Posted by Azhanae Evely.
I am going to tell you about my first encounter with being inside of a court room. I was given a ticket for “No parking in a handicap zone.” Through this experience, I learned a lot about how to prepare for a court hearing and what it is like being in court.
I live in East Orange, New Jersey, and there is a requirement for the overnight parking. In front of where I normally park are two handicap spots back to back.
I woke up one morning finding a parking ticket. The ticket stated, “Court Appearance Required: The undersigned further states that there are just and reasonable grounds to believe that you committed the above offense and will file this complaint in this court charging you with that offense.”
The very first thing to do if you get a ticket is read the ticket. I had never thought to turn the ticket over and read the print there. Had I not read the back of the ticket, I would have been missed these words: “If you intend to plead not guilty, to the offense charged in this complaint and summons and have a trial, you must notify the court administrator . . . of your intentions at least 7 days prior to your scheduled court date. If you fail to notify the Court Administrator, it may be necessary for you to make 2 court appearances.” The original court date that was printed on the ticket was 3/3/16. However, when I called into the court’s administrator’s office 7 days prior to the court date, I learned that they had never set a court date. Had I not called, I would have gone on the date given to me just to have to come back because it was not scheduled.
The next thing I learned is how to fight a ticket. The first thing I did was take pictures of my car in the spot. I took multiple pictures from different angles. The weather also worked to my advantage because at the time it snowed a lot and the salt on the ground actually made a ring around where my car was which gave sufficient proof that I did not tamper with the car to make it look like I was never over the line.
I looked up the statutes on what is an offense to parking in a handicap zone. The New Jersey Handicapped Parking Law in (C.394:4-207.9) says, “Access to parking spaces, curb cuts, or other improvements designed to provide accessibility, shall be unobstructed.” I found that having the information helped when going into court because it can aid you in determining whether to plead guilty or not guilty. I had decided that I wanted to plead not guilty.
In East Orange, they have everyone that has tickets for parking sit in one room, which I found weird because everyone could hear you. I can see why they do it; it is about having an open trial. The first thing that is done is the roll call. After a little while, the prosecutor comes into the court room and calls everyone up one-by-one by last name.
The first thing the prosecutor asked me was why I was there. After telling him what kind of ticket I got, he asked me why I committed the offense. This threw me off because we learned in business law class that you are innocent until proven guilty; yet, he was taking the stance as if I was already guilty of the crime. So, I told him I wasn’t in the spot. This is where I showed him the pictures that I had taken.
The pictures indicated where the signs began as well as that there was no sign behind my car. I also showed him that there was a car in that handicap spot, which means I was not obstructing the spot. After they hear from you, they either tell you the best plan of action, or like in my case, just tell you to sit back down.
While in court they do ask you to turn off your devices, so my suggestion is to always have hard copies. The judge was the one to read everyone their rights and even talked about how they could appeal. He even mentioned the fact that the court can decide whether to go to trial depending on the severity of the case. When it was my turn, they asked me to state my name for the court records which I did. Then at that point the judge let me know because of the sufficient proof I provided his prosecutor, the ticket would be dismissed. It is almost like depending on what you show the prosecutor in the beginning affects the judge’s decision.
So, because I took the time to actually make sure I had images of that moment really helped me. It was better going in knowing as much as you can about the system, because you do not ever know what can really happen.
Azhanae is a business law student at the Feliciano School of Business, Montclair State University.