Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The august majesty of our justice system

My son turned 21 this summer, and a scant two months later he got a ticket for open container.  Walking along just a street off the BSU parking lot during a home game, on which lot you can find literally thousands of folks drinking alcoholic beverages.

Anyway, he's walking along with some beer in a plastic cup, which is what the masses are doing just across the street on the BSU lot, and a plain clothed cop in an unmarked car pulled up and asked him "What's in the cup?"  He replied honestly; "Keystone Light."  So the cop wrote him a ticket for open container, notwithstanding the thousands of folks just feet away, amongst whom mingled dozens and dozens of non-ticket-writing cops.  No warning or admonition. 

Per the State of Idaho, a driver with an open container gets a misdemeanor ticket, and a passenger gets a $15 infraction ticket.  But in Boise, that open container is a $150 misdemeanor, and the law applies even in private parking lots.

So my son, who has been to plenty of BSU games and seen the dozens and dozens of non-ticket-writing cops mingling with thousands of drinkers, gets tagged for a misdemeanor.  He had no idea about the open container law, having plenty of times seen the dozens and dozens of ... well, you get it.

So we roll into his preliminary hearing (aka, ticket mill) and two prosecutors are calling names (no judge present).  The prosecutor talks to us a bit and we see the almost complete lack of evidence (no police report, for example).  Anyway, we ask for it to be reduced to an infraction, the prosecutor reasonably agrees, and my son then plead guilty to the state infraction of being a passenger with an open container.  Which of course was a lie.  Anyway, $15, plus court costs, which I think run about $60 these days.  My son's comment was "Huh. It pays to fight the system, I guess."

More on that and about the ridiculous open container policy follows. (Can't seem to get the jump break to work.)

In the last year or two, the Boise cops have really cracked down on open containers around BSU games.  They used to have the same policy near the campus as they do on the campus; keep your booze in a plastic cup, and you're good to go.  Just don't cause trouble.  But now anywhere off campus you'll get a misdemeanor ticket for that.

BSU's campus, like all the others in the state, outlaws alcohol.  So allowing drinking at BSU games is a clear violation of that policy, but they're willing to look the other way because BSU can sell a parking spot for the game, and thus a tailgating spot, for hundreds of dollars.  Yes, hundreds.  The last time I was part of one, it was around $800 for the season.   That's about $120 per home game.  So they overlook the little detail that it's illegal because there's such huge money in it for them.  Estimate; if there are 500 parking spots, and I'd say that's ball park, that's $60,000 per game.

Now, I'm all for the tailgating and the open container blind eye policy, but the inconsistency is maddening.  On one side of the street it's okay, and on the other, a plain clothed cop in an unmarked car will write you a $200 ticket, with no warning, and for no real reason other than, just because.  Actually, I think the real reason is revenue for the city, which pisses me off.

I think if folks are just standing around, enjoying a little tailgate party, not causing any problems, then they should be left alone.  If they're rowdy, or loud, or littering, or obviously drunk, then by all means, write them up.  But otherwise, c'mon.  The cops, at the behest of their leadership, at the behest of the city and mayor, are just being jerks, and it really undermines respect for them.

What did my son take away from the experience?  Cops are jerks, and if you fight the system, you'll gain from it.  Nice civics lesson.  Hard for him to feel like he was doing much wrong since, just across the street, dozens and dozens of non-ticket-writing cops mingling with thousands of drinkers, at the exact time he got the ticket.  Right after he got the ticket, he walked across the street and became one of the thousands.

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