Thursday, 15 August 2013 00:00
Last night I had the pleasure of presenting myself at the Sands Point Village Court to be arraigned for a violation of the village code, namely a “dog at large” summons. My small Wheaton ran off my property and was apprehended about 2 blocks away, most likely chasing a squirrel. A very friendly 9 year old dog, who has resided in Sands Point his whole life, with no prior record other than maybe an occasional bone theft.
Presided over by Justice Alyson Adler, I sat in the village court and listened to several traffic violation cases. One young minor with his new license was charged with speeding, doing 51 in a 30 mile per hour zone. His case was negotiated down from 6 points and a large fine to 3 points and $150. Next up another speeding case that included no insurance — again, negotiated down to a minimal fine. Next up, a woman who had an expired registration — she claimed her car had been hit by a tree in Hurricane Sandy, she bought a new car, the dealer did the paperwork and she was unaware that the registration had not been for a full year. She registered it the following day, showed the judge proof and was given only the mandatory $85 charge and dismissed. A few more stories like these, and then a woman was called to the stand who was given a summons for driving without a license, registration or insurance. The woman did not speak much English, and pled guilty to the charge. The judge then asked her how she got to the courthouse and hoped she was not currently driving. The woman responded that she was driven by the woman in the back of the court. The judge sentenced her to a $150 fine.
Then I was called. I pled guilty with explanation, as I was given the option to do. I simply wanted to state that while my dog was in fact “at large”, we do have an electric fence, hence taking steps to prevent the “at large” charge, but he did in fact run through it. The judge ordered a $250 fine be imposed. I was dumbstruck. My surprise was audible, in that I could not contain my response “you have got to be kidding me!” Justice Adler stated that “there have been issues with dogs in Sands Point, and that my dog might have killed another dog or have been killed.” “While that may be true,” I said, “you just gave a woman who could have killed a person, having no insurance or any business driving, who may not even know how to drive, read English signage and who was most likely not legal, a fine of $150 and no points on her nonexistent license, while a dog running down the block gets a $250 fine…. really?” I asked her where is the logic in that, the justice in that, or the intent here. She told me that dogs can be dangerous.
I am just flabbergasted at the legal process. Had I shown up not speaking English, and not from Sands Point would my fine have been less? Can I tell my kids don’t even bother getting your driver’s license because if you are caught without one, it’s just a $150 fine and you avoid all points? Is it really a stiffer violation to have your dog go errant than to drive around without a license or insurance? I am at a loss, as a taxpaying resident. Remove my dog issue entirely, but the fact that you get a slap on the wrist for driving with no legal documentation to operate a moving vehicle, no insurance and don’t speak the language — I just don’t get it. In the event that this woman would have been in an accident and actually hurt someone — it could have been catastrophic to all parties; that is dangerous.
Still dumbfounded, I feel that residents might need to be aware of what is happening in village courts.