Filching Metro Fare in Virginia Gets Free Trip to Court
Saturday, July 16, 2005
Among the crimes considered yesterday in Arlington County Courthouse Room 3A were drug possession, reckless driving and grand larceny. Some defendants entered the courtroom from the side door dressed in standard-issue blue uniforms from the detention center next door.
David S. Park, 26, entered from the back, dressed -- for his first arraignment -- in a tie and shoes shiny enough to match the gleaming wooden benches.
The charge against him: failure to pay his fare on the Metro.
Park was one of a group of riders who, after a two-second slip through a fare gate, ended up scheduled for a day in court. Instead of receiving a citation to pay a fine, as he would have in the District or Maryland, Park, who was at the Pentagon City Station, was issued a summons.
The recent graduate of Georgetown University pleaded guilty to his charge but offered a brief explanation in his defense: It was his first full week commuting on the Metro between his new apartment in Alexandria and his job at an international development organization near Dupont Circle.
It was rush hour. He did not know his Farecard had insufficient funds. While he was trying to figure out why it did not work in the fare gate, some people with SmarTrip cards crowded behind him and ended up pushing him through the gate.
Before he knew what had happened, an officer approached him, and he had a summons in his hand.
The judge canceled the fine, which could have been as much as $50 for a first offense, and sent Park to the clerk's office to pay court fees.
Afterward, Park surveyed the damage: $66 in court costs and a half-day lost from work. Park, who has a master's degree in public policy, analyzed the situation.
The ticket, he thought, was fair -- "Proof that the system was working," he said.
He wasn't so sure about the trip to the courthouse.
"In terms of maximizing public resources and the skills of the judge, I think it might be more useful for something that actually constitutes a criminal offense," he said.