Sovereign Immunity

I had quite the personal experience Thursday night, an experience that kept me from doing some of the things I’d have liked to in my professional life, my personal life, and on this site. Because I don’t have much of a history with Virginia law enforcement, I may have accidentally screwed up in the events leading up to Thursday night. However, if government screwed up there’ll be no accountability on their end. No apology, no way for them to restore the dignity I lost for a few hours.

What I’m sharing now is probably a part of the public record. I’m just adding the personal details.

While driving home Thursday night in bumper-to-bumper traffic in Alexandria, I suddenly had blue flashing lights in my rear view mirror. It’s become quite evident that local police are in the constant state of running people’s license plates, looking for offenders (thus possible revenue). The officer came up and explained the sticker on my license plate had expired and requested to see my vehicle registration. I told him the car was registered, but after quickly digging through my glove compartment, could not produce the registration. The officer said not to worry and would verify this from his car.

He did and found that my car was indeed registered, but there was also a bench warrant issued against me in the City of Fairfax and that my license was suspended. Again, without getting into deep personal detail, I explained to the officer that a couple of weeks prior I had gone to the Fairfax District Court building, paid a ticket, got a letter from them to produce to the DMV, and got my license reinstated and showed the officer that letter.

Even though I proved I’m legally authorized to drive, the officer told me it didn’t matter because there was an outstanding bench warrant out and asked me to step out of the car, walk to the back, and put my hands on the trunk. In the middle of rush hour traffic, he proceeded to pat me down, ask me to put my hands behind my back, and without reading my rights, put me in handcuffs and had me sit in the back of his cruiser for the next ten to fifteen minutes while waiting for another officer who’d supervise the impounding of my car.

I was then driven for less than a mile to a mini-mall parking lot where we waited for another fifteen minutes or so for a Fairfax Police officer to take me to his jail. When he arrived, I was asked to get out of the vehicle and had the handcuffs removed, told to put my hands on my head as the Fairfax officer patted me down again. Then I was told to put my hands behind my back, handcuffed again, and placed in the backseat of the Fairfax police cruiser that had zero foot room. Besides the uncomfortable factor of cuffs alone, the twenty-five or so minute trip to the Fairfax jail was one of the longest I’ve experienced in a long time.

After arrival at the jail, I received the most efficient and personal pat down in my life. My belt was removed, pants pockets were pulled and left out, and my dress shirt left half untucked.

I will add that on the way to the jail, the Fairfax officer was listening to Mark Levin, so we did get into some friendly conservative politics and that officer accompanied me the entire time while in custody.

I was then brought to booth #3 and met with a judge magistrate. He examined his computer screen and then asked me for my side of the story, which I told him truthfully and under oath. I couldn’t raise my hand to take that oath because I was still in handcuffs.

I was then lead to another area for booking.

The jail officer assigned to me looked like a moron. Sorry, if there was a physical trait one could attribute to morons, this guy had it. At one point, the television in a waiting area went to NatGeo and once seeing animals, this guy paused and smiled for about half a minute before commencing with his job.

He failed to pronounce my last name correctly. While aided with a short printout with what I assume was my information, he was very slow at inputting it, in fact (as I could see what he was doing) I’ll bet your average eight-year-old could have done it in three minutes. It took this guy near 20 minutes and that was before he electronically took my fingerprints.

I told the conservative officer that during my entire time in his custody, he performed with courtesy and professionalism. Then I told him I’d be talking about this moron tomorrow upon which the officer shook his head and smiled, clearly also irritated at the length of this process.

I was then led back to the magistrate, who after looking at all my paperwork told me it appeared I had done everything required of me with the City of Fairfax and had no idea why there was still a bench warrant out for me. Because I had been cooperative and seemed like a nice fellow, he told me I didn’t have to pay bail, placed me on an unsecured bond with the assurance I appear in court next month (which I added the date is circled in red on my calendar), and told me I was to be immediately released.

I was then taken to a public hallway, given my personal items, and it was there (three hours after my arrest) that I could make myself presentable, make a couple of cellphone calls, and walk out of the building a free man. Then again, maybe not….

If the wheels of justice stay the course, I still have a bench warrant out for my arrest. Today, I’ll be walking to the DMV to get new tags for my car so Cory can get it on Monday. But as cops in Virginia seemingly spend more time running license plates for revenue than going after bad guys, should they run ours, we could be pulled over and I arrested again. I may have this hanging over me for almost a month until my court date.

Because of this screw up, I now have a police record and a mugshot somewhere in cyberspace, neither of which I am personally or professionally happy about. Then again, with that jailhouse officer inputting my information, I could be just fine.

If it turns out this has been a governmental mistake, there is no one to hold accountable. The government has shielded itself from responsibility. I probably won’t even get a “Sorry ’bout that.” I kind of feel like a radical Muslim: paranoid and full of rage. Rage I held in for three hours Thursday night because I didn’t think it wise being expressed while in custody.

If, at the end my ignorance of Virginia law finds me at fault, so be it. But if they screwed up and left me in a constant state of fearing arrest for the coming month, I will be pissed. Not just because whomever screwed up will probably never know it, but because there is no accountability from government. The government has sovereign immunity thus it can screw with people’s lives as much as it wants.

And it will.

17 Responses

  1. eNeecie

    I find it hard to believe that the magistrate was surprised by this. I know too many people (and I don’t know that many people) who have been arrested for the same thing (including two out of three brother-in-laws) for this to be some rare anomaly. It seems to be an easy way to get more money out of people who already paid their tickets. There is just no incentive for them to fix this problem.

    I also find it hard to believe that they were running everyone’s license plates.

