65

I had an interesting experience in the US while speeding. I'll put the full scenario in quotes, as I'm not sure if the whole story really adds to the question.

We are unsure of what to do with the ticket. The officer didn't explain anything (he was very rude and threatening, as you can read in the scenario), the paper we got says very little other than 'to report to court within 15 days otherwise a warrant for your arrest will be made'. We left the country hours after we got the speeding ticket. What do we do now? We wish to visit the US/Texas again.

And would it be possible for us to fight the ticket? We believe it was unfair and unnecessary.

We just changed onto a different interstate. Previous interstate was 75mph, we couldn't find any signs but people were going faster than 75mph so we decided to 'go with the flow' and drive about 74/75. After only minutes on the interstate we got pulled over. The officer came to the car with his gun drawn (yes, really!) yelling at us not to move. He wouldn't let us speak, he wouldn't let us move. He asked questions but didn't let us finish the answers. We made it very clear we were tourists in a rental car, yet he proceeded to ask us if we were Californian citizens (the car had a Cali license) multiple times. After the 3rd time we said we explained where we were from he finally put the gun away. He told us what we did wrong and when we tried to explain we were tourists and were just trying to do the right thing, he told us to stop talking. He told us to report to court within 15 days and when we tried to explain we were leaving the country and didn't know what to do and he told us in a very threatening way we 'better report to court within 15 days or a warrant would be put out'.

This all happened at election night, I hope the officer was just having a bad day and this is NOT a normal experience with the law in the US. I am frankly very scared and do not wish to drive in the US anymore.

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    I'd pay the ticket; spend a few bucks calling the ticket office (there should be a phone number on the ticket) and ask how you can pay (money transfer, western union...) it and be done with it. – Max Nov 14 '16 at 16:07
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    @JaneDoe1337 a scan or photo of the entire ticket you were given may clarify matters here - ensure you blank out personal info. – Moo Nov 14 '16 at 16:30
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    @JaneDoe1337 Court for a traffic fine is a standard 'feature' of the US system. You can can pay up front and not go to court. Go to court and plead no-contest and pay a lesser amount (depending on the court) or go full on not guilty and try to get away with no penalty at all. It all depends on the chutzpah you have. I once saw a defendant plead not guilty, give a story that was unprovable and got his case dismissed. – Peter M Nov 14 '16 at 16:44
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    @JaneDoe1337 What are the charge(s) listed on the citation? I know you mentioned speed several times, but is it possible that you were charged with some other moving violation, such as multiple lane changes? (Most states require a specific amount of time be spent signaling in each lane.) It seems very strange for an officer to approach with weapon drawn for a speeding violation, even a significant one, if other traffic laws are observed and you stop immediately upon their approach. As mentioned, a copy of the citation / ticket (personal info removed) could explain a lot. – CodeShane Nov 15 '16 at 1:07
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    Some context for police action: I too have been stopped for speeding in a out of state rental car on the interstate in Texas. This is precisely what they are looking for, especially if your car appears to be weighed down by a heavy load (in my case it was luggage). They are trying to catch interstate drug runners who use rental cars to avoid forfeiture laws. – AllInOne Nov 15 '16 at 13:51

11 Answers 11

45

A relevant resource would be

Texas DMV paying tickets (Disclaimer - this is a 3rd party website and not connected to the government. We really need the jurisdiction of your court in order to provide an official link. On the other hand this is a good start)

IMHO paying the ticket will be cheaper than hiring a lawyer to represent you and fight the ticket - especially with you not being in the country let alone the state. I don't think that they can affect your license/insurance in Europe, on the other hand if they issue a warrant for your arrest it will stick around for a very long time and could cause you a lot of grief in the future if you come back to the US.

In either case it would definitely be worthwhile to call the appropriate court and speak to the Court Clerk and get their opinion on the matter. I'm not sure if you can get it dismissed that way, but it is worth a try.

But whatever you decide make sure to do it before the court date.


Finally as a foreigner living in the US I am always amazed at the capriciousness of the cops pulling people over for speeding as well as 10mph over the limit on a freeway being ignored.

