Defending their driving

By Daniel Rothberg

With his mother at his side, Connor Dillman ’11 waited quietly in a small courtroom for one hour before the police officer, who had ticketed him about a month before, arrived at traffic court.

“The officer said that I had made a right hand turn on a red light without coming to a stop,” he said. “I said that it was a yellow light and I had the right to not stop.”

The 10-minute trial at traffic court ended with Dillman losing his case.

Dillman had appeared before the same judge at his arraignment case about one month earlier.

If an offender receives a ticket, their first appearance in court is typically an arraignment, criminal lawyer Donald Etra (Harry ’05, Dorothy ’08, Anna ’10 and Jonathan ’11) said. At an arraignment, the defendant must enter a plea.

“There was a judge [at the arraignment] and he went down the row saying what the fines would be and if you wanted to contest it or not,” Dillman said.

If an offender chooses to contest their ticket, he or she must enter a not guilty plea and return to court at a later date for their trial, Etra said.

Dillman chose to contest his ticket since he said he believed he was not at fault.

Dillman sat with a group of about 10 other minors and their legal guardians at the arraignment.

Minors are required to be accompanied by a guardian during both the arraignment and the trial, Etra said.

Additionally, while it is common for a judge to bring several minors into one courtroom at once, Etra said that minors always have a right to privacy during juvenile proceedings.

At the trial, the officer who issued the initial citation appears in court with the defendant.

According to the Los Angeles Superior Court website, a defendant is allowed to subpoena witnesses and has the right to an attorney.

These trials are often heard by a judge pro tem, who is an attorney that volunteers to hear certain court cases.

Temporary judges must have completed a training program for judges and had their license for at least 10 years, the website said.

Adrianna Crovo ’11, who was pulled over in her mother’s car because the vehicle was unregistered, said that at her arraignment, a sheriff read a list of courtroom rules.

“You had to be really quiet… It was pretty button-down which was a little weird,” Crovo said. “Being respectful was really emphasized.”

Crovo said that she chose to be seen in a group since she believed her transgression was not that serious.

“It was really nerve-wracking,” she said. “It wasn’t really clear about where you were supposed to be and what was going to happen until you got into the room.”

Other minors in the Santa Monica courtroom were appearing for infractions that included covering a license plate and not wearing a bike helmet, Crovo said.

Courtney Hazy ’11, who was pulled over for driving minors before having her license for one year, said that going to traffic court was a “waste of time.”

Hazy said that she learned to be more cautious because breaking the law is not worth being fined.

“You learn to be more careful,” Hazy said. “It’s not worth it to pay a lot of money to have someone in a car with you.”

“It’s definitely scary and definitely not a position you want to put yourself in,” Crovo said. “[Going to court] definitely taught me that I don’t want to do anything more serious than not having the car registered.”

Dillman, who was forced to pay a fine and is planning to attend an eight-hour session of traffic school, said that he learned that you have to be well prepared before arguing a case in traffic court.

“You’ve got to earn it. You have to do your homework first,” Dillman said. “[The officer] took five minutes to explain his side and I took 30 seconds to explain mine.”