Norman W. Godfrey, Guest Columnist
'Sipple leggo trash before han go a mill.'
The foregoing Jamaican proverb seems quite apposite in the context of utterances being carried in the media as regards the fate which may befall persons with outstanding traffic tickets who, for one reason or another, have failed to take advantage of the amnesty.
These intimidatory utterances emanate from persons who claim the power and the authority to summarily hereafter stop and apprehend any motorist who still has an ostensible outstanding traffic ticket which fell within the amnesty period.
The fact that the flawed system suggests that a motorist has an outstanding ticket is not proof that he has not paid the fine at the collectorate or that he had not attended court, was convicted or pleaded guilty and paid the fine, or that he was acquitted. There is, I am sure, many motorists who may fit into any one of those categories.
The fact is that when a motorist is served with a traffic ticket, he is entitled to a period of 21 days thereafter within which to pay the fine stated on the ticket at any collectorate. If he pays the fine, he has no duty to attend court. If he, for whatever reason, did not adopt that course, he is obliged to attend court on the court date stated on the ticket - which shall not be less than 10 days from the expiry of the 21 days earlier mentioned.
The issue, therefore, becomes what is the position of a motorist who neither pays the ticket nor attends court. The problem here is that no proper system existed linking the police Traffic Division, the collectorate and the courts. So unless the traffic ticket requires a mandatory court appearance, the Resident Magistrate's Court or the Traffic Court could not properly issue a warrant for the arrest of the delinquent motorist, as the court had no way of knowing whether the fine was paid at the collectorate or not.
If the ticket required a mandatory court appearance and the motorist failed to attend, the court may properly issue a warrant for his arrest. That warrant is authority to any member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force or of its auxiliaries to apprehend that offender and bring him before the court.
Since, as outlined above, the court could not properly issue a warrant against an offender who has failed to pay the fine or attend court on a ticket which does not require a mandatory court appearance, on what authority is the citizen being threatened with arrest in those circumstances?
Not advocating disobedience
As far as I am aware, the process for bringing the individual before the court, having failed to attend when required so to do, is for the court to issue a warrant for his arrest - not for the police to say I know you have an outstanding ticket and I am taking you into custody with a view to placing you before the court.
Let me hasten to say that I am not for one moment advocating disobedience of the law, as no democratic and civilised society can operate outside the rule of law. The State, therefore, must also observe the rule of law, and the citizen likewise has an obligation so to do. However, it is the responsibility, the duty even, of the citizen to challenge unlawful conduct by the State.
The police must be possessed of the warrant for the arrest of the citizen whenever they attempt any such arrest. In my view, to act otherwise would be treading on thin ice.
If you don't have the warrant, sipple, leggo trash.
Norman W. Godfrey is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.