Tell the Truth; but, Take Good Notes

BY T.F. STERN

There was a clever quote by Mark Twain shared on Facebook, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”.  I thought about that for a moment and then decided it was lacking something important, which might annoy folks seeing as I was contradicting one of America’s foremost minds.

Yes, it’s important to tell the truth because once you start telling lies, eventually you’ll forget which lie you told and you’re going to be caught.

But keeping good notes about the truth is important too; especially if you expect to remember details down the road.

To illustrate my point, back when I was a police officer for the City of Houston, I’d write traffic tickets and later appear in court if the driver wished to contest the ticket.

I developed a short code consisting of letters and numbers to jog my memory on details which were associated with each violation.  If the driver ran a red light; but claimed the light was yellow, down in the corner of the traffic ticket I’d put “CY”.

I’d also put how many car lengths from the intersection the driver was when the light turned red prior to driving on through that red light; 1,2,3 and so on… but reserved ½ to indicate that the driver not only ran the red light; but had accelerated rather than tried to stop. This was a simple way to be able to testify to what I’d seen when it came time in traffic court, often months after the ticket had been issued.

One afternoon after having testified about a driver having run a red light by 3 car lengths the judge stopped the prosecutor, looked at me and asked, “Didn’t the driver run the red light by 3 and a half car lengths?”  I couldn’t help but smile as I refrained from outright laughing.

“No, Sir.  She ran the red light by 3 car lengths.”

“Then what’s this 3 and a half you marked down at the bottom of the ticket?”  Judges aren’t supposed to enter evidence like that, not even in traffic court.  It turns out this judge had a law office across the street from one of my favorite intersections for writing red light tickets.  He’d take notes on his own and then compare my testimony to what he’d observed and jotted down on a note pad. 

I suppose he was satisfied that my testimony matched with his own observations; but that didn’t justify him adding to my testimony.

“Your Honor, the 3 indicated how far from the intersection her vehicle was when the light turned red and the ½ noted that she’d put her foot through the accelerator trying to beat the light.”  I’d successfully explained my notation; but then the judge asked another question.

“What’s this letter “B” indicate, Officer Stern?”  I had to pause, momentarily looking into the heavens for help prior to answering.

“Belligerent, Sir.”  I’d pulled it off and thanked my folks silently for having expanded my vocabulary over the years.  The prosecutor nearly fell over as he confined a belly laugh at hearing my off the cuff response. No doubt, this particular traffic violator had been a real…alter that, had been, belligerent.

As you can see, taking good notes helps to jog your memory even when you’re telling the truth; especially when you’re telling the truth.


t-f-stern-1Self-Educated American, Senior Edi­tor, T.F. Stern is both a retired City of Hous­ton police offi­cer and, most recently, a retired self-employed lock­smith (after serving that industry for 40 plus years). He is also a gifted polit­i­cal and social com­men­ta­tor. His pop­u­lar and insight­ful blog, T.F. Sterns Rant­i­ngs, has been up and at it since January of 2005.


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