From my point of view if the posted speed limit is 60 and everybody does 75 and the cops don't pull everybody over then the de facto speed limit is 75. I just don't have the guts to argue this point in court!

But then every once in a while they do a speeding blitz and start pulling people over for only a few mph over the posted limit. Then a day later its all back to normal.

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    Don't be amazed but there are multiple reasons for cops allowing speeds up to 75mph but that's a long discussion to be had another time. – Karlson Nov 14 '16 at 17:41
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    "in the US there is cutoff point for speeding at 20mph over" - this is wrong. The point at which speeding is automatically reckless driving can be less than 20, or, like in Texas, there might not be a set speed at all. It varies by state, but crucially, "X above the limit" does not go the other direction; even going less than the posted limit can be reckless driving. – Esoteric Screen Name Nov 14 '16 at 19:14
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    For an extreme example of what @EsotericScreenName is talking about the cutoff for reckless driving (or something that's a misdemeanor instead of just a citation) is 80 MPH. This was apparently set when the speed limit was 55, the speed limit has been gradually raised to 75 on some interstates but the big hammer is still set at 80. – Dan Neely Nov 14 '16 at 21:17
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    @DanNeely the cutoff for reckless driving cannot be an absolute like 80; there are some highways in Texas that have a speed limit of 80 or even higher. – shoover Nov 15 '16 at 16:41
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    "But then every once in a while they do a speeding blitz and start pulling people over for only a few mph over the posted limit. Then a day later its all back to normal." - that's called revenue enhancement. – Bob Jarvis Nov 16 '16 at 12:36
31

I've been a TX resident for more than 10 years. The visit with the cop you had is typical of ALL police. They are always rude- it's the norm for one reason or another, I don't why and I really don't care.

You don't need to worry about anything. Just call the number on the ticket which is the court, and tell them you want to pay over the phone - you'll need a credit card. If you want to fight the ticket, you can, but you will have to PHYSICALLY APPEAR in court which means you have to come back to TX to stand in long lines waiting for your case to be called - not fun and not a good decision. Judges ALWAYS side with the officer - don't let anyone tell you differently.

Personally, I would just pay it and be done with it - for future visits, get a rental car with a TX license plate. TX police pull over "out of state" license plates all the time because TX is a major throughway for illegal drugs, cartels, etc.

Also, statistics have shown that cops generally stop red cars more often than any other color (I don't know why so don't ask, lol), so get a silver or black rental car. I wish you the best. No matter what happens don't worry. It's not worth it to sacrifice personal happiness for such a matter.

Cheers!

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    Just wanted to comment to say I have lived in more places than TX and the police are the same EVERYWHERE - state police are the worst...The inner city police in smaller towns aren't as bad as the ones that patrol larger cities, etc. - Some food for thought. Don't waste your money on a lawyer either - Ive already been down that road. A 200 dollar ticket costed me more than double by the time the lawyer was done mucking everything up - so from personal experience, DONT HIRE A LAWYER - just pay the ticket and get it out of your life. No regrets. – JColling Nov 14 '16 at 20:31
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    Yet I have only ever had polite police when I have gotten pulled over in VA and WVa, so YMMV – Peter M Nov 14 '16 at 21:31
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    I've only ever had police be polite to me, everywhere in the US. On the other hand, I strongly suspect I'm above the 90th percentile as far as being polite to the police first goes. – Jonathan Cast Nov 14 '16 at 23:24
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    I was pulled over by a sheriff in Texas once for going significantly over the speed limit. I've never had a cop be rude to me, but that one in particular was extraordinarily polite. It was hard to even be mad about the ticket. I was a young, white, reasonably attractive female though, so YMMV. – Kat Nov 14 '16 at 23:25
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    @jcast You say that "the police are the same EVERYWHERE" but the examples you give seem to actually be within the USA. There are many places outside the USA that also have police. – David Richerby Nov 15 '16 at 11:05
19

First IANAL, lets get that out of the way.

