I had to appear in city court today.
Here’s the story. I have a pickup truck that I bought a little over a year ago. It’s my first truck, I’ve always believed that every man needs a truck. I need one about once every three or four months to haul something or help someone. I found this one that was in running condition and didn’t look to bad for a song and got it. For some reason I did not get the renewal for the tag in the mail and it expired. I went out of town for about eight days and left the truck in my drive. When I got back there was a notice on my house door that said it had been cited as an “abandoned or dilapidated vehicle” (hey, it’s not a Cadillac but I didn’t appreciate them talking about my old truck that way). Naturally, I got busy and good intentions didn’t net a new tag. So about three weeks later I got a citation and a notice to appear in court in Spring Hill. I called, there wasn’t really any getting out of it.
I’ve never been to court as a participant. There were 40 or 50 folks in there. Most were like me - expired tags, speeding tickets, ran a stop sign, no proof of insurance, not wearing a seatbelt. The judge was a nice guy for the most part. He explained - I will ask you how you plead. You can only answer this two ways - “guilty” or “not guilty”. I immediately thought I’m guilty but I can justify it.
I noticed that people who said “not guilty” typically said it loud and clearly but most every person who “plead” “guilty” said it very softly.
I did see a member of SM there, he was there over a speeding ticket - whew his offense was “worse” than mine (but that didn’t change my own guilty charge). He also appeared before the judge before me, so I wanted to go to him and let him know mine charge was an expired tag, not something like a DUI! :)
The people who didn’t have to pay anything seemed happier than those who did. There was one person in front of me who also had an expired tag. She had her proof that she had gotten her new tag and it had been the day after she got the ticket. I had mine too and quickly looked at it and noted I had gotten mine the day after too. When the judge told her he was going to “dismiss her with compliance” I wanted to run up and say “me too” but didn’t confident I would be dismissed with the same “grace”.
Then he called my name Phillip Jenkins. I gave the “bailiff” my tag receipt and smiled. The judge looked at the citation, at my “proof”, at the citation, at my “proof”, then at his computer screen. He said: “Are you Dale?” Now, to be very honest, since I am legally “Phillip Dale” I thought, “hey, he recognizes me from Spring Meadows” and in the split second I considered, “is that a good thing or a bad thing? Will he say, ‘Love what you guys are doing’? or ‘hey, I attend the Spring Hill church...brother’? or ‘I’ve seen your TV commercials from Warm Coats”? Instead I said: “Yes sir”.
I was wrong. He said: “Why does your citation say ‘Phillip’ then?” I said, “I’m Phillip Dale, but I go by Dale”. I wanted to say that I get that a lot and it was my parents fault because they called me by my middle name. He didn’t look happy about this development that I had not even noticed. My name on the registration and on the ticket were different. He said: “You need to get that changed.” I wanted to say, “the nice lady at the circuit clerk’s office knew me and just typed my name in rather than asking”, which is the truth. But he didn’t ask. I said: “Yes sir”. Seemed folks who had addressed him that way had gotten further than those who had not.
“How do you plead?” I wanted to say, “Well, technically I could answer this in several ways: Guilty, but rectified. Guilty, but I didn’t know I would end up in court over this or I would have handled it in a more timely manner. Guilty, but I my expired tag wasn’t hurting anybody. Guilty, but. Really, I was wanting to say “guilty, but not really.” But I knew he was going to just dismiss it since I’d already complied so I just said “guilty”.
I was ready for my “dismiss with compliance” when he threw me a curveball “Mr. Jenkins, why didn’t you get you tag when you received the first notice?” I wanted to pull out my calendar and go over my schedule with him, but I don’t think he would have appreciated it or cared. I wanted to say “I planned on doing it next time I was in Columbia.” I wanted to say the truth: “I didn’t see the hurry.” I didn’t, instead I turned into a 8th grade boy and said: “I don’t know.” It was over! I’d already admitted I was guilty. He said, “I’ll dismiss this but you pay the court costs.” Man! I wanted to argue, I wanted to say “you didn’t make that other girl pay court costs”, I wanted to object, I wanted to plead my case. Instead I paid it.
I kept thinking the whole time of what it might be like to stand before the God of heaven knowing my deep guilt and sin. I was thankful for one thing - Jesus the Christ!
I had to appear in city court today.