    • OldnyFirefighter

      eNeecie, in upstate NY most local, County & State Police have license plate scanners that will scan every passing vehicle (opposite direction) or one in front of the LEO. They know in seconds when there is a hit on the tag & will make a stop. Depending on what the “Hit” contains will determine how the stop is initiated. Many times you will leave with a warning, as long as you don’t give the LEO a hard time or have a belligerent tude. This is especially true for our younger LEO’s, as they are very well trained & the “Wise Guys” are weeded out pretty quickly. There are some exceptions in some local small Village Depts. but most are professional in their interaction with people if they (the people) are not DUI or warrant material. NY City is a totally different world, & I stay as far away as possible. Bloomberg territory! Enough said. Bob, your case would have been handled much differently in Upstate NY. NYC, not so much –  they love impounding cars at the tune of $350 for the impound & $100 day storage.

  2. The Machine

    Bob, you should immediately get the services of a good attorney familiar with VDOT and the local scene. 

    Don’t wait until your already appointed court date, don’t do things on your own and replace your plates, the attorney can get a judge to issue an order in cases such as this. 

    And as for not reading rights when cuffed, that’s a TV/Hollywood myth.  A person can be held in custody for at least 24 hours without being arrested.  If not arrested, the rights routine does not have to be addressed.  Further, creative paperwork can be used to extend that 24 hour period by a considerable amount.  Just one of those things. 

    But your predicament is not just one of those things.  It happens, and can happen to any of us.  Get hold of that lawyer pronto.  You don’t want revenge, you want your record struck so that the next LE that calls in your data does not return the false warrant.  Judge can order that to happen immediately after the gavel drops. 



  3. Chris

    If there was no Sovereign Immunity the governments would incur so many judgements that it would end up being owned by the people.  Can’t have that.

    Bet when they had you cuffed behind your back and in the back seat you did not have a seat belt protecting you.

  4. GoodMojo

    “Call me naive but from the treatment received, I can’t reach the race conclusion… yet.”  –  Bob

    Such incidents need not be racially motivated.  In my experience, they are more likely “legalized governmental racketeering” driven.

    As always, the burden of obeying the law, falls primarily on the law abiding citizen.  Committed law breakers, and officials who, make or enforce laws, often function above them.  Thus, could give a damn.

    A typical abuse of power and authority.

  5. n.n

    The police acted within the rule of law to enforce a standing warrant. Your investigation should begin with why it wasn’t withdrawn following your corrective actions. The rest, well, keep your registration current. That is sufficient reason to stop you and provide a citation. The law may differ with each jurisdiction, but that’s how its handled in Utah, and specifically Salt Lake City; and the fine is extravagant!

    If the fault is with the court, then you should request they expunge your record.  You complied and now it is their turn; but, it seem the police acted correctly on multiple counts, notwithstanding the tactless “moron”.

  6. ecotim

    Well Bob sorry to hear, I can tell you that when I was in school I did a research paper on bad data.  As much as you felt bad what has andmight happen to you there is a case in France where the records were not update and the police offers surrounded and killed an innocent man.  His only mistake was buying a car that was previously stolen by a terroist group.  The car was recovered sold but the records were not updated.

    Thus at a traffic light police swarmed his car and sprayed it with bullets.

    The only problem with record keeping is making sure the records are kept correctly.  And having someone who thinks they shuld be paid more than what they are to do the job we will have errors.

    Remember you have local support, and can call any of us Virginians to come aid you any time.

  7. RightSide


    I’d bet your first impression is correct: this was a revenue related stop. Around here  all the local cops at the beginning of the month are on the lookout for expired inspection stickers. The ticket is only $40 or $50 (did I say ONLY) but it stays on your insurance for 6 years. It’s all about writing the tickets to get the loot. I doubt it was personal.

  8. Koala

    Igor is right on about driving while black in Va. It must have taken superhuman strength to maintain your composure.


  9. Richmedia

    Your story sounds more like sovereign incompetence to me Bob.

    Was the jail officer on duty the token moron? I’m wondering if the magistrate might be a moron too, you would think that he’d have tossed the whole thing immediately and admonished the officer who took you into custody.

  10. Dave J

    Bob, I would imagine that you have some legal recourse but am not sure what an attorney would charge you to make that determination. Your car’s registration/tag stickers can be renewed online.

    Print the confirmation page and keep it in your vehicle until the new stickers arrive.  This will not keep you or your son from being pulled over but it will suffice as valid registration when prompted for same. Welcome to the “commonwealth” where tax revenues are down and record keeping is sloppy. Did the judge offer any insight as to how long it takes their system to properly clear the warrant?

  11. Iron Mike

    Virginia has long been notorious for harvesting drivers – military, Black, Hispanic… It’s been going on for generations – so it’s inbred in the cops’ DNA.

  12. Igor

    Driving while Black, Bob?

    Seems to me that there needs to be some weeding going on at the Fairfax, Virginia police force.  Clearly a lot of them are overpaid and underworked.  Clean data entry into a computer system is a MUST, and yet if something is entered in wrong (or in most cases failed to be entered) then the ramifications can be at times astonishing and/or inconvenient.  Yours borders on the criminally negligent.  Not YOUR failure to update the tabs, but the failure of the Court system to get data into the computer in a timely manner.  Lots of people every day forget to renew their tabs, and the cops are certainly justified in pulling you over, but thanks to some overworked or lazy clerk/staff, the important stuff never got entered.  Governmental bodies are quick to lean on computerized records, but willfully ignore the fact that GIGO is alive and more important to pay attention to than ever!!

    A pet peeve of mine.  Could you tell?

    But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean the Gubmint isn’t screwing with you…..  (paraphrase)  🙁


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