Hondling with the Bureaucracy

November 17, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Department of Motor Vehicles – the epitome of bureaucracy. I suspect I’m not the only sociology teacher who uses it as an example in the unit on bureaucracy. In an intro text, a picture of an office carries this caption: “Bureaucracies, such as this Department of Motor Vehicles, are organized according to hierarchical and rule-driven forms of social organization.” Hierarchy of authority and universalism, just as Weber says.

A few weeks ago, I found a ticket on my windshield: improper display of registration sticker. The glue holding my sticker to the windshield had proven not up to the task, and one side of the sticker had curled away from the windshield.

I didn’t know that the Parking Violations Bureau was so offended by impropriety. Nor did I think that the iron cage of a rule-driven bureaucracy would stretch the rules for me. But I was pissed. So I took some pictures, typed a very brief objection, and checked the box marked “Not Guilty.”

I was pretty sure that their response would be to quote the relevant passage in the law and tell me to pay the $65. Or maybe, just maybe, they’d uphold my plea. I figured that in the rules, these were the only two possibilities – guilty or not guilty.

Instead, the PVB has a deal for me.

(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

So the bureaucracy wants to hondle. They’re saying in effect, “The fine is sixty-five dollars . . . . but for you, forty-three.” And I thought plea bargaining was just for criminal court.

I wonder if Weber is turning over in his iron cage. I’m also wondering what happens if I make a counter-proposal. I offer them $20, and we finally settle at $30 or so. Oh, I know what the paragraph below the offer says – take it or risk an all-or-nothing decision. But what the hell – if they’re willing to knock off a third of the price just because I sent in a couple of photos, maybe they’ll come down a little further.


Corey said...

Jay, this is hysterical. I am going to share it with my Criminal Justice Processes course. We spend a whole unit on the "trial tax".

I would contest this in court. Take your photograph, look up information about the viscosity of self adhesive, ask the judge or magistrate why the State of New [York | Jersey] (I don't remember which state is yours) provided you, the tax-payer, with obviously inferior materials which made it impossible to comply with the law. Indeed, there is no mens rea in this incident; your sticker was fine when you left it that morning.

If you have a clean driving record, the court almost always dismisses these things. Of course, given the financial budgetary mess, many jurisdictions have ramped up these kinds of administrative enforcements to generate revenue. Such activity strains the State's already tenuous legitimacy.

The magistrate may hold you responsible for the full amount, but make them spend double that (in terms of the court costs, the ticketing officer's court-pay, etc) to collect.

Jay Livingston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay Livingston said...

Corey, thanks. I'm going to plead NOT guilty . . . by mail (the time lost in going down to court isn't worth the $43 I might save). I checked the NY Parking website, and Code 70 refers only to a sticker that is "covered, faded, defaced or mutilated so that it is unreadable." And you're right about the inferior glue. Now that I'm sensitized to it, I noticed other cars with stickers curling away from the windshield.