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Author Topic: Please help me, I'm terrified of jail. I have a court appearance. Please read.  (Read 534 times)

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Offline an0nym0us

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First let me say this: I am incredibly immature in certain ways. I recently spent a couple of years going through a time of stress where I found I was too terrified to even leave my room. the last year I've changed that, I've even started college classes, but I'm still behind. I will be turning 23 June 3rd but things that are most likely common knowledge to the majority of teenagers are not common knowledge to me. I feel horrible about this but it's a fact right now. I'm getting better but I'm still very ignorant compared to others in my age range. For example: I did not know that it was a criminal violation to drive with a tag attached to your car that is no longer registered to the vehicle in question. I did not even know that my tag was no longer registered despite the fact that I own the car and was probably present when the tag registration was switched.

My car recently broke down. It was an unfortunate event but it was fortunate timing. It broke down at the same time my mother's boyfriend's mother was trying to get rid of her car. I got her old car (with the tags still attached). I went to an office to have the vehicle registered in my name. I feel incredibly stupid for this, I really do, but I did not realize the tags from my old car needed to be switched over to the new car. That was probably one of the things I was there in the office having taken care of but I didn't even know it. I just knew I had to hand the woman at the counter an envelope and that when she said I could leave, I could. I didn't even know how to switch tags (I thought some special tool was required) I knew my mother's boyfriend asked me to give him her old tag when I replaced it with my tag but I thought that was the only reason I needed to change them. His mother hardly ever drives so I thought there was no rush. He asked for it and when I asked if he knew how to remove a tag he said we could just take care of it later, I'm guessing he didn't know it was an offense either. I had no idea that it was no longer an acceptable tag to be on my car. I've been driving it for months with no problem.

Well tonight I was pulled over. I wasn't speeding, all of my lights were in working order. I was utterly mystified. Finally, after looking carefully over my vehicle registration and insurance papers, the police officer informed me that my tags were not the tags registered to the car I was driving. I apologized and told him that I had just recently gotten the car and that I didn't know they were no longer registered. I told him I had tags I could attach at home but lacked the specialized tools required to change tags. He then said, a screwdriver? and asked me if I had any drugs in the car. After spending a long while back at his car (during which time he called for backup) he came back and gave me a ticket. But it wasn't a ticket, it was an appointment at court. He told me that what I had done was not a traffic violation but a criminal one. He said that I can go to jail for up to a year.

I've been crying for the four hours since then. I'm so scared I feel sick to my stomach. I'm sure some of you have felt it; rather than the dull unease it's a sharp cold sensation in your midsection. I'm terrified of jail: I'm terrified of germs, I'm terrified of people, I'm terrified of certain sounds, I'm terrified of florescent lights. When things go in unexpected ways I find myself unable to cope. My mother (a school teacher) said she once had a friend who was, as a very young adult, found to be in possession of marijuana. She said that because of that, this woman is unable to work as a school teacher. Because this misdemeanor is a permanent mark on her record. Will that happen to me? I'm so afraid of that thought. I've never been in trouble with the law in my life. Well, I had a traffic ticket once, but it was made a warning because I had an otherwise immaculate driving record. Since I've started school again I've gotten straight A's. I've been working so hard to catch up. Will this permanently mark me as a criminal? Will I really go to jail? Will I have to testify in court before of a roomful of people??? The officer said I will be required to speak to a judge. I haven't the slightest idea what to expect, and that in and of itself is terrifying. I want to try to call the number they gave me tomorrow. The court appearance is set for the sixth. I'll have a nervous breakdown if I have to hold these fears until then. Does anyone think it would be possible to move it up to a sooner date?

I know it is doubtful that there is anyone here who can give me definitive answers to the questions above. But right now I'm feeling a horrible panic. I often keep a night-time sleeping schedule. There is nobody else available to talk at this time. I don't really know anyone outside of my blood relatives anyways, and they're all in bed. I know it's probably an impossible request but I suppose I'm seeking reassurance. Has anyone ever been in a similar situation? How has it turned out for you? Even if you haven't been in a similar situation please feel free to respond. Any response will be greatly appreciated.
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Offline Cuchculan

