Don’t let this happen to you
Ok, a war story. Don’t let this happen to you. A few years ago I recall standing outside traffic court in Wake County waiting on a client to show up and I see this young lady and her small child.
She’s asking me: “Sir, is this where I can see what court room my case is in?”
I tell her “yes, just take a look at the printed court docket outside the courtroom and find your name. That’s how you’ll know which courtroom has your case.”
And I pointed her to the right court docket. Not seeming to need any more questions answered she went on about her business and I mine. I thought nothing of it.
Ok. Now fast forward to just a few months ago. We’re now in a new court house (The Wake County Justice Center) and with the new court docket system that looks like a big TV screen posted outside the court room. Well whaddya know? The same lady is now standing in front of the screen and asking me the same question!
“Hey! I said. Didn’t we meet one time before across the street in the old court house when you wanted to know if you were looking at the right court docket to find your case?”
“Yes,” she says, and then, somewhat embarrassed, “I never did find my case on that court docket that day so I just went on home. I thought the cop had maybe made a mistake since my ticket said I was supposed to be in court that day but I didn’t see my name on any court docket.”
I asked a couple questions: Turns out, she did just what she said and went on home thinking that, since she didn’t see her name on any court docket, she simply didn’t have a case in court. She handed me a piece of paper, a printout from the clerk’s office downstairs. I read it with great interest. Now I understood the story: Indeed she had missed her court date before, and that, because it was for a NOL no operator’s license charge, the court even issued an OFA order for arrest. I looked closer: the case had indeed been scheduled on court on that day a couple years before BUT, it was an ADD-ON case, meaning it was not on the regular court docket but in all likelihood posted separately. I gulped. Jeeze! Did I tell her if she didn’t find her case on the court docket she could go on home? I hope not!
I had to ask: “So, how is it that you just went on home and didn’t figure all this out until they arrested you for not showing up (even though you were here)? I didn’t tell you to do that did I?” I asked sheepishly.
“NO.” she said. “You just told me to look on the court docket here. Then when I didn’t see my name I went in anyway and just sat until the end of the day, but they never called me.”
How odd. I looked a the printout again. As it happens her case had been set for DISPOSITION court on that date and would not even have been up on the second floor. I asked her to hang on for one second while I went inside. Well finally this poor young lady had some luck: I was able to convince the DA that all the trauma of being arrested on a stupid NOL charge was enough punishment for her; he dismissed the old NOL case. I went back out of the court room and told her the good news. She was elated at not having to pay any fines or anything. I gave her the usual talk about checking with the NCDMV department of motor vehicles just to make sure she had a valid license before driving anywhere.
Don’t rely on just the court docket: make sure you visit the clerk of court…just in case
And I told her this: “Just because your name doesn’t appear on the court docket, don’t think that you have done all you need to do and trot off home. Make sure you go and visit the clerk of court in your courthouse and ask someone with access to the court’s computer system where your case is. They will have the best info.”
As was the case with this young lady, your file may be added on to a court docket and not even appear with the regularly scheduled cases. I wish I’d been able to tell her.