: About 2 weeks later, just before 6 a.m., my front doorbell rang. Startled out of bed (I work nights), I stuck my head out my upstairs window and saw 2 men standing at my front door. They looked up at me and shouted, “Hoboken Police, ring us in!” Since I don’t have a buzzer, I wrapped a coat around me and ran down to open the door for them, disoriented and confused. Upon opening the door, they held up a photo of my license with “Warrant for Arrest” across the top and said, “Hoboken Police, we have a warrant for your arrest.”. I said, “What on earth are you talking about?” and they said they were given orders to arrest me for failing to appear in court. So I said, “For what?” They said they didn’t know. Then it hit me: Is this about my minor traffic infraction?? And I attempted to pay it!! Shocked, confused, and bewildered, I told them that I had an elderly dog that I couldn’t leave alone (he’s 15 and ill). They said, “You have to come with us, you can’t leave our sight, we have to come into your house” because I explained I had to put clothes on. They both came into my house with flashlights and followed me up my stairs (I felt scared and violated— after all, what if they weren’t Hoboken cops? Cops are allowed to enter a house over a missed court date??) They waited outside my bedrooom door while I put on clothes. My dog growled at them. I told them this was so unnecessary to treat a law-abiding citizen like this. They had no comment. Once out my door, they handcuffed me, put me in their squad car and took me down to the police station. Once in the station, they handcuffed me to a chair while they took all of my information, then led me into another room, where they handcuffed me to a table for 2 1/2 hours. 3 cops sat watch over me the entire time. I asked a few times why this was taking so long, I HAD the $250 bail in my pocket, and there was only one person in there with me, but they kept saying they’re still doing the paperwork. Ugh. I was worried about my dog and feeling very wrongly violated. During that 2 1/2 hrs, another bewildered unfortunate citizen came in the same way, they handcuffed her to the table, for rolling thru a stop sign a few weeks before and missing the court date.
Questions: Did they have a legal right to enter my house with an arrest warrant? Was this necessary to spend 3 hours and 7 cops to ambush and arrest an innocent citizen over one missed court date for one outstanding traffic infraction? Chris Campos is STILL not arrested for his countless no shows for a DUI!!
Important FYI: This was the only traffic ticket I got in my 14 years living in Hoboken, no outstanding tickets of any kind anywhere, certainly never been arrested. I am a law-abiding, longtime, taxpaying resident of this city. I believe I’m paying the Hoboken PD to protect me, not abuse me.
Hoboken411 Legal Beagle Says
If you miss a court date, 99% of the time the court will issue another notice by mail. If you miss that court date the court will usually issue what is known as a “bench warrant” The judge will direct that the local police go to your home or place of employment to arrest you and bring you to court. Standard Operating Procedure.
So, it does not appear on the face of it that the police acted improperly.
This is actually a very interesting set of facts that highlight race and class difference in America, exposing a certain elitism that is the source of much of the tension in Hoboken Politics. The writer expects the police, the courts, in fact the whole system to be a kind and fair and respectful process. Of course in real life and for many people of color nothing could be further from that view. God forbid they should treat the writer in the same way they would treat a person from the Projects who missed a court date.
She was not beaten up, not put in jail, not shot, no stick was put where it doesn’t belong. All things of course that happened to innocent people of color in recent memory who had their civil rights violated.
The Police seemed to have acted according to procedure. Just because the writer believes that she is an innocent, law abiding citizen does not mean the police should just assume because of her middle class bourgeoisie sensibilities that she is such a law abiding citizen. She could have a gun, she could have a knife, a crazy boyfriend, a criminal record for another crime. The fact she was going to pay for this ticket is irrelevant. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
And as far as Chris Campos goes, the writer misses a huge fact, Campos has a lawyer, all the missed court dates where upon notice to the Court, and the fact that she assumes Campos guilty without his day in Court while assuming that the system should assume her law-abiding “after being consumed with business and personal projects and completely forgetting about that summons”, is indicative of a certain elitism which impudence is characteristic of many a person in Hoboken.
And my view of her elitism is solidified by her FYI. So, she’s so law abiding: What should the courts and police do, make an exception to the process of bringing in people who miss court to all those people who believe that being white and right exempts them from the laws.
Overall, the writer should realize that the Police are still there to protect her but in the course of human events her civil rights were not violated. The next time she sees some person get arrested for some crime and that person cries out “I am innocent” she should have a bit more empathy and suspend judgement. And one more thing, apologize for bringing up Campos as some sort of justification for her own actions. Whether he is guilty of not, the writer’s misplaced attack on Campos betrays her own prejudice of assuming someone arrested is guilty.