“If you won’t show up on the small stuff…” – On playing Gallaga and bond hearings.



I’m working on an appeal.  The case was major- with the defendant sitting on a $950,000 bond (meaning, in Illinois, he has to post $95,000). There was a bond reduction hearing because just about nobody sitting on a $95,000 bond can pay that, and the statute says the amount should be only one to reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance at court.

Bond hearings aren’t the most exciting things. You present all sorts of evidence that you have “ties to the community,” that you’re mostly a good person, and that you can’t post the set amount because it’s insanely high (otherwise you’d have posted and been released). The prosecutor then brings up how horrible your crime is (pretending of course, that it’s all true… even if they over-charged the case), that nobody but your mother could possible care for your soul, and that you didn’t show up to court on some traffic tickets 8 years ago.

Then the judge leaves your bond set at the original amount, and the next case is called as you saunter back into lockup.

I hate that part about the traffic tickets. It’s backwards thinking. It happens all the time, though.

Cops have the discretion on some minor tickets to require your appearance in court. On others, they don’t have the discretion to tell you that you don’t have to appear (but they do have the discretion to write you for something that isn’t a “must appear”). On that date, the whole world stops (you have to take off work, pay for a baby sitter, etc.) so that you can scurry on down to the courthouse in the middle of the day (because why would the government conform to the lives of working people by holding court for minor offenses in the evenings or weekends?) for your minor legal infraction.

Oftentimes people do the math and it makes more sense to go to work and skip court. Especially on these minor offense… there is no jail at issue, just traffic convictions and fine money (things you may be facing even if you do go).  It makes even more sense to low-income workers working for minimum, hourly wages.  They risk both having to pay the fines and well as missing out on an entire day’s pay.

It has nothing to do with respecting the system, or disrespect to the judge. It has to do with putting food on the table. Economics.

Sure, sometimes it has more to do with being irresponsible, not having learned to schedule life around a calendar, or just not caring. But, it doesn’t always have to do with that. Most of the time it doesn’t.

So, I’m reading this bond hearing, I get to the part where the guy in custody on a major felony has a history of missing traffic tickets, and I’m thinking, “so what?”  The judge did not share my sentiment:

“It’s also on mind that when you were charged with traffic offenses,” the judge said, “you failed to show up to court.”

Par for the course. Nothing new there. I don’t like it, but I knew it was coming.

I don’t like it because it doesn’t make sense my pragmatic thinking of the law.  If “bond hearing” thinking applied to real life we’d probably all be in trouble. I’ve skipped a lot of stuff in my day, without missing the “big things.” I skipped a lot of classes in college to play basketball, but never missed a test.  I skipped a lot of my Friday “Contracts” classes in law school because I got carried away playing Gallaga in the game room, (and, also because contracts is really, really, REALLY boring) yet did fine in Contracts and even passed the bar exam.


Most people in the real world, even those charged with crimes, know when something is serious and when they must show up.  No bond money on the line to lose, only a small fine (which you were facing anyway) with a conviction, and no real driver’s license consequences? Makes sense to go to work when you have mouths to feed. Losing $50k of your parent’s money, a national manhunt, and possibly being convicted of murder without even getting to tell your side of the story? It’s not worth missing court on a major case.

Other than happening in courthouses, there really is no comparison between petty traffic tickets and major felonies. Yet it happens several times a day in criminal courts everywhere.

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