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Why I Defended Myself in Court and You Should Too

Why I Defended Myself in Court and You Should Too

About a month ago I defended myself in court. In the end I was found guilty and had to write a $60 check to my city's government. The original fine was $70 so going through the whole process saved me ten bucks. But at the end of the day I didn't go to court to try to save $70, I went to court because it's my constitutional right. Moreover, I went to court to push back against the thousands of civil "laws" imposed upon citizens everyday that in reality are just another form of taxation.

To give y'all a little context, I received a $70 "civil citation" in the mail for turning right at a red light. Yes, you read that correctly, I was in violation of my city's traffic laws for turning right on a red light...Most people assume that turning "right on red" is a perfectly legal thing to do. But nowadays you need to be a little more careful.

At certain intersections around my city the authorities have decided that drivers need to treat red lights like stop signs. That means that if you are in the right-hand turn lane and the light is red, you must come to a complete stop before making your turn. Going 18mph through your turn as the light turns green will still get you a $70 fine.

The day I received the photographic evidence of my "crime" in the mail I began thinking about what I would do. Would I simply write a $70 check to my municipal government like most people? In the end I decided that the way of least resistance was not the best plan and I began looking into the idea of going to court over my fine.

From the start I had a pretty strong feeling that I was not likely to win my case. At the end of the day whenever you oppose the state it's the state who decides who's right and who's wrong (some would call this a conflict of interest but who's counting?). The citation I received in the mail was chalk full of legalese and nearly impossible to understand. It seemed to indicate that I had only two options upon receiving the fine.

  1. Pay the fine by a certain date.
  2. Claim I wasn't driving the car and write down the name of the person who was driving the car so they could be fined.

Nowhere on the citation was there any indication that I could request a trial in a courtroom setting.

At this point I decided to do a little research. I found out that it was perfectly within my rights to request a trial over my traffic violation. The state has accused me of breaking the law and I am innocent until I am proven guilty in a court of law. Furthermore, the burden of proof lies on the state. I don't have to go in and prove I am not guilty, they just have to prove that I am guilty.

Again, I knew my chances were slim at winning the case. Remember, it's the state who makes these laws and the state who enforces them. However, I didn't decide to defend myself because I thought I would win. I wanted to defend myself because I refuse to simply roll over and turn my belly up over a "crime" where there is no victim.

Trials are expensive. The county attorney, the judge, the bailiff, the court secretary, the attorney's assistant, and the "expert witness" are all on the city's bankroll. If the city wants my seventy bucks I'll pay them rather than going to jail. However, if it's going to cost them $5,000 to put me through trial over a $70 "civil citation" you better believe I'm going to make them do that too.

At no point of the long and arduous process of requesting a trial and defending myself in court was I unruly or in contempt of the court. Rather, I simply requested that the state do for me everything they say they are legally obligated and willing to do for me. Their laws say that I owe them $70 for turning right on a red light. Their laws also say that they will finance a trial that will cost them well north of $70 to prove that I am guilty of turning right on red.

However, the state (just like Las Vegas a casino) knows how to play their hand. The state knows that most people aren't going to do what I did. Of the thousands of people who received $70 fines in the mail I was the only one to extend my rights as a citizen and force the state to prove me guilty. Everyone else simply sent in their $70 bucks to the coffers. The state assumes that even if one "nut job" (for that's how people like me are caricatured) costs us $5,000 over a $70 fine we are still going to make $700,000 in one month from the thousands of others who won't go through the trouble.

The reason these types of "laws" exist is because we allow them to. If every single person who received a citation in the mail like I did went to court (even in a losing cause like mine was) the law would be overturned in a day. The courts would be overrun and all the citations would be pulled from the citizens' records in response.

Tyranny depends on a compliant and unquestioning populace. When a people would rather give up $70 than stand up for what is right they are already in the grip of tyranny. But the way to resist tyranny isn't revolution. That hardly ever works. Rather, the first step is to make the ugly beast show itself for what it really is. I didn't break any laws by asking for a trial. But every time I tell this story to people they are like "I can't believe you did that?!?"


Because people intuitively know that the state doesn't like it when we make them do what they say they will do. Right now the state puts up with one or two people extending their rights. But I doubt your local municipality will be so graceful if every citizen began contesting every traffic citation. The benevolent supplier of community services would suddenly become very agitated.

If we truly are the land of the free and the home of the brave maybe it's time we actually started being brave. The reason freedom and bravery go together is because you have to be brave to live in a free land. Things can go wrong in a land of free people, but if the people truly are brave then they will not give up those freedoms for their "safety."

Food for thought.


Postscript — Believe it or not there are entire cities that are attempting to just this sort of thing. The Tom Woods Show interviewed Ian Freeman of the Free State Project back in January about practical ways to oppose left handed tyranny. If you're interested then check out the interview here.

Where are you going? Where do you go?

Where are you going? Where do you go?

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