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May 13th, 2019 Leave A Comment

Representation Can Make or Break You

Happily I had paid off our 2006 Saturn ION in May of 2011. It had 99,500 miles on it. In mid-June of that year I changed car insurance companies, incredibly saving over $200 dollars a month. I did not switch to the company that can save you 15% in 15 minutes however my new company like America, believes in liberty.

Heather was working as a nanny that summer to earn money for her first year in college and using the Saturn to get to and from the home on Gibson Island where she was employed. A few weeks later on a hot, humid sunny afternoon there was a line of thunderstorms moving across northern Anne Arundel County. I thought about calling to warn her about how the pavement can be very slick after a passing shower because it lifts the oils up on the road surface but doesn’t really wash them away like an extended rainfall tends to do. Because the cell coverage between Gibson Island and home wasn’t great and I figured I wouldn’t reach her anyway so I decided not to call.

Around 4:30 my phone rang. It was Heather, she was very upset, “Daddy I’ve had an accident.” Of course I asked her for the details, primarily if she or anyone else was injured. She was fine, no one else was involved and an older couple had stopped to see if she was okay and offered to stay with her until help arrived.

Once I felt that she was okay and had composed herself I advised her that most likely the police would show up and that she would probably get a ticket but not to worry we would be able to take care of that and to forget about the car as we had insurance. I also told her that if asked by the police she should simply say that she didn’t know what happened. I hung up and headed out to pick her up.

What had happened was exactly what I had feared. The storm had blown through and the surface was wet and must have had some oil on the surface. She was west bound on Rt. 100 approaching the exit for I-97 South and realized that she needed to slow down and tapped the brakes. Sure enough that caused the car to spin out with the front end hitting the guard rail and bouncing off it spun around again so that the rear end hit the guardrail as well.

The Maryland State Police officer a woman from the local barracks, arrived at the scene and decided to give her not one but two tickets. Perhaps as she arrived she thought, ‘young girl, wrecked car, must need two tickets’ – I had underestimated law enforcement on that score. One was for ‘driving too fast for conditions’ and the other was for ‘failure to maintain control of a vehicle to avoid a collision’. The fine was $135 dollars for each violation. I don’t recall the number of points that could have been given but I knew that after my new insurance company processed our claim they were going to whack me on my premiums. The cost to repair the car exceeded the value so it was a total loss.

I called Legal Shield, my legal services provider firm, and they opened a file for us and gave me an intake number advising that a lawyer would be calling within a prescribed number of hours. David, the attorney, called and we discussed the case. All that remained was to await the court date and show up with him.

The day came and Heather and I arrived at the courthouse and met up with David. After introductions and some small talk about the case he noticed the state Trooper in the waiting area. He said he needed to speak to her briefly and excused himself. Shortly afterwards the courtroom was opened and we took a seat near the back.

That morning before Heather’s case was called we watched a string of defendants appearing before the judge without an attorney. If you are ever in need of some good free entertainment and plenty of laughs, go to traffic court. You will be amazed, amused and bewildered at the things people say and do. And most, if not all of them that day, were winging it trying to defend themselves without a lawyer. Most of them also left the courtroom with a guilty verdict, owing a fine, court costs and receiving whatever points were applicable according to the law.  

“State of Maryland Vs Heather Cate” a voice announced. She and David made their way to the bar. The judge asked the officer state her case against Heather. “Your honor, I have no evidence to present” she replied. “You have no evidence to present?” he asked. She replied “That’s correct your honor, I have no evidence to present.” The judge then asked the Trooper if the defendant had ‘self-incriminated’ at the scene – admitting that she was speeding or otherwise careless in some way and thus had broken the law. Once again she stated “Your honor I have no evidence to present.” The judge looked down at his desk, then up at the ceiling and then paused, looking down at his desk again – it was probably only a minute or two but it seemed like a long time. Then he said “Well in that case I have no choice but to dismiss the charges. Case dismissed!” He banged the gavel and that was it!  

I do not know for certain but I’m about 99.9% sure that when David excused himself to go speak to the officer he confronted her with a simple question, had she witnessed the accident and observed Heather committing either of the violations she had charged her with. There were no other witnesses and she had arrived after the fact. I surmise that the attorney simply asked the Trooper what she would say to justify the charges if he were to cross examine her in the courtroom. And since she could not give testimony under oath that she had witnessed the incident she had no evidence to present.

David was savvy, experienced, knew the law, the system and probably the officer. He was not familiar with the judge, however, because he had identified himself as being a substitute from Baltimore County. As a result our case was handled beautifully and we got the result that we were looking for: no fines, court costs or points on her license, just a lesson about how the system works and that if at all possible it pays to have legal representation.

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