A Michigan man appeared for a digital court hearing from the driver’s side seat of a vehicle earlier this week. The defendant was charged with driving with no insurance and driving without a license, but he insists it was all a big misunderstanding and pleaded the court to take mercy based on his status as a “single father.”
The interested parties begin the day exchanging typical quotidian pleasantries and various permutations of “Good morning.”
“Mr. Keokuk is here,” Judge Jeffrey Middleton says via the Zoom feed after the sundry hellos. “There’s no reason why we can’t get right into that one—and—a little early, but there’s no harm in that.”
The judge then recites the case number and asks Jacob Keokuk to remove his hat, reminding him that he’s in court. The defendant complies and the court begins to recite the posture of the case.
“You entered a plea to no insurance and driving suspended on February the 5th,” the judge notes. “The matter was set for sentencing here this morning and you’re here. I ran a new copy of your driving record. You’ve got a lot of unpaid stuff. Which is part of why you had problems. Uh . . . ”
Judge Middleton then pauses for several seconds in an apparent attempt to assess what’s happening—taking his eyes away from the court documents in front of him and directly engaging Keokuk’s feed.
“And some has been paid and some has not,” he continues. “You’re also sitting in the driver’s side of a vehicle. Your driving privileges are presently suspended. You’re not supposed to drive in either Michigan or in Indiana. Umm. So. Um.”
The judge then asks defense attorney John Bush what’s important to take note of in the case. Bush explains that his client has acknowledged his guilt and otherwise been cooperative.
“I think he’s prepared to accept the consequences,” the defense attorney says. “We know he’s employed. We know he has children that he’s responsible for. So, I would ask the court to craft something that would allow him to maintain his employment.”
Middleton then goes through some of Keokuk’s prior fines and fees, which he says appear to be unpaid, on various traffic and other minor violations. The court paints a picture of a father unable or unwilling to pay a litany of administrative costs and restitution.
“Well, the no insurance carries a fine of not less than $200,” the judge says after running through the defendant’s history over several years.”I’m just gonna give you a fine on that one.”
Middleton proceeds to remark on the elephant in the (digital) room.
“The one I’m struggling with is the driving suspended,” he says. “I believe you drove to wherever you are in the vehicle you’re in and you’re dumb enough to come on video with you sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle. So, it makes me think maybe you haven’t gotten the message.”
The judge then confers with the prosecutor who asks for some sort of “jail penalty” in light of reviewing the initial police report that showed “four adults and three children in a Ford Taurus,” including an infant allegedly without a seat belt while allegedly being driven at 75 miles per hour.
“It’s very concerning,” state attorney assistant Deborah Davis says. “He should know that he shouldn’t be driving. Let alone with those types of conditions—putting people in danger.”
Davis says the state is open to a work-release program or a schedule of jail time that won’t interfere with Keokuk’s employment so that he can pay the fines but insists on a “jail component.”
The defendant then addresses the court.
“I’m not sitting in my own vehicle and I didn’t drive here,” Keokuk says. “I’m sitting in my boss’s vehicle currently because I’m in court. I wasn’t trying to do court in a customer’s house.”
Pressed by the judge, the defendant goes on to note that his boss transports him to and from work.
In the end, Keokuk was given the choice to sit out his time in jail for 35 days or agree to pay a total of $475 worth of fines within 90 days.
The defendant was nonplussed by the offer but bristled a bit at the notion of doing either 35 days in jail for the charged offenses or being able to pay the fines back within the suggested time frame, asking the court to take into consideration that he is a single father and sole caretaker of two children.
The judge’s patience, by then a bit tested, explained that “you don’t get a single father pass” and added thaat the defendant’s history of non-payment didn’t leave the court with too many choices.
The judge ultimately agreed to put Keokuk on a payment plan of $100 per month for the insurance violation. That payment plan also includes the prior laundry list of unpaid fees and costs. On the driving with a suspended license charge, he was given two days in jail (to be served on the weekend).
As for the defendant’s headline-worthy location during the hearing? The court accepted “on faith” and Keokuk’s word—as well as the fact that the present vehicle looked “newer” and “nice[r]” than a 2000 Ford Taurus—that he was actually in his boss’s car and did not actually drive to where he was sitting.
[image via screengrab/Michigan Courts]
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