Just Pay the Traffic Ticket, Dude …

... rather than committing felony forgery.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

From People v. Shah (Cal. Ct. App. July 22):

After receiving a speeding citation, defendant Dr. Nickesh Pravin Shah duped an employee into signing a letter falsely stating that defendant was responding to a medical emergency at the time of the traffic stop. Defendant's attorney eventually entered the letter in evidence at his traffic trial.

After the traffic trial, defendant was charged with violating Penal Code sections 132 and 134 by preparing and offering the forged letter as false evidence. A jury found defendant guilty of both offenses, and the trial court suspended imposition of sentence and placed defendant on 36 months'] probation….

In early 2013, defendant accepted through a staffing agency a temporary position as a physician at a health clinic. The clinic was small, with just two physicians and a staff of approximately eight to nine people. The clinic hired defendant to care for the patients of one of the doctors who was on leave.

On the morning of April 3, 2013, at approximately 10:00 a.m., defendant was driving to work when a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer stopped him for speeding. At the time of the stop, defendant was late for work, which was not unusual.

When informed of the reason for the stop, defendant told the officer that he was en route to a medical emergency and needed to be there within the next 10 minutes. The officer asked defendant the nature of the medical emergency, and defendant responded, "A gall bladder." Defendant told the officer he would be performing surgery on the patient.

The officer asked defendant if there was someone who could confirm this information. Defendant gave the officer the name and telephone number of a supervisor at the clinic. Defendant said she would know if there was an emergency. The officer called the number and spoke to the supervisor. The supervisor denied there was an emergency and told the officer that defendant "was just late to see his regularly scheduled patients." {This was not the first time that defendant falsely claimed he was responding to an emergency to avoid a speeding ticket. At trial, a San Francisco police officer testified that when he stopped defendant for speeding in 2010, defendant told the officer he was "on an emergency call" heading to the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center. The officer asked for proof, but defendant was unable to substantiate the emergency.}

When the officer relayed this information, defendant responded that the supervisor must be working on the other side of the facility and unaware of the emergency. The officer, unpersuaded, cited defendant for speeding, but suggested that the district attorney might dismiss the citation if defendant could provide documentation showing that he was, in fact, responding to an emergency.

A couple of weeks later, defendant had his office manager sign a letter relating to the traffic stop. The letter stated: "This letter is to confirm that [defendant] was on his way to an emergency in order to attend to a patient at this facility on April 3rd, 2013[,] at 10:00 a.m. with severe abdominal pain and concern for a gall bladder infection." The letter was dated April 16, 2013. Defendant, through his attorney, subsequently offered the letter in evidence at the trial on his speeding citation. The traffic court judge nevertheless found defendant guilty.

After the traffic trial, the prosecutor filed a felony complaint against defendant charging him with violations of Penal Code sections 132 and 134 for preparing and offering false and fraudulent evidence at the traffic trial…. The jury found defendant guilty of violating sections 132 and 134.

NEXT: Notorious RBG Opposes Court Packing

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “defendant was late for work, which was not unusual.”

    😀

  2. Is there something missing or duplicated in this story. Did the defendant commit the same crime twice, charged and convicted twice? If so, why was the suspended sentence from the first offense not be invoked?

    Or did the professor erroneously paste the same story into the blog post twice?

    1. While it seems like he might have a pattern and practice of lying to get out of traffic tickets, he only added forgery to the mix this one time. The first two paragraphs are from the opinion’s introduction. The rest are from the statement of facts.

      This is turning out to be one expensive traffic ticket.

  3. A friend got a speeding ticket. He jimmied the speedometer, took it to a repair shop, they fixed it, and he went to court with the repair bill. This was an Alfa Romeo Spider, so you know that was more expensive than the ticket. Officer didn’t show up, dismissed.

    He was able to laugh about it.

    1. What this done under the theory that a Traffic Court judge would be persuaded by a “Yes, I was speeding. But only due to ignorance of my actual speed, due to a faulty speedometer.”? If yes, then I can’t see how this theory would have been successful for almost all such judges. If no, then I’m not understanding the attempt.

      1. I believe his case was dismissed before he got to present his expensive and likely unrewarding argument. Irony, Alanis Morissette style.

        1. I’ve seen Judges routinely reduce speeding tickets to defective equipment if you show up with a calibration. It’ll save you points but not the fine. Honestly, most courts care more about the fine than the points anyway.

      2. In general, yes that defense does work if the amount that you were speeding was small. If you can show that your speedometer really was broken, you weren’t driving so fast that it would be self-evident and it’s a first offense, many traffic court judges will let you off as long as you get it fixed. Or sometimes the local police will do that by putting the ticket in a “hold” file at the station – bring in your repair bill and the ticket gets rewritten as a warning.

        Makes economic sense if your speedometer really was already broken – you needed to get it fixed anyway. Makes no economic sense if you have to break it yourself. The breakeven between the repair bill and the ticket would likely be for a speed high enough that you’d lose on the “self-evident even without the speedometer” rule.

        1. Interesting. I’ve sat as a judge (pro tem) in Traffic Court over the years and I’ve heard about 10 versions of “my speedometer was broken” arguments. I found none of them the least bit persuasive, and I’m surprised to read that other judges (full-time Traffic Court judges?!?!!!) do find that argument convincing. But hey, I guess it only goes to show that justice might or might not be blind . . . but it certainly is arbitrary.

