The scene is Somerville MA, 1997. Five days after my birthday I was driving in bumper to bumper traffic on Highland Street heading towards Davis Square. During this gridlock I noticed a police car coming down a hill to my left, about 1/4 mile in front of me, with his blue lights flashing, trying to get onto Highland also.
As I reached where he was trying to pull onto Highland, he pulled in behind me, blue lights still on… until he then shut them off. We crawled up Highland with him behind me now.
Suddenly the blue lights went on again. He was not trying to get by, and I questioned out loud if he even knew the lights had been on before and were on now. After crawling another quarter mile I heard a loudspeaker come on and demand that my car pull over… which I did after finding a business parking area that would take us out of the line of cars and not further impede traffic.
What happened next is the intersection of stupid and arrogant on both our parts. The officer approached and stood behind the front door (making me turn my neck over 90 degrees to see him) and looked and sounded really annoyed. He began rapid firing questions without waiting for an answer to any of them. “Do you know what it means when a police officer has the lights on behind you? Do you know what it means when the lights come in behind you? Why didn’t you pull over when I called on the loudspeaker? Why did I have to call twice to get your to pull over?”
I tried to answer each question politely “Well officer I thought you were trying to… Your lights were on before you got in back of me and I thought…” but never got beyond a few words before he kept repeating back the questions until he got the answer he craved and would establish the power structure here.
Finally, convinced I had done nothing wrong and this guy was an idiot, I just snapped “If you would stop talking for a second I will answer your first question”. This was, in retrospect, the wrong tact to take. He did not care to hear any of my explanation of why I had not immediately pulled over, or even admit his lights had been on well before he ever seen my vehicle or came in behind me. He then pulled his trump card… he had noticed the sticker on my license showed the registration to be out of date, and was about to prove that the license was also out of date by the five days since my birthday. As soon as he said it I knew it had to be true, because I had never received the mailing you used to get from the registry reminding you of these things. So I had pissed off an agitated cop who had me on two counts.
The cop returned after running the plates and license, and triumphantly told me he had called for a tow truck, was impounding the car, and that I was in violation of two laws, and should have been much more deferential. What he had failed to tell me, and I would later learn, is that driving with an expired license in the great state of Massachusetts is a felony (and the state would try quite to get this conviction) and the cop was going to make sure no leniency would be considered.
While waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I was standing with the cop outside the car, and having calmed down (which only comes with the realization you have absolutely no control or power over a situation), I asked “What are you going to do with said vehicle?”. Why I used the phrase “said vehicle” I have no idea, but the cop immediately said “are you a lawyer?” and since I am not, I never gave him a direct answer to that question, but he clearly changed his tone in a hurry with the realization that I may be. Suddenly he offered to have the car towed to my home rather than the impound yard (which would be a savings of both time and money), and I accepted that offer. We shook hands. I told him he was doing what he had to and he said he did not have to do any of this (inferring my reactions to him were the reason he was doing it). Nice.
By 9:30 the following morning both license and registration were renewed. We later both met with the clerk of courts to try to settle this without a trial, but the cop, who was 20 minutes late for the scheduled date, did not like my attitude because I was not happy to see him when he finally showed up, so he met privately with the clerk before our group meeting. To no one’s surprise, the clerk said there was no leniency merited and I would go to trial for both a felony and misdemeanor charge.
The only happy ending is that the charges ended up being completely dropped because the Somerville court had to process the violation within a specific window of time, and the time stamp on the back of the summons showed they missed it by a day. A friend just out of Suffolk Law pointed this out and got the charges dismissed as a result, but the state told him they thought this was “a slam dunk” and wanted the felony conviction despite my having no record of any kind. Much like Elaine from a famous Seinfeld episode about her health file, whatever that cop had written in my file was in big red ink.