Thinking Out Loud

November 22, 2008

When Innocent People are Charged With Crimes

Filed under: ethics — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:38 pm

Although I try to keep this blog faith-focused, every once in awhile, I get passionate about an issue which is more civic in nature.  This is dangerous in itself, because scriptures tell us that soldiers (i.e. in God’s army) do not entangle themselves in civilian affairs.  I heard one pastor, Bruxy Cavey, suggest to his congregation that a Christian person really has no business running for President of the United States.   He said if could ask George Bush one question it would be, “What exactly are you doing there?”   Nonetheless, I needed to unburden myself of this one.

speed-trap1In the province where I live they passed a law a couple of years ago that states that if you are driving along on a divided highway or freeway (for you U.K. readers, that’s a dual carriageway, I think) and there are emergency vehicles pulled over on the side you are driving on, and there is nothing impeding you from making a lane change, you must change lanes and drive in the lane away from where the emergency vehicles are located.   Presumably this includes police, fire, ambulance and tow trucks with emergency lights flashing.

Trouble is, most drivers don’t know this law was passed.   You don’t get a letter in the mail when they pass laws here; it’s assumed that you get the newspaper delivered daily, or that you listen to the news on the radio daily, and that you don’t go on holidays or get sick so that you might miss any of these pronouncements.  While this law exists in many U.S. states, we’ve seen signs posted there to indicate this.  I have never seen signs with respect to this law in our province, and I do a lot of driving.

While the law is intended to protect emergency workers from undue risk, it is also gigantic cash cow.  I don’t buy the “it’s about safety, not revenue” argument.    People are being pulled over and fined $500 CDN and given three demerit points in situations that were set up purely as entrapment situations.    Consider this story told to me this week.   This driver:

  • was driving the speed limit to begin with
  • slowed down further as he passed the tow truck at the side
  • discovered as he approached that a police car was nested in front of the tow truck, generally invisible to the naked eye, not to mention the added factor that he…
  • was driving directly into the evening sun, making the police vehicle’s flashing lights invisible right up to the moment he was parallel to both vehicles
  • had the policeman suddenly step into his lane to wave him over, even though the policeman later said the ‘safety trap’ was to ensure that he ‘could get home safely each night to his wife and family;’ which means he’s missing the point that stepping into moving traffic isn’t the best way to ensure this
  • there was no emergency taking place; no vehicle or driver was receiving aid; presumably none had previously; was the tow-truck driver being paid?
  • the police officer was completely unapologetic; one of the reasons why I believe that it’s extremely difficult for a Christian to be a policeman; not to mention on the basis of the same scripture verse mentioned here at the outset; the job is simply riddled with inherent predilections to corruption or at least a blurring of the lines between honest law enforcement and entrapment, and this story to me best exemplifies a disregard for ethics.

The bearer of the story decided to fight the charges in court.   He hired one of those “ticket fighters” who sometimes advertise here in North America.  (Not sure if you have these in the U.K., NZ or Aus.)   He charged $300.   The fine was reduced to about $250; the demerit points thankfully were removed.   Because the court case was held in the jurisdiction where the driver was charged, he had to take a day off work and drive about three hours to that area, and then home again.  He figured it was about a $1,000 day; for breaking a law he didn’t know exist.

BTW, the reason we got into this conversation in the first place is because he was telling me about a notification that I am supposed to post in my store for my employees, which, if I fail to post it, can result in a fine of $300 if anyone drops by for inspection to see if the note is up.  I would estimate the vast majority of employers in my town do not know about this law; are unaware of the fine; and even if they are, not all employees would know where the notice is posted.    Furthermore, the notice is never sent to employers as a separate mailing.

This kind of story just makes me angry.

“But;” you say, “we’re not to entangle ourselves in civilian affairs, right?”  Yes, that’s what the Bible verse says.  But we’re also, according to the book of Micah, expected to “do justice;” not to mention “love mercy.”  Grace and mercy and complete unknowns in stories like this.   As Philip Yancey says so well, we Christians operate by the law of grace, while the larger society operates by the law of un-grace.   And justice is simply not being served by this kind of entrapment.

I believe, for that reason, that this kind of story makes God angry, too.

Yesterday, we were on the freeway for about six hours.   I drove almost the entire distance in the passing lane.   That way I didn’t have to think about it if there was an emergency on the right side, which is usually the preferred side for rendering assistance.

Of course, driving extended distances in the passing lane is probably also punishable by fine.   But I’ll bet it’s less than $500.

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