Most folks tell stories of how their run-in with the law was unpleasant, embarrassing, and costly. Mine is one of a different type, whereby the officer that issued my citation actually spoke on my behalf at my court hearing.
On a cool Friday evening in May 2002, my fiancé decided to head out of town for a friend’s graduation party. She was going away just for the weekend, so she packed several bags of shoes, kissed me goodbye and headed out West. So there I was, deciding what to do – I contacted a buddy of mine to see if he wanted to get together after work for a few drinks. He quickly obliged, as he never passes up an opportunity to spill with his pals. I told him that I would pick him up around 8pm, and then we would go hit the town. I got dressed, hopped into my new car (silver 2000 Honda Accord Coupe ex V6), and sped off. I was very proud of my first car, as I had just purchased the ride upon my college graduation in 1999.
Our first stop was to meet up with a local girl that he had been talking to at a pub nearby around 8:30pm – unfortunately, we did not get there until 11pm.
After picking him up, I drove into the city just after dusk, and eased my way into one of those round-abouts where cars are circling from every direction and you do not know if they are exiting or getting on the circle. After successfully entering the circle and making a quick exit, I noticed the old blue and red lights flashing in my rearview mirror. My first thought was, “Was I going too fast? Nah, I was only doing 30MPH or so. Perhaps I turned without signaling – can’t be, I always use my signal.” I calmly pulled over, just two blocks from our destination.
The officer came up to my window and asked for my license and registration. I reached into the glove compartment and grabbed whatever paperwork I had, and handed the papers to the officer. We waited a few minutes, then he came back and asked me where did I get the car from, and who paid for the vehicle. Puzzled, I told him the name of the dealership, and that I had paid for the car in full.
A few minutes quickly passed before three more police cruisers rolled up next to us. My friend and I looked at each other and wondered what on Earth could be going down.
The officer then asked us to exit the car (at this point, a light rain began falling upon us), and asked me whose name is on the registration card. I looked at the card and realized that I did not recognize the name. The name on the card had the same last name as mine, but the first name was way off. The officer then told me that the reason why he had pulled me over was because my license plate tags had expired. In Maryland, we are required to update our tags ever two years – however, given that this was my first car (and my first time living in Maryland), I had no idea. Furthermore, since the registration was in someone else’s name, I never received the notice to renew my tags.
The officer speculated that there must have been a mix-up with the MVA, and they had issued me the wrong tags and registration for the vehicle. So the reason for the additional backup officers to arrive, is that they saw the wrong plates on the wrong car with incorrect registration – thus concluding that this could be a stolen vehicle. Two of those officers that arrived approached me and began questioning me on how I did not realize that my name was not on the registration card. One of the officers was a Sergeant, the other was his sidekick – and the sidekick was repeating everything the Sergeant said (similar to “Proctor” from the Police Academy movies). This dynamic duo began grilling me as if this whole situation was my fault, and that I should be locked up. He instructed the officer that pulled me over to issue me several tickets – one each for driving a vehicle with incorrect tags, possessing a vehicle with incorrect tags, driving a vehicle with incorrect registration, possessing a vehicle with incorrect registration, and then to impound the car.
Gasping, I could not believe what was going on. The officers huddled up to discuss the situation, and then they broke up and left – leaving just the original officer with me. The officer actually apologized to me, saying that he was just going to give me a warning and asked that I go to the MVA to have this situation fixed as soon as possible. However, because that particular Sergeant showed up, he had to impound the car and issue me at least one ticket. I sadly waited and watched as a tow truck came by and took my baby away.
After all of the officers left, my buddy and I walked the rest of the way in the rain to the pub and had few drinks to laugh off our experience. His lady-friend gave us a ride back to his place, whereby he gave me a ride home.
The next day (Saturday morning), I asked another buddy to give me a ride to the MVA. I would have taken my fiancé’s car, but she took her keys with her. So my friend gladly gave me lift. However, upon arriving at the MVA, I was disappointed to see that the office was closed for the Memorial Day Weekend Holiday. To make matters worse, he locked his keys in the car. While we waited for AAA to show up, I called the dealership where I had purchased the car, and calmly told them my situation. I explained that they issued me the wrong the registration card, and that they were at fault for the situation. They told me that they understood, and would gladly reimburse me for any out-of-pocket expenses.
Since this was a holiday weekend, I had to wait until Tuesday to correct the matter. My plan was simple – I would drive my wife to her office (which, fortunately for me, was only 2 miles from the impound lot), drive to the MVA to get a new set of tags and registration, drop my fiancé’s car back to her office, walk to the impound lot, get my car, and drive back to the dealership (~50 miles away) to get reimbursed. All the while, I had to take the day off from work to get all of this done. My process went very smoothly – the new tags and registration was $140, the impound fee was $110, and the citation was $250. Upon arriving at the dealership, I spoke directly with the owner, and he agreed to pay for my new tags, registration, impound fees, and lost wages for taking two days off from work (one to get this corrected, and another for my court date). I also asked for an additional check to cover any fines that may be imposed upon me – if no fines were issued, then I would return the check. I was issued two checks, and quickly left.
Flash forward to my court date, I waited patiently for my name to be called. I approached the desk, and entered my plea of not guilty. The officer and I were both sworn in, and before I could mention anything further, the officer told the judge that he believed that this was just a simple mix-up with the MVA, and that I should not be held accountable for the incident. The judge thought about the situation for a moment and agreed with the officer. I was free to go with no penalties or fines.