Rendering unto Caesar
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work
Titus 3:1 (KJV)
I thought about this principle today as I was in court. You might want to stand back a bit whilst I vent.
I am (if I do say so myself) a very safe driver. This has not always been the case, but God has been gracious in allowing me to see the error of my youthful ways. I don't exceed the speed limit, I always signal turns and lane changes, I always stop at stop signs. I drive in the right-hand lane on a multi-lane road except when passing, and I fervently wish that everyone else did, as well (can I get a witness?). I had no idea that the law required me to signal my intention to pass on a two-lane road.
And so it happened that, while driving on a two-lane road and knowing a state trooper was two cars behind me, I passed two vehicles. I didn't even exceed the speed limit to accomplish these overtakings, which were completed within passing zones. So, based on my aforementioned ignorance of the signalling requirement, you can imagine my surprise when I was pulled over by the aforementioned state trooper, who had me test both turn signals before joining him in his vehicle. He wrote me a citation without much discussion, and I was on my way.
The schedule of fines the trooper graciously provided to me had three offenses listed under the heading "Improper Passing." None of these involved turn signals. So I decided that, rather than call to find out what the proper fine was, I would appear as instructed at the Coal County (Oklahoma) Courthouse, which I did promptly at 9:00 this morning.
I had no intention of pleading my innocence, as ignorance is no excuse and the statute, I discoverd after some research, clearly requires signalling. I was simply planning to plead for leniency based on the fact that my particular offense was at some point not deemed worthy of being listed, and therefore it perhaps wasn't a great threat to public safety which would warrant a large fine. I did not get the opportunity to plead anything, however, except, "Guilty, your honor." My sentence was suspended, meaning that if I am violation-free for thirty days it will not appear on my driving record, thus affecting my insurance premium. This was, I suppose, a bright spot in an otherwise dreary experience. However, Coal County has as a result been enriched with slightly more than one hundred eighty-three of my dollars.
My real frustration lies in this: I very likely could have simply walked away today with no repurcussions whatever, if I had only said, "Not guilty, your honor." You see, the aforementioned state trooper, whom I really do hold in high regard, was not with me in the Coal County Courthouse this morning. Because I pleaded "Guilty," there was no need for the court to act as a finder of fact, and we proceeded directly to sentencing. Had I pleaded, "Not guilty," my case would have been summarily dismissed as there was no one there to present the state's case against me.
I drove the seventy-five miles home, signalling each time I passed, knowing that the $183, while I sure could have found other uses for it, is not as expensive as the integrity I cannot do without.
Or, am I just an idiot for pleading guilty? I go back and forth...