Next, what can you do to correct the situation. This gets a bit more complicated. Before you go wasting a ton of money on the situation there are some consideration to tackle.

Speeding tickets are considered a civil matter, and as such fall under a different set of rules (in TX they are apparently criminal). Most importantly you are considered guilty unless you can prove your not. Now to be honest this is not exactly true, but the courts will take, without hesitation, the ticket as proof that you were speeding. Your only real defense in this case is to try to prove that the cop was wrong. The courts won't like this. It's wasting their time.

Next, YOU WERE SPEEDING!!! Can't stress that enough. Ignorance of the law does not mean you do not have to follow it. Neither does the fact that you were "going with the flow". 700 people break the law and you get cought, you were still breaking the law. Traffic laws are even worse like that.

Unfortunately, it doesn't matter how rude the officer was. I will say that the experience is not typical (at least where I live), but then again, you don't know why he drew his gun. I will say that all police I have ever seen will approach a car with extreme caution. Often times this means hands on their gun. They are even trained to touch your car in certain spots to make sure they leave finger prints in case you kill them. It is a very dangerous time for a cop (approaching a car). For future reference, the best thing you can do is turn off your radio, place your hands on the steering wheel and sit still, waiting for the cop to approach. DO NOT REACH FOR ANYTHING until asked. Remember here in the US we can all carry guns and the cops are trained to react to that. Mainly if they see you reach for a spot they can't see, they will react more defensively.

The final consideration is the cost. It's often times WAY cheaper to just pay the ticket. 9/10 times it's cheaper. Specially in your case where you were actually speeding.

Final Advice

Go to the website http://www.dmv.org/tx-texas/paying-traffic-tickets.php Pay the ticket online, by phone, or by mail. Plead "No contest" which means your not going to admit your guilty, but that your not going to fight it either, then pay the fine.

If you have to make a court appearance, you can usually do so by phone, but with something as simple as a speeding ticket, they will not likely want you to take up valuable court room time.

As for the cop

I'd say chalk it up to bad luck. I'm sure you did some things to put the cop in a more defensive stance then he really needed to be in, but at the same time, there's no reason he should have been rude either. Most of the cops around here (I don't live in TX though) are friendly and helpful, even if they still approach a car with extreme caution.

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    The cop was probably on edge due to some radio traffic. It is likely that this person's vehicle and configuration was a close match to someone dangerous they were looking for. I doubt this person did anything to spook him. – david1024 Nov 15 '16 at 11:38
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    Ignorance of the law, and the road not being properly marked are not the same thing. – Davor Nov 15 '16 at 12:19
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    "Neither does the fact that you were "going with the flow"" - this actually depends on the state, and some of the other answers suggest that Texas is one in which it actually does matter. Of course, without being able to show up in court this defense isn't an option for OP. – Random832 Nov 15 '16 at 14:10
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    We did nothing to put the cop in a more defensive stance. I would own it up if we did, but honestly we didn't. We didn't move, we stopped the car immediately. Also, I agree with the comment above. Ignorance of the law and no road marks are not the same thing. I'm not saying we weren't 'speeding', I'm just saying we didn't do it on purpose. What do you expect someone to do in a similar situation then? Drive 15-20 miles slower than the rest of the traffic in hope of finding a sign? – Summer Nov 15 '16 at 15:11
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    @JaneDoe1337 Most states have a set speed for a road size. TX has Sec. 545.352. PRIMA FACIE SPEED LIMITS. statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/TN/htm/TN.545.htm Your supposed to know these before you drive in a different state or country. That said, I would have done the same as you, maybe capping out at 75 (a common speed limit), got the ticket, then paid it. As for "We did nothing to put the cop in a more defensive stance" It really doesn't need to be anything you did. There could have been a builtin for that style of car, or a car from CA. or any number of things... – coteyr Nov 15 '16 at 17:50
9

Sorry to hear about your bad luck. I apologize for your treatment, but keep in mind that once the citation is issued, the real matter is economic in nature--not who is right or wrong!

