Cloak of Secrecy Age?
A couple of years ago after 13 years of owning an educational support business, I was told by the
State of Connecticut I owed them a back business ownership tax.
Surprised, I mentioned to the state employee I was speaking with over the phone that I had been totally unaware of its existence. I mentioned I had never been notified or informed of this tax. I then asked the state official how I was supposed to know about the tax.
Her answer: "As a business owner, you should just know. It was your responsibility to know."
When I was in court last week to address my two tickets totally about $650 for my anchor light, the case prior to mine morphed into an actual trial. A man, probably in his sixties, was accused of speeding on the St. Lucie River in his small boat near the Roosevelt Bridges north of Stuart, Florida. He had been ticketed with a $95 fine.
Before the proceedings, the judge reminded the officer and defendant who both represented themselves that hearsay or third party opinions were not admissible as evidence. The judge also instructed the two that they could only ask questions of each other, and only respond to each in that dialogue style. The defendant had brought photos and a chart of the area to demonstrate no evidence of any posted speed signs in the area he was stopped. The police presented no physical evidence, chart or of the infraction or how she determined his speed; she only stated what she observed.
The two Q and A-ed back and forth for 10 minutes. The man present a number of photos without any posted signage, and the policewoman retorted they were not totally accurate because of the angle of the photographs. Then the man said he had been using the waterway for years and had never been stopped or informed he was going too fast.
He asked "How was I supposed to know or have known I was going too fast, if nothing is posted?"
The police woman's response: "You should have known."
The man responded with: "You mean to tell me my experience level is a factor in determining my guilt?"
Her response: "Yes."
It appeared to me that the police's position became tenuous at best at that moment. Her seemingly prejudicial statement then might prove embarrassing if the judge dismissed or discarded this citation in front of courtroom witnesses.
Similarly, this unshared verdict made me feel equally uncomfortable. Either way, not knowing an outcome appeared to me to be just another example of withholding information from the public. Of course, knowing the judge's decision could have either reinforced some confidence in fairness or undermined it. But not knowing how the judge eventually ruled either way is undermining as well. It kept me in limbo, wondering what had happened. Even though this was a minor infraction, not-knowing how the judge ruled felt distrusting. While I didn't leave the courtroom feeling critical as the proceedings appeared fair, but I wasn't feeling especially supportive either. It was, after all, a private matter that became public. But either way, the openness of a free society is always on display when information is transparent and shared.
As I listened and observed these courtroom proceedings, I, of course, knew citizens are supposedly innocent until proven guilty, but this case did not, from my limited perspective, appear to show any proof of this man's guilt. There were, after all, no witnesses, no concrete evidence, just the police's say-so. Maybe that is all that is needed down here in Florida!
Maybe skepticism or cynicism are more desirable and preferable than outright outrage. While only a minor incident in the scheme of everyday judicial encounters between police and public, this case seemed to reveal this practice of limited sharing...just enough to appease the public without frustrating them? Of course, any decision can be second guessed. No matter what the verdict or how it was to be delivered, people tend to damn something if you decide one way and damn if you don't. Tough to win any support when that is the mentality.
TIME FOR COMPLIANCE:UNDERSTANDING THE RULES:
- How much time was allotted to me from my Dec 16 judgment hearing to install acceptable lights on my boat? What was the deadline for my compliance?
- How was I supposed to know that 3 days (Dec 19) after my hearing, I would be ticketed a third time for the same offense?
- Why wasn’t I given a deadline at my hearing or at least some notification of another impending ticket?
- If I am in the process of addressing the infraction, how much time was I given? How would I know this?
- If Officer Howell knew I had contacted Stuart Marine the day after my hearing and had been told that Stuart Marine could not complete the light installation until the week after Xmas, would that have been considered a mitigating circumstance? If so, how was I to inform Officer Howell? How do I contact him when there is no
- If I placed (as I did) another light on my boat’s mast the day after I learned from Stuart Marine that their schedule was booked and then also turned on the boat’s masthead prior to my receiving the third ticket, does that have any bearing?
- What evidence is there that my boat lights are not working? May I view the photos that show my boat’s lights not working?
- Do you need evidence that Stuart Marine is working on behalf regarding my boat lighting and battery issues?
- How come I wasn’t fined from May to October? Why wasn’t a warning issued with a deadline for compliance? If I wasn’t notified, warned or fined in those 5 months, isn’t it reasonable to assume I came away with the impression, being new to the area, that the fine wasn’t enforced…or was a small amount of money?
- How is a boater to know he is in compliance with marine regulations? When he doesn’t receive a ticket? Does the officer come to the boat, contact the owner to give his approval or do I just wait another month to see if I receive another citation/summons or not?
- Is it also logical to conclude that during those 5 months in which my boat was anchored in Manatee Pocket (in one of the two designated anchorages) surrounded by number of other uninhabited / some abandoned) boats without night mast lights that their noncompliance gave an impression that some boats comply and others don’t?
- How can I be fined for a third time for the same offense when I have yet to complete the light repair? Doesn’t double and triple jeopardy apply?
UNCLEAR SITUATIONS & CIRCUMSTANCES:
- If my lights faded out one day and then died the next, would I be fined the same?
- If my lights were out for one day or 30, is there a different fine?
- When do tickets get issued? How much time (grace period) do I have between one ticket and another? How does the public know?
- Who and what determines when tickets are written or is there some deadline? monthly, weekly, bi-weekly?
- Why does the third ticket indicate the date of arrest as 12/12/14? What arrest?
- How is a boater to know when to expect a ticket?
- If there are laws that an officer is enforcing, then where is should be information (contact info, guidelines, ones, consequences, etc) for citizens who have been ticketed?
- How can any boater learn about the consequences of marine infractions?
- Where are they posted or what is the website that lists the infractions and their fines?
- If boaters are new to the area, shouldn’t there be an easy way for them to learn about the laws and their consequences from a reliable source? Are boaters supposed to wait until they commit an infraction to discover what an infraction is?
- How frequent are the fines? How does the public know and learn this information? Where on the internet can it be located?
JUSTIFICATION & UNDERSTANDING:
- If boaters are to understand and respect laws, what is the rationale for a light infraction in a designated anchoring area out of any channel or thoroughfare?
- What is the rationale for the fine being $327.50?
- How does the public learn what the rules and consequences are located if no one knows where the answers are located and many believe they are arbitrary?
- Why are there derelict (abandoned) vessels anchored in the two designated anchoring areas with no lights? Why aren’t they removed?
NOTIFICATION & CIRCUMSTANCES:
- Why isn’t a contact phone number used rather than a mailed ticket? Why couldn’t Officer Howell call me rather than issue a mystery ticket which includes minimal explanation?
- Wouldn’t that notification approach be more personal and respectful? Wouldn’t the police be held in higher regard with a more humane approach?
If we, the public, don't need to know,
when things seem so secret and unclear?
|There's always a catch.|
|Sometimes we can't see the truth |
even if it is right in front of our eyes.
Truth can frequently be stranger than fiction. Ignorance is bliss?
Shouldn't we be in the midst of an Information-Sharing Age?