          1. It’s the repair bill that would convince me.

            “My dog ate it” isn’t convincing either….. until your student hands in a pile of dog feces with obvious parts of an essay embedded within it, whereupon you let him write it again.

            1. Accurate but gross!!!
              Nowadays one would not be able to bring that type of evidence into court; if it even got past security.

  4. “Just Pay the Traffic Ticket, Dude …”

    Now reason is in favor of police used for armed revenue generation??

    1. Can’t blame Reason for this one:

      “We’re a group blog, cofounded by Eugene Volokh and Alexander (“Sasha”) Volokh in 2002. Almost all of us are law professors, teaching at various law schools throughout the country. We write mostly about law and public policy, though we feel free to blog about whatever else strikes our fancy. . . .

      We are not Reason employees, and we have sole editorial control over the blog. We are very pleased to be working with the Reason people, but please don’t ascribe our views to them, or vice versa. Naturally, you shouldn’t ascribe our views to our employers, either, or even to the other cobloggers. Each blogger speaks only for himself or herself.”

      1. 1. jph12 is quite right — we’re in Reason, but not of it.

        2. I’m not opposed to speeding laws in general, though particular laws might be badly enforced. Nor am I sure that speeding tickets are more expensive than they should be, though I’m certainly open to hearing arguments on that score.

        3. But in any event, if there are speeding laws (right or wrong), you’re much better off just paying the ticket, rather than committing forgery to try to get out of it. And, yes, I acknowledge that there are some hypothetical situations in which forgery is an acceptable, if risky, way of dealing with an unjust law (e.g., forging manumission papers in order to get a slave freed). This just doesn’t seem to me to be one of them.

        1. “…(e.g., forging manumission papers…”

          Cool. I learned a new word today. Sadly, not one that can easily be slipped into most casual conversations.

        2. Defendant here didn’t commit perjury.

          1. Well, he “violat[ed] Penal Code sections 132 and 134 by preparing and offering the forged letter as false evidence.” That’s pretty close to perjury.

            1. Sorry, I mean forgery. He duped a worker into writing the letter. Since when is that forgery? Maybe I don’t understand forgery.

              1. Forgery by catspaw, maybe? “Rose” by any other name and all that, tho…

                1. The court decision treats this as a form of forgery, using the definitions, “Forged means to make a false or fictitious document with the intent to defraud,” and “The crime of forgery is committed when one makes or passes a false instrument with intent to defraud.” The evidence seemed to be that the doctor passed a false instrument with intent to defraud, and also arranged for the making of the instrument.

                  1. Gotcha, thank you, professor! I’ve learned something new.

            2. If I understand correctly, in most court proceedings, to enter a document into evidence someone must testify to it’s provenance and validity. Using a forgery would require perjury also. However, a traffic court is informal and streamlined, so the transcript might not prove that the defendant actually perjured himself in presenting the document.

    2. Traffic tickets are annoying but forged documents are much worse.

    3. And you’re in favor of lawless driving, no speed limits, etc.?

      1. I’m in favor of no speed limits, with harsh penalties for bad driving.

        Of you have the right equipment, and the other circumstances generally support it, why shouldn’t someone drive 200mph way out in the desert? The key is “and the other circumstances generally support it.”

        When I’m king, there will be a posted recommended speed, which is prima facie a safe speed, but no punishment for exceeding it, even wildly. I would, however, likely have noise ordinances at the same time. Driving a Hellcat? Do 180 on the highway (with a 130 decibel limit), but you can’t even do 60 in a residential. Drive a Tesla? Do 150 in a residential area. Again, all other circumstances supporting.

        1. The Royal Treasury is going to be awfully bare, what with having to rebuild all the roads to permit faster travel. The peasants probably won’t put up with the taxes.

        2. Exactly. The governmental judgment that I, with my experience and the car I’m currently driving, cannot drive safely above a certain speed limit is pretty insulting (and arbitrary). And then there’s things like red left turn lights, which I find actually offensive.

  5. I am not going to say what prestigious University I taught at during graduate school, however I routinely observed students spending more time attempting to cheat, say by inscribing the notes on the back of a chair, than actually studying aforementioned notes. I typically gave open book exams, because I found no material difference scores whether open or closed. People who prepared for open book exams by recopying notes were adequately prepared and did well. But these were also to a large degree who prepared for closed book exams by recopying notes. But some students simply approach exams as if they are a game and seek some “advantage” through cheating, nevermind the actual course content.

  6. It is particularly stupid for a doctor to commit such a crime. A felony conviction could cost him his medical license.

    1. Furthermore, it should. It should certainly affect one’s license to prescribe medications.

    2. This is an example of the psychology of arrogance. The doctor thought, “I’m an MD, I save lives, so I have the _right_ to ignore an arbitrary speed limit in order to have more time to save lives. (Even when the only reason I’m short of time is that I didn’t get up early enough to get to work on time.)”

      When the cop didn’t buy this, he set out to preserve that “right” by any means possible. He didn’t think of causing that document to be forged and then using it in court as a crime…

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.