Even if you pay the fine, you can still file a complaint with the officer's department and your country's state department--but that is a separate matter from the citation/ticket. e.g. even if you are 'speeder', you deserve to be treated with some level of respect and politeness.

You can also call your country's equivalent to the US's state department for guidance, but if you only want to make this 'go away' as fast as possible:

  1. Call the courthouse clerk's number listed on the ticket (allowing time for the ticket to be processed by their system--usually 2-3 days)
  2. Politely ask how much the fine is and where to mail the check
  3. Explain that you don't have a US bank account and are a foreign national and don't live in the US. (Consider their response to this)
  4. Ask if they accept Credit Cards (Using a Credit card may incur an additional fee, but will prevent issues with monetary conversions and will close the matter immediately as far as your involvement)
  5. Pay, and DONE.

Note that you can call multiple times... and the Clerk will be your primary resource for getting this taken care of... so be especially nice and they'll potentially be an ally.

That's the easy way. Being 'right' is usually more expensive and time consuming, and won't really involve the officer that much--the whole traffic thing is quite a well-oiled-machine while you are in it.

Importantly, if you do not appear in traffic court on the date provided by the county clerk (even if you are not informed of the date because you do not call) there will be a warrant issued for your arrest. That warrant will extend only to TX borders... But once things progress that far, the fines and fees are usually much higher... But you can usually request rescheduling of the date as needed, just make sure you confirm the date/times with the clerk.

Unless your fine is more than several hundred dollars, IMHO--engaging a lawyer is probably not going to be economical. (If you were on a business trip, your company may have some 'legal insurance' that could offset costs and get you represented quickly though)

On the phone with the clerk, you may want to ask if you can get a jury trial... they may be able to close the matter there. But getting the while mess resolved in the courts is going to take a lot of your time while just paying will close the matter quickly.

I know you feel angry and upset about this. However, sometimes it is easier to just pay the extra driving tax and move on. Just bad luck really.

  • what are you apologizing for ? – Martin Vegter Nov 16 '16 at 15:28
  • @martinVegtar As a human being. – tar Nov 16 '16 at 16:53
7

I'd contact a lawyer in the jurisdiction that the infraction took place. You don't need a really good one, just one that will look out for your interests. If you have friends in the area perhaps they can recommend someone or post on the law side of stack exchange.

For probably less than a few hundred dollars you can get the ticket dismissed. Maybe not, but the worst case is that you show you left the country a short time after the ticket was issued and you pay the fine. This way you can return to the US without any fear.

Like any profession there are good and bad people in law enforcement. Even the nice guys, when they discover you have a warrant, will probably pull a gun. So you will want to make sure one does not exist for you.

My son is in law enforcement and I think he is pretty fair, but he can get cranky. One time he pulled his gun on a deaf guy. Why? He pulled the deaf guy over, and the deaf guy gets out of the car as soon as he is stopped. Policy says an officer must pull his gun in those circumstances. In the end it was a cordial exchange and scary for both parties. Picture it, a deaf guy waving his arms trying to communicate. When he sees the gun, his natural reaction is to wave his arms more. As the cop, all you see is some guy waving his arms coming at you! Tense for both parties.

Add to this the rancor of this election. This cop probably pictured some Hollywood hippies attempting to commit voter fraud in his county. From your retelling of the story, I would bet that was in the back of his mind.

I am sorry you had a negative experience, but despite the press such kind of things are a minority of police interactions.

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    So your advice is to pay a few hundred dollars to a lawyer, instead of just paying the ticket (and pay a second time if you lose)? I fail to see the benefit. – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 15 '16 at 11:55
  • Because of the possibility of a warrant. He failed to appear in court and may have a warrant in his name which could prompt an arrest. Its doubtful the OP would like to spend his next US holiday in jail. – Pete B. Nov 15 '16 at 12:29
  • Isn't it enough to just pay the fine? – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 15 '16 at 12:47
  • From what the OP poster said, no. However perhaps a check to the court would be prudent. – Pete B. Nov 15 '16 at 13:09
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    I think this is the best answer. If the ticket does not list the infraction, nor a price to pay, there is something strange going on (strange = corruption). Hiring a lawyer that has relationships can help clarify what the charges are, and what the penalties are. – axsvl77 Nov 15 '16 at 20:21
3

If you decide to fight this (I'm not advising that, just considering the possibility that you might want to), your defense might hinge on the fact that you didn't see a sign showing a lower speed limit. The question then is whether there was a sign, and you didn't notice it, or there really wasn't a sign.

