State Power and Inefficiency in Microcosm

We think there are plenty of examples of how fucked government is, but this example in particular shows the capricious and absurd nature of discretionary law enforcement. Precis? Internet fact-checker Snopes can’t give a straight answer on whether brackets around your plate are legal or not in Texas because several local law enforcement agencies in our fine state seem to enjoy being dicks about a statute that’s clearly aimed at something else (e.g., anti-camera screens and such for EZPass scofflaws), but is worded in a way that allows them to decide all decorative brackets are illegal.

Yes, Heathen got a ticket today. Yes, we were speeding. We don’t have a problem with that — it’s been a while; we’ll either get a ticket lawyer or take defensive driving. Big deal. The bullshit factor entered the equation when the cop wrote a ticket for “obstructed plate” because of the aforementioned vague law that, apparently HPD has decided to be jackasses about, and never mind legislative intent. Our plate number is absolutely crystal clear, and there’s also no doubt what state the plate comes from.

The real kicker: the cop pointed out that all I had to do was take off the bracket and the charge will be dismissed, so he knew he was writing a ticket for no good reason. This means HPD is issuing worthless paper as a policy, presumably for their own amusement, and they’re doing so based on a deliberately incorrect interpretation of the law.

The Houston Press weighed in on this governmental brilliance a few months back:

A Houston Press employee found out the hard way recently that Houston police are still giving out tickets for having a frame around your license plate.

Three years ago, a new, broadly written state law prohibited frames that obscured the readability of license plates. Car dealers then came up with new, smaller frames, but even if the only thing that’s obscured is the bottom half of “The Lone Star State,” you’re getting ticketed for it if HPD pulls you over for a more major violation.

“We tried to get them to be a little more bending on it and understanding,” says Walter Wainwright, president of the Houston Automobile Dealers Association.

Adding to the pointlessness is the fact that if you remove the frame after getting ticketed, the city will waive the $120 fine. And they pretty much assume you’ll do it; most prosecutors often don’t require a photo of the newly nude plate.

Which is fine for traffic-ticket lawyers. “I’d rather have a speeding case with an obstructed plate than just a plain speeding case,” says Robert Eutsler. “Because if you came to me with a plain speeding case and we got it dismissed, but you still had to pay money [for court costs], you may not be all that happy with my services…You can get the non-moving violation dismissed for free if you do probation for the speeding, so [a client] thinks, ‘Oh, I don’t have to pay that $120 fine on the obscured plate.'”

A ticket that almost never results in a fine — there’s got to be some point to it beyond making lawyers seem efficient, but damned if we know what it is.

And people wonder why we have a crime problem.

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