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OK. Calm yourself down. Deep breath. Relax yourself yourself a bit. What is done is done. You most probably will be given a court date. The mistake you made was a simple mistake to make for a person who knows nothing about cars at all. This you will have a chance to explain to the judge. It won't be a major court sitting. Talking small court trying to get through as many small infractions as possible. I would say at max you will get a small fine. If the judge is in a good mood he / she might understand the mistake you made as an honest mistake. It is not like you killed anybody at all. Not like you were drunk whilst driving. I can't imagine you even getting a police record as a result of such a small infraction. Just a case of explaining your story. It is nothing major. Genuine mistake you made. I am sure this will be taken into account. There just may be set fines for such infractions. Nothing else after that. Try and relax yourself up and wait until you hear from there. In the mean time make the tag switch over. So you can at least say the switch is now made when you are asked to appear in court.
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Offline Rob783

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I'm sure you'll be fine.  In most states prisons are over crowed as it is so they'll just give you a fine, rather then add to the prision population.  You can hire a lawyer if your really that scared, but honestly I think you'll be fine.
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Offline Cuchculan

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I don't think it go so far as needing a lawyer. Not in these courts. It is not like a criminal court. Most countries have set fines for road offences. Judge lets you say you piece and tells you the fine. End of story.
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Offline an0nym0us

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Thank you both very much for replying.

I feel slightly less terrified now that I've been to bed and woken up again. Knowing myself this feeling will swing back and forth between panic and acceptance until I have the court date but at this moment I'm somewhat less frantic than I was last night. I have the other tag to place on my car, I'm going to do that today. It will absolutely be done by the sixth when I have my court date. I tried doing a bit of reading last night and I think I was intimidated by the fact that I will have to plead guilty or not guilty when I go before the judge. Apparently my having the incorrect tags attached to my car is a criminal misdemeanor rather than a simple traffic violation in the state I live in. I'm really afraid of having it as a mark on my permanent record. The officer had told me that if I was found guilty it would become a mark on my record. Am I guilty just because I undeniably had the wrong tags attached (the officer even took my tags I had on the car as evidence)? Or am I innocent because it wasn't a deliberate act where I attached the incorrect tags myself? When my mother's boyfriend's mother had the tags placed they were the correct tags I'm sure; they just should have been transferred over after the car was registered in my name and I neglected to do that because I wasn't aware it was necessary.

Thank you again Cuchculan. Your responses in particular were very reassuring.
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Offline Cuchculan

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It was a mistake that you were unaware of. Only made aware of after you were stopped. I live in Ireland. Our laws are a big bit different than in the USA. I have been to court in the past. Had to plead guilty or not guilty over something silly. With me it was not guilty. Someone gave my name. The judge was all sorry about the whole event and thanked me for showing up in court. But I listened to the cases before mine. All those were able to tell their stories to the judge. I have no idea if you can do that over there? Maybe, for safety reasons, look up legal sites in your home town on the net. Or even any citizens information place. Explain the situation and find out what will happen on the day. Nothing wrong with been ready. I also think it is stupid if such a thing can stop you getting jobs. Genuine mistake. Unlike others who set out to harm people or set out to scam the system. To me there is a difference. I will have a look myself on the net and see if I can find anything of interest.

http://www.lawguru.com/legal-questions/florida-traffic-law/driving-wrong-tag-car-boyfriend-841380272/

Worth a read. It can differ, as you said, State to State but the first answer seems to look good on the page.
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Offline anxiouskathie

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Let me make a suggestion......why don't you call the courthouse listed on the paper you received from the police officer....sometimes it's a matter of paying a fine if you plead guilty and not even having to go to court.  If you call the court and tell them that you have rectified the situation, (which you should do if you haven't done so) you can be pleasantly surprised by the court to be able to go in, pay the fine and be done with it.  Does the ticket or paperwork you received say what you are being charged with?
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Offline Cuchculan

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Kath, she had the wrong Tag on her car. She switched cars but didn't know she was meant to switch the tags from her old car to her new car. So when stopped she was done cause the tags didn't match up with her registered car. If you get me.
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Offline an0nym0us

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It seems like the lawyers on the legal advice website do feel like this is an issue worth hiring a lawyer for? I suppose it comes as no surprise that they would (as they are lawyers themselves). I'm going to have to do some more research into this issue. I had neglected to do so before because quite honestly I was having a difficult time handling what I was finding, this sort of thing is very hard for me to deal with and everything I was reading was scaring me more. I should be fine if I look at a little bit of it at a time and have someone nearby who can help keep things in perspective and help me resist jumping to a warped "absolute worst case scenario" mindset. I have an appointment with my therapist next week, I'm going to try to move it up and maybe I can ask her to help me work through some of it.