If there really wasn't a sign, the relevant "law" is contained in the US DOT Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Federal law mandates that the standards specified in the MUTCD apply to: "...all traffic control devices installed on any street, highway, bikeway, or private road open to public travel...". To be complete, you'll probably want to cite the specific state and county laws (and if this was in a city, their laws as well) saying that they'll comply with the federal law mandating conformance with the MUTCD.

The requirement you care about is in Section 2B.13, paragraph 03 of the MUTCD:

Speed Limit (R2-1) signs, indicating speed limits for which posting is required by law, shall be located at the points of change from one speed limit to another.

So, if the speed limit changed, and there really wasn't a speed limit sign to tell you about the change, then the state (or county, or whatever) is the one violating the law.

The one time in my life that I got a speeding ticket, I went to court and cited this requirement, and moved that the ticket be thrown out on this grounds alone.

Since the judge really didn't want to rule that the city was violating federal law, he decided to hold the trial, and only rule on my motion if I was found guilty. Although I actually had pretty solid evidence that I wasn't guilty, I'm pretty sure if all I'd done was say: "your honor, I'm certain I wasn't going that fast", he still would have decided that was good enough evidence, and found me not guilty.

This does all hinge on the basic question of whether there really wasn't a sign to tell you about the change in speed limit though. In my case there definitely wasn't. In your case...I don't know for sure, but if you want to take this approach, you'll need to verify one way or the other.

2

In some states, paying a traffic fine is structured in a rather odd way: what you will do is post bail for your court appearance and then forfeit it by not showing up. That's the end, except for whatever the repercussions are with your home country insurance and driving privileges. (Unless you are Canadian these are almost certainly zero.)

California also allows you to post bail and request a trial by written declaration. I have no idea if Texas allows this. If you were to contest the ticket, I do not think a defense of "Everyone else was going 75" is likely to help. However, a defense that there is no speed limit sign between where you entered the freeway and where you were ticketed might work, especially as 60 is below the standard limit for a Texas freeway.

2

There are plenty of suggestions here on how to pay or fight the ticket. That would be the right thing to do if you want to be absolutely certain that this ticket never comes back to bother you.

You might be able to just ignore it, though, if you're feeling brave or lucky. (Note that I'm not a lawyer, and I'm clearly not responsible for any trouble you get in if you do choose to ignore it.)

They're not going to contact your government over a speeding ticket, or send somebody to track you down, so there's no way it's an issue until you come back to the states.

States generally don't worry about traffic tickets in other states, so it's not an issue until you come back to Texas specifically.

Even if you come back to Texas, it's not an issue unless you get pulled over again.

Even then, the cop has to notice the ticket and care. You could always fight it at that point, if necessary.

For a little support, note that I lived in Texas for over a year, and much of my family lives in Texas. Although I don't think I've ever ignored a speeding ticket, I've ignored plenty of automated tolls I was unaware of before getting on the road, or questionable parking tickets, and never had a problem.

Of course, depending on the size of the fine associated with the ticket, they may be more interested in pursuing it than they would be for a simple parking ticket.

As for whether your experience was typical, I would say not. Cops are people. Just like other people, some are assholes, most aren't. Note that some police are a bit biased, and may become tense and react differently if you appear a certain way. This is especially true if you have darker skin, or anything that makes you look like a stereotypical criminal, which could include things like long hair or tattoos.

