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New Pilgrim Chronicles

Thank You, Taxpayers
Inefficiencies of the State of California on a routine charge of being somewhere(s) at the wrong time
by Bo Keely

The author of this column is someone recommended by Dean Hazel as an unconventional and imaginative voice on issues of the Southwest, particularly immigration. It appears from my brief reading of a few of his writings, the man has impressive credentials as a traveler, adventurer, and hard-to-describe what-all. Although probably not a libertarian purist, he comes across with a bold authenticity. — bw

Your dollars financed my stride this morning beneath a "Criminal Operations" sign in the Santa Ana courthouse that initiated a cascade of mistakes and apologies by the California justice system. However, it began on 10-10-08 at the Irving Ranch Conservancy, a popular hiking area on the western lip of Los Angeles, that is signed "No Trespassing."

A beefy man peeled a white Bronco from behind a Live Oak, cuffed me, read my rights, and instead of quoting the Conservancy's claim ("The organization works with its partners to enhance the public's appreciation, understanding and connection to the land."), he chided, "Last night a deer hunter sneaked onto the ranch, so at sunrise I began arresting trespassers, and you're the first." He called a sheriff, and an hour's drive later two squad cars arrived, with one officer apologizing while scratching a trespass ticket, "This ain't right, bud." The tardy notice to appear in Santa Ana Superior court was for 7-16-09, but I had left for South America on 4-22-09.

I returned with Hepatitis A on 11-13-09, and recovered by Christmas to open the mail and discover a bench warrant for "failure to appear" with a $2,500 bond, or arrest.

Finally, this morning 2-11-10, I drove five hours from desert to courthouse to walk under the Criminal Operations sign at 7 am, as suggested online, where the clerk added me to this morning's 8:30 am session.

Two whites, one black, 30 English-speaking Hispanics, and 20 Spanish Hispanics all rose as a blonde judge in black settled below the California State Seal. By the time my case was called two hours later, I had noticed on my Case Sheet from the clerk that though the full name was correct, the DOB was a decade short of my own, the height 2" shorter, the eyes brown instead of blue, and the driver's license # a few digits off. The judge called me to the podium, asked my name and date of birth, that I uttered, to which she retorted, "You weren't born in 1959?" "No." "Mr. Keely," continued the judge, "a warrant was issued for failure to appear for a misdemeanor trespass long ago on 7-16-09." "I was out of the country," I stated. "Would you like a trial?" "I would like to talk to the District Attorney." "May I make an offer?"

"I honor your offer, your honor," I replied. "The court will dismiss the failure to appear and trespass if you consent to a DNA test." "There's no other penalty?" I asked. "None," she said. "I accept," and did march to my seat to await the DA's paperwork for the test that I hoped I would pass. She brought it, noted it costs $75, so I asked to see the judge again. Thirty minutes later, I stormed the podium and asserted, "The bargain we struck was a DNA test with no penalty."

She apologized that everyone had to pay a processing fee. So I took the paperwork from the bailiff to the second floor and into a door marked "DNA Testing" where a lady asked for my Waiver. "I was given no Waiver." "Then return to court to get it." Forty-five minutes later the bailiff found the sheet slipped in a crack in his desk, and I returned upstairs to as instructed thrust a popsicle stick seven times against the inside of my cheek and stuff it in an envelope marked with my correct first, middle, and last name but the wrong date of birth.

She asked for an ID, but when I offered a passport she said, "Oh, that's ok," and didn't look at it. On return to court, a man was being hauled to jail in chains, and the honor broke for lunch at noon, and re-adjourned at 2:00 pm. At 3:00 pm the judge looked at my $75 receipt for the test, apologized, "Thank you for being patient with the court all day," and dismissed the case.

Somewhere across this country a poor guy with my name has my DNA.

This is your estimated total cost for this story:

  • Security officer (one hour)... $40
  • Two officers (two hours)... $160
  • Court expenses (accumulative 30 minutes)... $200

Total $400, plus a just-hearted person has suggested how easy it is to recoup $600 for my time, toil and expenses from an all-thumbs bureaucracy.


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