The officers who stopped me last night took my tag that was apparently not registered to my car with them as evidence. I had to call a cab to get home since without any tags I would have only gotten stopped again. My car is still at my cousin's house, I was about two minutes down the road from her when I was stopped. As soon as my brother wakes up he's going to drive me over with my properly registered tag to attach it to my car and I will then drive the car home. I don't know if I can call the number on the papers the police officer gave me because there is not a fine alone if I'm found guilty. It sounds like the consequence varies based on the decision of the judge I speak to. At the very least, I can't call the number today (Sunday).

Thank you again for your replies. I'm glad to have found this site. I can't imagine what my current mental state would be were I to have absolutely nobody to speak about this issue with.
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Offline anxiouskathie

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Cuch, gotcha!  It all makes sense now!!
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Offline Anne1221

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I can't imagine under any scenario in which you would be given jail time for that.  However, I like the advice you got about start making some phone calls and see if there is a fine associated with that ticket and that might calm you down. 
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Offline Cuchculan

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I wouldn't contest it at all. Maybe seek out legal help but tell them you don't wish to contest it. But see if there is a way you can put your side of the story across. By not contesting it, you are saving the court time and money. Which may be taken into account if you happen to get a friendly judge on the day. It is only if you plead not guilty they will give you a second court date to hear your case. Free legal aid might be available to you. It was a genuine mistake. One you will know not to make again.
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Offline an0nym0us

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Well I wouldn't want to make unnecessary trouble or drag this out any longer than needed. I would also like to avoid a trial of any sort. I'm feeling overwhelmed by this whole situation. I do however, want to make sure my side is heard. I want to find the best way to accomplish this. I feel like I will come out better if I can make the judge understand that it was a foolish mistake on my part rather than an attempt to gain something through illicit means. My mother is a teacher and she is going to speak with a deputy who works at her school to see if he can give us any further insight into the matter. If I do need to seek legal assistance it would probably be (I hope) just a resource who would help me to understand exactly what I've been charged with and help me get a better idea of what my situation is.

I think this law exists to catch people who have deliberately concealed or manipulated their licence plate to disguise stolen cars, or other illegal activity. I understand now that I broke a law, and I am prepared to pay a fine for it (I currently lack the funds but I'm sure I could borrow from a family member and pay them back what I can't cover by myself at the moment) but I don't want a criminal record for something like this. My fear is that the fact that the law was broken will override my lack of ill intent in the eyes of a judge.

I was initially going to try to call the number of the court house today but now I'm thinking I want a bit more time to get a firmer grasp of the situation. I just want to know what to expect before I go charging ahead.

My cousin actually told me that she's heard that often times the police officer won't even show up to deal with petty misdemeanors like the one I've been charged with and the case ends up being thrown out. That's a hopeful thought, though I think it best not to rely of this possibility in lieu of any sort of actual preparation.
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Offline Cuchculan

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What can happen over here is a bit silly. It can take about a year or more before the people get letters to attend the court. Judges simply throw the cases out if they are silly little nothings. The police don't want to waste their own time either so fail to show. People done for not having train tickets on trains. A year to reach a court and then the person who caught you must be able to recognise you. This is were a lot of cases fall flat on their faces. After a year can someone say ' Yes I remember that person '. Only problem you might have if you are not going to contest it would be not having a say at all. The judge will say his piece and that will be that. Not contesting means accepting. You go and accept what the judge says. I would look into that aspect of things if you wish to get your view across. Keep us posted.
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Offline Stressed Jumper

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I really wouldn't worry.  I am in the US and when I lived in NY I dated a cop briefly...some of his stories were hilarious but no one would rake you over the coals for an honest mistake.  Heck he caught someone he thought was a drunk driver swerving all over the place...pulled them over...turned out it was a little old man with terrible eyesight.  Legally he had to give the guy a ticket but then he gave him a ride home.  When they went to court he recommended the charges be dropped so long as the old dude got new glasses and retook his drivers test.  Explain that it was a mistake and worst case scenario is going to be a small fine.
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