The drama in the court room seemed somewhat incidental at the time; my initial focus for the deal was to get through it as quickly as possible.
The year is 1994.
I was driving down Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, Florida at 2am one evening. One of the problems with Sarasota is that at 2am the only other people on the road are cops with nothing to do. They need to make their quota, and they need to do it in a way that doesn’t jeopardize old age, the ‘safe cop’ is always looking for easy marks. That night I was pulled over in my Mits Pickup and informed by one of those ‘safe cops’ that I didn’t have a rear bumper, and given a warning.
Now there’s an earlier story about bumpers; in 1987 I had been driving a Honda Civic, trying to eat some Chinese food which was somehow trying to crawl out of the carton. I had slowed down to stop at a red light, when a Chevy pickup truck in front of me suddenly slams on it’s brakes. There goes the front end of my Japanese car, ploughing into the Chevy steel bumper. Scratches on the Chevy bumper. The whole front end of my Civic is mangled. It was, apparently all my fault.
I was also at war, to some degree with tow companies and junkyards; so many of my cars involuntarily ended up there under dubious legal circumstances; on one occasion I had even stolen my car back after it had been towed from a bank parking lot; I won the resulting legal fracas.
So I was determined to redress this. My pal the cop was right gosh darn it, and I would see to it that my car had a proper bumper. I would obtain the bumper the same way the junkyards did,by taking it. If it was OK for them, it was OK for me.
The time is 3am, on another evening. I noticed that the paint-shop in Venice had Three or Four well-used Mits Pickups exactly like mine (the “Mighty Max”). Crawling under a Mits late at night with a wrench is very difficult. Even more when it’s in a lot in a strange neighborhood, and it’s not a legal thing that one is doing. It’s really not worth it in any case, and in this particular circumstance I got caught.
I admitted my guilt because I felt guilty; I could have played hardball and made them prove my guilt, and I might have had I known that the admission of guilt and my willing cooperation would only be taken as a sign of weakness.
But the establishment in Sarasota is very hard up. They really need the easy kill, risk is for the young, as is fair play. The item stolen was equivalent to the same taken off a 1991 Mits ‘Mighty Max’ in the junkyard. Probable cost: “$100-200” certainly less than $300.
Mr Prosecutor wants to charge me for a new bumper, to make it “GRAND THEFT AUTO”.
My court appointed lawyer was a service to me in a way which is much, much WORSE than having NO LAWYER AT ALL. “It doesn’t matter”, he tells me. “Even if you only touch a screw, it’s still GRAND THEFT AUTO.”. I bat the issue around with him several times, just to make sure: “It doesn’t matter” he keeps on telling me.
Patently, I know now that he was wrong, the distinction I was correctly arguing in court was right as I see from a quick internet search: In Florida, in the year 2000,a theft between $1 and $300 is known as PETIT THEFT. It is a misdemeanor. I was charged with “GRAND THEFT” which applies to items between $300 and $20000 in cost.
But under the advice of Mr Public Defender I agreed to the “Grand Theft” charge, accepting his claim that it didn’t matter, any item $1-$20000 off A CAR (religious awe here) is grand theft. I trusted him not because I thought that as a Public Defender he would be a great, savvy lawyer. I did not expect that. I did expect that he would at least know the law, and be able to advise me correctly as per the rules and regulations, and he did not.