Monday, June 1, 2015

Word of the Month for June 2015: Culpability

Liar, liar pants on fire
You ever talked to someone who tells whoppers with enough truth to make you wonder if they're telling you the truth?  Like the guy that catches the 30 pound trout...in his backyard; or the lady who was abducted by, married, and gave birth to her monkey baby as a result of hooking up with an "alien" in a dark alley on the lower east side.  Uh, what were you doing on the lower east side in the first place?

This, of course, brings me to this month's word of the month: CULPABILITY.  According to Black's Law Dictionary, CULPABILITY means moral blame worthiness; the mental state that must be proved for a defendant to be held liable for a crime.

How does this work in real life?  The other day, a young lady handed me an example. Seems young lady was riding along a road.  As she approached a railroad crossing, one of her tires got caught in the rail preventing her from moving forward.  Seems young lady called the police.  Police and, subsequently, a tow truck arrived.  After her car was removed from the crossing, police wrote her a ticket for violation of California Penal Code section 369i(a) which states:
Any person who enters or remains upon the property of any railroad without the permission of the owner of the land, the owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession and whose entry, presence, or conduct upon the property interferes with, interrupts, or hinders, or which if allowed to continue, would interfere with, interrupt, or hinder the save and efficient operation of any locomotive, railway car, or train is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Seem straight forward enough.  Ride up on a railway and block a train and you get a ticket.  It would seem that, based on the story young lady told, that the police were WAY out of line.  Problem is, the story didn't smell right.  I mean, why would a cop write a ticket for just driving over a rail crossing - unless young lady was "messing" around?

The problem is that people are not programmed to tell the "whole" truth if the whole truth means it may put them in a less than stellar light (such as telling a white lie). I have people come to the reference desk and will tell their version of the true story and leave out those parts that make them look guilty (i.e. CULPABLE).  It's the little things that get you in trouble and most people have a problem with telling the "whole" truth.

What I suspect happened is that when the police got on the scene, young lady's car parallel to the crossing - not perpendicular to it (meaning she wasn't crossing over the rail but was, in fact, riding ON the rail and got her tire stuck). Since I was not witness to the scene, best I could suggest young lady do was to look at the California Penal Code and the ever popular Nolo Press title, How to Fight Your Ticket In California and Win.  

If ever you find yourself in a bind and would rather not tell the "whole" story, know that your friendly neighborhood law librarian really doesn't care if you leave out a few details because we're not here to judge.  We might blog about you somewhere down the road but we don't care if you're telling us the truth.  We're just here to help you get on with life regardless of circumstance.  So come on in and we'll help you out....and yes, it's just that simple.