1

Guns in the US are normal, they're not something that you only see in movies. I got stopped for speeding once in Colorado and had a similar experience (except that the guy was a bit quicker to grasp that I was a foreigner and not familiar with local customs). But however weird it might seem to Europeans, Americans are allowed to carry guns and the police have to assume that a car driver stopped for speeding might use one if given the chance. So any contact with the police is going to seem confrontational.

-1

Do you plan on coming back to the US? If not, then don't sweat it. Texas isn't going to ask to have your country return you to the US for a traffic citation. Unless you plan to return, then ignore it. If you do plan to return, pay the fine to avoid hassles in the future when you return. Bench warrants don't disappear and any future interactions with police in the US will likely result in your incarceration while you get that old ticket/warrant sorted out. It'll cost a pretty penny too.

As to the rudeness of the cop, welcome to the US. Cops are a'hole's and love to pull their guns and shout at people. They get off on it. The only thing they like better is to shoot your dog, or you if they think they can get away with it. A lot of real sicko's in the police in this country. And they wonder why we don't like them...

-2

This is what I would do. Most courts allow you to ask them to waive things by mail. Use google maps street view to show there was no speed limit signs between the offramp and the spot you were stopped. Also explain you are out of the country and would like to move the case to x country as physically getting to a texas courthouse would be expensive difficult and time consuming (this should get the point across that you are unable to go to the local court). You would like them to give you video from the officer's car and any body cams he had due to threatening you and his discrimination against you so you can build a case against the police department.

You may get the ticket dismissed especially if they think they will lose. Adding the bit about the dashcam and body cam with the drawn weapon and feeling threatened might be enough to get them to drop it.

Unfortunately this is pretty typical everywhere in republican counties. please don't drop your money there again and instead come to california. Our cops are way more civil ;)

If they do not drop it make sure you get the body cam footage and build a case it may net you a good $20k+ depending on how noisy you are with it. Post them online ask for funding through go fund me type sites etc.


ok so some are confused by my suggestions. Please note if you do not want to fight it then simply paying it is hassle free ish. but if you want to fight it then:

In the letter show there were no speed limit signs between the off ramp and where you were stopped by using google street view. Ask them for the officer's body cam and dash cam video of the incident stating you were targeted as a foreigner and the officer had his gun drawn and was yelling something about if you were from California for some reason. You would also like to know when his radar gun was calibrated last and also how he determined you were driving at the speed you were driving. Ask for a change of venue to your country (this will get denied of course but it will also get their attention).

You can also send a letter to any foreign consulates there about this incident and possibly the local government as well.

you can also mention you are looking into going after the police department for their unprofessional behavior. and once you get the videos, might take a few phone calls, you can then post them on travel websites.


Apparently I am horrible at explaining things so here's another go.

Use google maps to show no signs. Get their attention asking for a change of venue. Show them you are willing to fight by asking for videos and other data to build your case. Put some extra pressure on them by contacting the consulate and the local government offices there. This shows a mix of things primarily your ticked and will try to go after them, you're not planning to pay and they can't make you, and lastly you may end up embarrassing them, causing a minor international issue, or reducing vacation revenue.

Most importantly show them you may have a case against them due to the pointing the gun, threatening you, and targeting you because you are a foreigner. You may be able to add in the innate bias against california as well.

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    "Move the case to x country?" I have truly never heard of a procedure where a speeding ticket can be handled in another country! How would that even work? – Zach Lipton Nov 15 '16 at 5:23
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    +1 for "don't drop your money there again and instead come to California". I'd pay the ticket to avoid future legal issues, but write to the local chamber of commerce and tourist promotion authorities offering them a chance to make amends before you spam your experience as far and wide as you are able on the internet. Of course it's possible that this county doesn't want tourists! – nigel222 Nov 15 '16 at 9:10
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    @CcDd What would that point be? Trying to look stupid by saying something nonsensical? – svick Nov 15 '16 at 11:45
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    this is really weird advice – galois Nov 15 '16 at 14:52
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    You had me with "Use google maps street view ...", but then you immediately lost me with everything following that. – Kevin Fegan Nov 16 '16 at 12:02

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