June 19, 2012 11:44:34 AM
Editor's note: The following letter, transmitted by The Associated Press, was written to the McComb Enterprise Journal in response to a column by Jackson Northside Sun publisher Wyatt Emmerich about his unsuccessful day in court contesting a traffic ticket.
Wyatt Emmerich's "law" story reminded me of my "day in court."
Some years ago I was searching for a shortcut to the grocery store in one of our small towns, which took me through a dilapidated part of town I should not have been in. I was rolling along when all of a sudden I heard "bam." I had gone through a stop sign I did not see, and was hit. The cop wrote up the wreck as my fault.
A couple of weeks later I was in court, with a courtroom full of black folks. I was the only white person to be tried.
They were running them through like cattle - everyone guilty. A young black girl was found guilty - I don't remember her crime - and was fined $150, which she did not have.
The judge told her she could not leave until she paid; don't even leave the room. I had a couple hundred dollars in my pocket and was about to pay it for her because I have a weakness for this kind of thing.
One of the black fellers got up and passed the hat around. I remember little old ladies taking a few dollars from their change purses, and they collected the $150. This cut me pretty deeply.
When my time came, I pleaded not guilty and prepared to prove my case. I asked the judge if I could ask him a question. "No." Can I make a statement? "Yes."
"I know the state of Mississippi must have a code as to what is a stop sign," I said. "The stop sign I ran was faded - no red - and was partially obscured by bushes."
How about this? The judge said, "OK, I'll go take a look at it." He adjourned court, and he and the cop went and looked at the sign. About 15 minutes later, they returned.
"Your defense for running the stop sign is an inadequate stop sign," the judge said. "And I agree with you." I was floored.
He turned to the cop and said, "I am going to order the town to take that thing down tomorrow before someone gets killed there. That is a pretty sorry excuse for a stop sign."
After a little paperwork with the clerk, I was on my way. About 15 or so of the guilty had gathered at the back steps. Word had reached them through the grapevine that I was found not guilty. When I came through the door, I was greeted with applause and cheers: "Here come da man! Da man!" I was a hero. I had beaten them. They would have elected me president.
I disagree with Wyatt's percentage of winners. Mine is a very rare case of innocence. He had a valid argument and lost - like everyone else in my court.
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