†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† THE COUNSELORíS CORNER

 

A jaywalking ticket to be handled by the United States Supreme Court?Say it ainít so?Well, it is so.

 

Yes, the very same court that handed the Presidency to George W. Bush from Al Gore is now going to consider a seventy-seven dollar jaywalking ticket.

 

The appellant in this case is Yale Kozinski, whose father is Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.Young Kozinskiís beef with his jaywalking ticket is the fact that in these cases, judges serve as both prosecutors and decision-makers.Mr. Kozinskiís argument is that this dual role for judges violates oneís constitutional due process rights and puts judges in a situation where they have a built-in conflict.

 

This has been going on for as long as I can remember.There is a similar situation at the Department of Motor Vehicles where the DMV hearing officers act as the prosecutors in their cases against the licensee and then get to make the decision in the case.This issue went to the California State Supreme Court a number of years ago, and was ruled to be constitutionally valid.I wonder whether the U.S. Supreme Court Justices will decide this case differently.

 


The State of California is arguing, among other things, the cost of sending a prosecutor to prosecute all of the traffic ticket trials which total approximately 270,000 per year.Mr. Kozinski responds that if that is a problem, California can do what Florida and Washington have done, which is to make traffic offenses punishable by civil fines only as opposed to having them viewed in a criminal fashion.

 

All of this stemmed from a ticket Mr. Kozinski received in June 2000, when he crossed an unmarked crosswalk in Torrance.He was convicted and given a seventy-seven dollar fine; however, as is usual in this state, no prosecutor appeared, and the judge first prosecuted Mr. Kozinski, then found him guilty and fined him.It should be noted that the State Supreme Court has previously decided that a judge can conduct a traffic trial without a prosecutor being present.As Mr. Kozinski was facing a losing battle in this state, his lawyers researched other jurisdictions and found cases that decided the issue more favorably.

 

I am rooting for young Yale Kozinski on this one; however, I do not expect him to emerge victorious.I believe there are too many precedents in too many other areas of the law in which this type of set up is permitted.

 


Is it right?No.Is the U.S. Supreme Court going to make a decision that would change the way things are done in numerous areas of our judicial system?I donít think so; however, I will be the first to acknowledge frustration with the system as is.I would suggest to you that I would have a better chance of winning DMV hearings that I do for clients if the DMV hearing officer was not both judge and prosecutor.Similarly, clients would have a greater opportunity to win traffic ticket trials if the judge did not both prosecute and adjudicate.Keep an eye on this one.