The Veterans building in my city is a beautiful old structure. Deep red brick, imposing facade. Wood frame doorways and wide hallways that echo whispered voices like someone just shouted into the Grand Canyon. Yellowed linoleum and well worn paths lead to...JUVENILE COURT!
Yes indeed, I was informed that although I work a full time job, I must attend this little brouhaha with my 17 year-old son. I say brouhaha because this is the third time this matter was heard by the court. But I digress...let me start at the beginning.
SIx months ago my son was driving his Toyota Supra. It was close to midnight and he was headed home. He had lost two bolts that held is muffler pipes up and the car sounded like a street rod. (I should clarify that he SAID he had lost two bolts. Being the mom of two boys I highly doubt that "lost" is the correct summation of this issue) With little to do and hearing a loud vehicle heading his direction, the local constabulary decided that he should pull my son over.
Let me give you a bit of history. My son is a straight A student, he had been home-schooled until eighth grade. He learned that he could question authority if it was done with respect. He learned that he could stand up for himself and not be afraid to do it. He has learned to walk quietly and carry himself with an air that garners respect and confidence. He doesn't take things personally, and he can walk that fine line between black, white and gray issues, and come out unscathed emotionally. He has a sense of humor that lies just beneath the surface and is wicked quick. Even when you are the victim of this humor, you end up laughing with him.
The local cop pulled him over and issued him a citation for a fix-it ticket because of the loud muffler.
Justified? Yes. Accepted by my son? Yes.
Here is where it gets interesting. My son is then questioned about his involvement in a car club. A "street racing" club says the policeman. Why did he ask him this? Because my kid had a sticker on his window that said "SupraMania". Yes, you read that right. He had a window sticker. The cop asks him to then open the hood of his car and proceeds to take 15 or so pictures of the engine, and issue him another ticket for what he says is an illegal intake.
Justified? Mmmm, questionable. Accepted by my son? Not a chance in hell.
Cost of this traffic stop? $10 for the fix-it ticket, and $500 for the intake ticket. A couple months later he and I both take off work, and go to the Juvenile court. He tells the judge he wants to fight the second ticket, and that he has already been to the referee and fixed the muffler and paid the fix-it ticket. The judge schedules a trial.
My son reads the court notice wrong and doesn't show up for the trial. The cop does. For some beautifully karmic reason, the judge decides that he is going to let my son have a second chance to show up. Even the court clerks have no idea why he has done this. If you don't show usually you are just found guilty.
You are up to speed on the history, now for "the rest of the story".
Walking in to the Vet's building with my son I notice he is a bit pale. He seems okay, but I can tell he is nervous. We sit down in the court room. It is empty except for the bailiff, one cop and the clerk. He is carrying a few sheets of paper with him and he leans against me and asks me to take a look at what he has. He proceeds to show me the following:
1. California government website printout of legal intake systems for the Toyota Supra
2. The Executive Order number for the intake system he has on his car
3. The printout of the Executive Order
4. The printout from the manufacturer of the system he has on his car
5. The printout from the manufacturer of the same Executive Order stated above
6. A picture of the system from the manufacturer
7. A picture of his car engine showing the identical system
I quietly tell him the court procedure and what the judge will do. How the case will proceed and what will be expected of him. I tell him, "Stand up straight, watch the judge not the cop, speak strongly but quietly, and never waiver. Do this with the respect due the judge, and the respect due the officer."
The judge enters the room and proceeds to call the officer and my son to the front. The clerk swears them in. The judge then tells my son that he does not envy his position standing there. "This is a trial", he says, "and most adults would have a hard time being in the position that you are in. I cannot help you during the course of this trial. You may present documents, witnesses, and you may testify, but if you testify, you waive your right of self-incrimination. Do you understand what that means?" My son replies, "No, I do not". The judge then spends about 5 minutes explaining to my son what self-incrimination is. If he decides he wants to tell his story, he may be subject to questioning from the judge. My son nods, stands with his feet apart, squares his shoulders, then places his arms behind his back, one hand locked in a grip with the other hand. I notice his knuckles are turning white, he is gripping his hands so tightly. I know now he is preparing himself. This is what he has always done. A mannerism I recognize as a man's battle pose. A stance taken when presentation of strength and confidence is imperative.
