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Cursed by court fine, teen pays for his words

Cursed by court fine, teen pays for his words

FRIDAY., MAY 30, 2003 
Cursed by court fine, teen pays for his words 

A minor traffic violation turns costly when student swears after getting ticket 

It started with a tail light out -a simple, minor traffic violation. Little did Ryan Blacker know his traffic law woes were just getting started.Five months later, the 17-year-old from White Marsh would be $273 poorer, disillusioned with the court system and still enmeshed in the legal process – in large part because he did what many people do after getting a ticket: He swore. 
Blacker’s story is hardly an example of court malfeasance or law enforcement abuse. Every-thing that happened to the high schooler, from the ticket to the judge’s hefty fine, is legal. 
But when the wheels of justice rolled over Blacker, an Eagle Scout ready to graduate from Overlea High School with one prior speeding ticket, they soured a seemingly “good kid” on the court process. They also appeared to challenge a key First Amendment protection: the right to swear like a sailor after getting a traffic ticket. 

The early morning of Dec. 24, when the police officer stopped Blacker’s car on Chesaco Avenue in White Marsh, quickly went downhill for the teen-ager. When the officer asked for Blacker’s license, the teen-ager couldn’t find it.By the time Blacker found his license jammed between the driver’s seat and center console, the officer said it was too late. Blacker could fight the $30 “failure to produce license on demand” ticket in court, the officer said.So, as he drove away, Blacker yelled, “That’s [messed] up. 
That’s [messed] up.” It would only get more so. 
Vicky Colfer is Blacker’s mother. When her son told her about the traffic stop, which happened as he was driving home from his 40-hour-a-week job at the Olive Garden restaurant, she told him to go to court and appeal.”I was trying to save him a $30 fine,” she said. 

On May 1. Blacker stood in the Towson District Court in front of Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. and pleaded guilty to failure to show his license on demand.And technically, he was guilty. The law says “on demand,” not “10 minutes after demand.” But in traffic court, many people plead guilty and hope the judge has mercy ? especially regarding a minor offense such as Blacker’s. On one recent traffic docket in Towson, for instance, District Judge G. Darrell Russell Jr. suspended fines for a women who had been ticketed for driving without current tags. He suspended the fine for an elderly man who pleaded guilty to not stopping at a red light. And he gave fines, but no points, to some with speeding tickets.So, in that light, Blacker was hopeful. 

A “failing to produce license upon demand” violation is “a minor, kind of picky type of ticket,” said Owings Mills defense attorney Leonard H. Shapiro. “People get that type of ticket all, the time. It’s a very nonserious offense.” 

So on May 1, when his name was called, Blacker explained to Cahill what had happened, tell ing him that he did have his license. The Baltimore County officer who ticketed Blacker, Stephen Myers, was also in the courtroom and he concurred, according to a court recording.But then the judge asked Myers whether Blacker was “polite and courteous.””Other than when he pulled away and screamed, ‘That’s [expletive] up’ twice out the window,” Myers answered.Cahill looked at Blacker. 
“Is that right?” the judge asked. 
“I can’t remember,” Blacker said stammering. “That’s too far away. That was too long …” 
“What?” the judge cut in. 
“I can’t remember, that was too long away, I was just …” 
“The verdict’s guilty,” Cahill said. “Two hundred and fifty dollars, $23 in court costs. Have a seat.” 
Blacker said he was stunned. He hadn’t brought his check book to court because he figured the most he would pay was the $30 ticket plus court costs. When his mother saw the court receipt later that day, “I thought it was a joke,” she said. 

Cahill declined to comment, noting judicial ethics rules that say he cannot talk about court decisions. 
A $250 fine in traffic court is legal, most traffic violations are misdemeanors that, technically, can be punished by fines up to $500, but a rarity.On a recent day in court, for instance, a speeder traveling 55 mph in a 30-mph zone took home a $70 ticket. Someone driving 78 mph in a 55-mph zone was fined $100. 
“That would certainly be an unusually high finding for the ticket alone,” said David B. Irwin, a Towson defense attorney. “I’m guessing, knowing Bob Ca-hill, who’s a very calm, courteous guy, he was offended by the behavior of the ticket-getter.” ut Blacker said he just wasn’t able to explain. 

When the judge asked him, he truly didn’t remember what he had yelled out the window that night five months earlier, he said. Once he had a moment to think about it, he realized that he had, in fact, yelled. 
“But I wasn’t directing it at the officer, no way,” he said. “I was just mad that I screwed my-self into getting a $30 ticket.”But, quite frankly, said attorney Shapiro, Blacker was entitled to say whatever he felt, to whomever he wanted. 

“I’ve never understood why you had to be happy to get a traffic ticket,” Shapiro said. “There is no legal requirement that you be a good boy or girl when you get a ticket. Most people would be [angry].” 
It is not a crime, even, to swear at an officer. Not smart, Shapiro cautioned, but not a crime. 
“But then again, it’s not a crime to be stupid, either,” he said. For Blacker, the $273 is more than a week’s wages at his $6.50-an-hour work-study job. It is also a blow to whatever faith he had in the court system. 
“I think it’s insane,” he said. “A $30 ticket for not having your license when you did have your license turning into a $250 fine? That’s unbelievable.”Colfer, who said she feels guilty for encouraging her son to go to court, said she would reimburse his $250. She has also fronted $80 for his appeal.