Allegation of Criminality

We sometimes keep meaningless records longer than necessary. Much longer than necessary. As my wife was going through some old papers this morning in preparation for shredding paperwork we no longer need, she came upon a folder with records of a citation I received in the mail in December 2003.

The ticket alleged violation of 5620, Chapt. 7A-18, litter. In a note on the citation, the issuing officer, Cheryl G. Daniels, had written “debri (sic) adjacent to premise.” The citation said the date of offense was 12/19/2003. I had no idea why I would have received such a citation. I went outside, looked all around my house, and found nothing that might have warranted the issuance of a ticket. So, on January 1, 2004, I wrote a  letter to the City of Dallas Municipal Court, pleading not guilty to the alleged offense and, on the back side of the ticket in the place reserved for declaring my intent, requesting a trial by jury. Not long thereafter, I received in the mail a notice that my case had been scheduled for September 1, 2004 at 8:30 a.m. I was given the opportunity to summon witnesses (which I opted not to do). According to the notice, “the State will summon its own witnesses. A $5.00 witness summons fee will be assessed if you are convicted.”

On the appointed date, I appeared in Municipal Court, prepared to defend myself against a false allegation of being a litterer. I remember sitting in the courtroom, waiting for my turn to take the stand in my defense when, after several other cases were discussed and scheduled, the judge asked an attorney for the city to proceed with my case. The attorney recommended dismissal and the judge agreed. I was invited to the bench, where the judge, Daniel F. Solis, handed me a slip of paper with details of my case and upon which “dismissed” had been stamped.

I have no idea, to this day, why I received that citation in the mail. But I was prepared to fight it, tooth and nail. As I think about the alleged offense and my reaction to it this morning, Arlo Guthrie’s story-in-song, “Alice’s Restaurant Masacre,” about being arrested for littering. Except he was guilty; I was not. And I have no idea why, almost thirteen years after I was cleared of the charge that might otherwise have sullied my reputation and ruined my life, I still have a copy of the ticket, my letter, and other records surrounding that dark event in my life. Well, I can tell you this: after today, I will no longer have those records. I’m going to cleanse that incident from my past with the help of a shredder.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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