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Tribal traffic ticket trouble


On a cold sunny day not too long ago the task befell on me to deliver a motorcycle to a customer living in the no man's land between Santa Fe and Los Alamos. The customer to whom the bike was being delivered was, well interesting. The map the shop manager gave me was a good one, but a lot of the little roads and small communities out barely show up on them at all if at all. So here I am driving the company truck with a motorcycle in the back looking for nonexistent information on a map and trying to read these funky little county road signs. I keep pulling over to call the customer who sometimes answers the phone and sometimes does not and gives conflicting directions. OK, you get the idea.

I had just pulled back out on to the road when the dreaded flashing lights showed up behind me. I had no idea what I had done wrong but I dutifully pulled over. Seems I had run a stop sign which I did not see, and honestly, could barely see it even after the "cop" had pulled me over.

Here I must digress for a moment. One of the things that is unusual about this area of New Mexico is how the land is divided up piecemeal between United States property and Tribal Indian lands more commonly known as pueblos.

Above is an overall map of New Mexico tribal areas. For a more detailed map click here

Turns out when I got the ticket I found out I had actually been stopped by the tribal police who have jurisdiction even on public roads they happen to cross pueblo land. The traffic tickets they hand out do not go on your driving record nor are they reported to your insurance which is a good thing, but they still cost you. However, the information the tribal police and justice system gives you about how to clear things up is incomplete and misleading.

Initially the officer told me that I had to go to court, in Pojoaque no less, then he said I could just pay the $60.00 fine. Ok great, but wait, you have to show in in court even if you just want to admit guilt and pay the fine. I did a mental double-take on that one and asked for clarification and was assured that indeed, yes, one does have to show up to court just to plead guilty and pay the fine. The paperwork (ticket) I was handed seemed to confirm this.

Two week later I had to take the morning off from work and drive from Santa Fe to Pojoague, checkbook in hand, to sit out my court appearance and pay my fine. When I walked into the tribal justice building there on the left was a little window with a large sign that said, "pay traffic fines here." As it turns out you can go to the justice center any day of the week during business hours and handle your fines or, I also found out, you can indeed just MAIL THEM IN! No one in the system will tell you any of this in advance of course. But wait, they have one final trick up their sleeve. They only take cashiers or certified checks, not cash, no credit cards, nothing. Another fact that appears nowhere on the paperwork or will anyone tell you. Which means you either have to go to one of the local grocery stores and pay an overpriced fee to get a certified check, provided you have the right kind of debit card or cash, or go somewhere else to get one. The other option being, which is the one I chose, just go home and get a cashiers check from your own bank at mail it in which is what you could have done the first place.

Is there a point to this rather long rant? Yes there is, two in fact. First, be very careful when driving on tribal lands, the local lawmen are just out there waiting to pop you for the slightest infringement. Second, if do get busted just get a certified check and mail it in! Of course one could try to fight it in tribal court, but given my experience that seems like it would be a pointless venture.