"No contest, Your Honor."
Whoa! Hold on! No contest can have a multitude of interpretations. Does it mean there is no question that I did it? Or does it mean I didn't really do it but don't want the hassle of an argument with the police? Or does it mean well, I probably did do it but you can't prove it. Of course, I equally can't prove I didn't,so we both lose here. Or maybe we both just win. Does it mean I just don't want to be embarassed by a write up in the local paper, especially when I just started a job with corrections ? There are so many ways to read that simple statement. Is this paranoia? Maybe, but as "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy "once said, it's normal paranoia. Everybody has it. We all tend to react negatively, even radically, when we deal with the law. We clam up, sit nervously behind the wheel as the officer approaches, tell the kiddies not to make a sound, answer all questions quietly in monosyllables, and breathe a deep sigh of relief when they walk away. Even if the officer merely tells us that the license plate is loose, we react in the same way. And then we sit there a minute to regroup, then drive to the nearest fast food joint for a cold drink and a minute to relax. We may be totally innocent, but that nervous reaction is still there. We dread any interaction with police, no matter how innocuous it may be. Not so simple,is it, after all? Now maybe you better
understand my dilemma. Sure, I could go on record as pleading not guilty, and submitting myself to a grilling in the courtroom by the presiding judge. Or I could plead guilty, admitting to something I knew hadn't happened the way it was recorded, and accept unjustified retribution for something I hadn't done. But did I really want that? I could imagine my interrogation if I pled not guilty. It would be something like this:
"Judge: You are pleading not guilty?
Me: Yes, Your Honor.
J: Officer Jones here (The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Sounds like "Dragnet" doesn't it?) says he recorded you driving 55 mph in a 35 mile zone.
M: He is not correct.
J: Really? Why would he lie?
M: I said incorrect, not lying.
J: Can you give some proof? You were alone in the car.
M: No, sir, my six year old was in the back seat, with my groceries. She was belted in.
J: Report says you were alone.
M: The report is wrong, sir.
J: You saw the radar data. It showed your speed.
M: No, sir, he did not offer to show it to me.
J: Report says you saw it.
M: Report is wrong. Sir.
J: Report says you drove 55mph in a 35 mile zone, travelling uphill.
M: I was going uphill, however my car will not go 55 on a flat straightaway,sir.
J: So you are saying the whole report is wrong?
M: Pretty much,sir.
Get the idea?
What actually happened I think was that,yes, I was driving up that hill at that moment. But I wasn't speeding. First, I never speed. My kids complain, but I don't drive over the posted limit. At the crucial moment, a bigger car passed me at a high rate. I think THAT was the auto on the tape. But the officer didn't identify the different cars so I had no proof. Yes, I did shift down since I knew my car needed that extra push to go up that hill, which probably I should have avoided. And tbe inevitable happened: I got someone else's speeding ticket.
So, what would you do? I live here, work here, know the policemen personally in some cases. My kids go to school with their kids. And I know my car is easy to identify: bright red orange, with four-on-the-floor, and small and light. I love my car. It is front wheel drive, stick shift, with a small tank and about 40 miles to a gallon. Gas station attendants hate to see me come in, because I always chose the "full service" lanes. And I love it! And grocery store packers always asked if I brought the big car or the small one (and always groaned when I said the small one. ) And I had a new job, one that dealt with the law, starting the following week. Might look bad to have to report THAT my first day on the job, plus have to take a day off to go to traffic court. My nephew, to prove my points, later that day took the car out onto a nearby interstate, which is about as flat as you can get. He came back saying "You were right. This thing won't go 55 on a flat road, much less uphill!" And I felt vindicated. A little. I felt better. A little.
But I still had that final decision to make. How do I plead? Should I go through all that, just over a traffic ticket. I KNEW I was right, but had no real way to prove it. And accusing the officer of errors, or making a federal case out of a speeding ticket, might be like opening that proverbial can of worms. What would you do?
In the end, after much soul searching, I decided to err on the cautious side. I would not make an issue. I would fold my cards and live to fight another day. Maybe I could thumb my nose at the station house every time I drove by, or not donate to the policemen's ball (even though we don't have one here.) But I would concede. So in 2012 I gave in. It cost me $80,and I maligned my faithful 1989 Yugo by allowing that maybe, just maybe, it could go 55 in a 35 mile zone, uphill. (Even though I actually had to back it down the hill to get a running start, and went up in second gear just to get up there). In the end I chose the safe way. No Contest, Your Honor."