What I Learned In Municipal Court

We took a trip to municipal court yesterday because my son broke curfew. It was my first experience there, and I thought it might be helpful to capture my thought for parents and kids alike. While the courtroom can be entertaining, it is certainly not something that I want to go through again.

For starters, we were one of several dozen cases to be heard that afternoon because it was simply the day to admit guilt or claim innocence. Municipal court moves very quickly. In the twenty minutes that we were there, we heard two speeding tickets, driving with a suspended license and no seatbelt, and a domestic assault case in addition to our curfew violation. Personally, the environment is not one you want to find yourself in repeatedly. No matter how minor the offense, these are people who have broken the law.

I also learned that a ticket or violation can get expensive pretty quickly. Court costs were $189 for each defendant that came to the bench, in addition to the fine imposed for each violation. You could either pay the fine on the spot, choose to pay in 30 days, or choose probation if you could not meet the 30 day mark. If you chose 30 days and do not meet that deadline, you go to jail. Probation gives you more than 30 days to satisfy your debt, but it also comes with a monthly check-in with a probation officer and a $35 monthly fee, in addition to any fines and penalties imposed.

The judge in our case was fair but not very lenient. Most judges have heard all the stories that you can possibly dream up so they are not really tolerant of excuses. They can also be very creative in terms of sentencing. For my son, instead of the fine and court costs, he was sentenced to 30 hours of community service at the city fire department and, upon completion, the charges will be dismissed. Dismissal keeps it off of his record as he is a first-time offender. I can imagine that those hours will be hard labor work.

Parents, you need to know that for offenses committed by a minor, the parent can be on the hook. In the case of the curfew violation, the person cited was actually my son’s mother, not my son. Should he not satisfy the terms of his community service, his mother can be held in contempt of court.

In short, here are the takeaways. Teach these to your kids and make sure that they understand the importance of this.

  • Take your kid down to the courthouse and, if possible, let them see the jail. This drives home the understanding that it’s a very real place.
  • Obey the law. Breaking the law can be expensive and sometimes lead to tragic consequences. Depending on the charge, it can have permanent consequences on your life.
  • Respect those in positions of authority. By listening to the judge and not making excuses, my son avoided a hefty fine and court costs.
  • The courtroom is a serious place. The judge did not tolerate cell phones, noisy kids, or any other disruptions.
  • Think before you act. Peer pressure and other motivations to impress your friends or experience a temporary pleasure can lead to disaster. One sign of maturity is when a teenager can walk away from a situation.
  • Whether you agree with a law or not, or maybe aren’t even aware of the law, you are still bound to obey the law. Ignorance is never a valid excuse for breaking a law.
  • Parents are responsible for the actions of their children. As long as they are minors, you can also get in trouble with the court.

I learned a lot as I sat there yesterday, and I’m thankful that the judge showed some common sense in my son’s case. What other advice would you have for parents, or experiences that you would like to share?