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Front Page » November 20, 2012 » Opinion » Staff column
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Staff column


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By C.J
McManus
Sun Advocate reporter

Going to the dogs or jail, one or the other

I fought the law and the law won." - Sonny Curtis of the Crickets.

Those of you who have been following the life and crimes of Puff (my dog, a Chinese Crested Powder Puff), know that this is the third installment written featuring the criminal activities. To bring newcomers up to speed, I will say this; my dog barks sometimes and my neighbors don't like it. They called the cops, they called animal control and I got a ticket. I have been raving about the injustice of it all ever since.

Puff's saga picked up again when Officer Shawn Sackett attempted to serve me with my court papers and instead got my wife. This wouldn't have been a big deal if my 3-year-old daughter hadn't let him in to the house without my wife's knowledge. As Murphy's Law dictates, my wife was folding clothes while wearing a small T-shirt and her underwear when she noticed the red faced police office standing their with our daughter.

"Oh, maybe I should put on some pants," said my wife while trying to maintain some dignity.

"At least you weren't naked," I said, trying to sound compassionate. She had a few choice words for me which I will not recount here but the gist of the message was, "When is this going to be over?"

The end of the whole mess finally came into view on Thursday, as I was scheduled for court, and boy was I ready to roll. I had my subpoenas ready. One for a city councilmember, the other for the area's Catholic Priest - both of which were willing to swear that they had never heard my dog Puff bark during the night in question. Heck the priest (who lives right behind me) didn't even know I had a dog.

Before court started, I discussed my case with the city attorney Jeremy Humes.

Hoping he would cower at my stellar list of witnesses, I went over my defense.

When I finished, he looked at me kindly, reminded me that only one of us was an attorney and then told me he would see my councilmember and priest and raise me a police officer.

"I have to tell you my friend, if the cop says it happened, the judge tends to believe him," he said.

Devastated, I realized I was going to lose even if I took this all the way to the Supreme Court. Puff was going down and I was headed into the gutter with her.

While I have had a great time poking fun at this whole situation, I do have to say that portions of what has gone on really do anger me.

Based on the way some of the city's nuisance laws are written, one citizen could accuse another of anything and subsequently get them charged with a crime. Now while everyone knows that our country bases its legal system on the pretense of innocent until proven guilty, in reality, the truth reads more like innocent until charged or guilty due to lack of resources. Speaking plainly, you need deep pockets to really play this game.

My dog Puff was charged with barking after 9:30 p.m. I was ticketed for the offense and then told when I would have the pleasure of appearing in court. Feeling as though my little angel had done nothing wrong I plead not guilty and began earnestly plotting my defense. What I meant about resources is this, I had missed three days of work to deal with this matter and I would imagine I would have had to miss at least three more before the trail had commenced.

Simply put, most people can't afford to miss more than a week of work over a fine that for most wouldn't amount to one day's wages. As sinister as is seems, I believe they have done this on purpose. Cities all over our fair land are extorting money from their residents based on petty crimes and the fees which keep climbing.

Because it was my first puppy related offense, I was given a $25 fine. However, I learned that the usual fine is almost always $90 and if the court finds you to be a repeat offender, the Class B Misdemeanor can carry a six month in jail term and a $1,000 fine.

While it would be easy to blame this on the city council, whose job it is to define municipal offenses, however they aren't really at fault. You see, I have sat through countless council sessions and I can tell you from countless experiences that the city's ordinances are dictated by complaining residents not the city fund.

So why the ruckus then? Every time I attend municipal court in East Carbon it's the same thing. Dog, Dog, Yard, Dog, Yard, Yard, Possession, Probation Hearing, Yard, Dog. It seems that eight out of every ten nuisance complaints are heard for every actual crime. The city's nuisance ordinance is so overly vague that I watched an attorney nearly get his client off based on it's ambiguity alone. If your dog bothers someone for any reason, here comes the judge.

And that is the most unfortunate piece of this whole situation. When did neighbors start calling the cops instead of calling each other? When did the sound of a barking neighborhood dog become a crime? East Carbon is a city struggling to find its center since the destruction of East Carbon High School and until that center is found the city feels like a collection of strangers.

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November 20, 2012
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