Jul 05

Jon Zimmerman

Independence Day: Tyranny, Traffic Tickets, and Why America Is Great

by Jon Zimmerman

Although we often talk about speeding tickets and traffic offenses here at home in the State of Washington, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on traffic tickets abroad, and the rights we enjoy here at home. Yesterday marked America's 231st anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Each July 4, we celebrate everything that is great about America - our food, our flag, our freedom. But 231 years later, we still have it better in America than our brothers in Britain. Just last week, two British traffic rebels regretfully lost their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, the court that Europe created to hear cases from citizens of member countries that traditionally have been unable to stay out of wars with one another. The issue in this case was the right not to incriminate yourself - a right so basic that we've had it in America since 1791. The idea for due process in the Fifth Amendment apparently was a British one stemming from the Magna Carta in 1215, but apparently what a fundamental right is in America doesn't really exist in (it's not so) "Great" Britain, or the rest of Europe for that matter. Here's what happened - Idris Francis and Gerard O'Halloran owned cars that were caught speeding by traffic cameras (not the police, mind your gap). Neither man would say who was driving their vehicles (O'Halloran admitted to driving but later retracted his statement), claiming a right to silence and a right against self-incrimination. We call that the Fifth Amendment here, but again, these individuals are British. The Court ruled against the men, 15-2, reasoning that if the men could "prove" that they didn't know who drove their cars AND if they could not be expected to know, they would then not be punished under British law. Wow. What an uphill battle - in Britain you're guilty until you prove you're not. I think there was a war over that! At the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., sunlight shines on a quote in the interior frieze below the dome: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." It is fitting that we remember that while we are free to not incriminate ourselves and to fight our traffic tickets here in the United States and in the State of Washington, our European ancestors do not enjoy that right. As we reflect on the basic rights we enjoy here at home, the words of Mr. Francis, who lost his case last month, is important to keep in mind: "The fight for freedom goes on. We can't allow the tyrants, who are taking away our rights, to succeed. They have to be stopped." Very Jeffersonian. Happy Independence Day. I hope you had a great 4th.


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