I can hardly breathe. I am fighting the urge to cry. I have seen this in him, but this is different, this is his fight. He has become a man in the single moment of admitting his lack of knowledge and standing tall in the face of this situation. I have been allowed, by the grace of God, to witness my son become a man.
The officer tells his story, it is well presented and factual. He states he has attended a class that educated the officers to potential street racing sites, logos and parts providers that may be illegal. The judge then tells my son that he may ask questions of the officer at this time. My son turns, faces the officer and says, "I have just one question officer. You stated that you had me open my engine compartment because you saw a "SupraMania" sticker in my window. Have you gone to the SupraMania website and noticed that it is a very in-depth informational site for Toyota Supra owners?"
I could just cheer out-loud at this moment. I have to fight very hard not to smile. Even the judge looks away with a slight smile on his face.
The officer looks completely surprised and a bit taken aback. "Yes", he says after a lengthy pause. "Yes, I have, although I did not get into it very deeply I have to admit you are right, it is a very informational site for car owners". "Thank you" my son replies as he turns back to face the judge.
"Now you may present your defense" says the judge. My son pauses, takes a deep breath and begins. The delivery of the evidence in his case is flawless. He states one document after the other while at the same time succinctly blowing the officer's case out of the water. He tells the judge this is a legal system according to California's own government website and the Executive Order associated with the kit that was installed on the car prior to his purchase of it. The judge knows the website he is speaking of. He lifts his eyebrows when my son offers him the text printout of the Executive Order. Paper after paper is offered as evidence, picture of the engine, manufacturers picture of the kit.
It is brilliant. I have seen lawyers who should take lessons in evidence presentation from this kid. He never slips, he never backs down, he never gives an opening for anything to be interpreted as testimony.
The bailiff takes the documents from my son and hands them to the judge. From high on the bench he looks down and says, "Officer, I am not interested in learning this much detail about cars at this point in my life. I would suggest to you that there has to be a solution here that we can come up with." He turns once again to my child with the words, "One thing son, did the emissions referee sign off on this?" A slight pause before he replies with, "No, he did not. Although the reason I was at the referee was for the muffler and fix-it ticket, he did say that he saw no problem with my intake system." The judge looks up and says that even though this is hearsay evidence, he is going to allow it. The officer looks down in what appears to be defeat. "Officer W., you need to be sure that you are educating yourself in a more detailed manner on the legality and illegality of certain systems on these vehicles. I know street racing is a problem, but you need to be sure of your case. Would you like to ask for a continuance in this case to study the evidence presented by this young man, or are you satisfied he has proved his case?"
I am giddy. I can hardly believe what I have just seen. It was poetry, it was fun, it was the system at it's level best. That is what I know can be done with the system and how it can be done. All by a 17 year-old with no formal legal training. Oh, what fun. Oh what a day!
The judge pronounced my son not guilty and the officer walked away with his head down. I hope he realized that not every kid driving a hot car late at night with stickers in the window is a thug looking for trouble.
As my son and I walked out of the courtroom, he looked at me and smiled. Ever so slightly. Wary of the echo, we walked on in silence. A small high five our only visual communication. His eyes met mine again, and we both grinned like Cheshire cats. Silent communication we have learned from each other over the years oozed from both of us. He was shaking now, his whole body trembled. He said he was cold, but I knew what it really was. It was nervous energy and the adrenaline coursing through him that comes from incredible tension and release.
I asked him what he had learned from this. He turned to me and said, "Never put a sticker in your window, and don't forget to put the EO stickers on all your after market parts." I almost broke down with laughter. I watched him walk away to his vehicle.
He turned to me with that smile, and half grin that speaks volumes. On this day in April 2009, he had walked in hallowed halls and left his own silent echo.