Every animal on earth has to pee sometime. Urination is perhaps the most natural thing we still do, thus why it is often referred to as nature calling. For most of human history, we like all other animals have been peeing outside, and in many parts of the world the majority of people still do. And even in industrialized countries where indoor plumbing has been the norm for about a hundred years, I think one would be hard pressed to find anyone who has never urinated outdoors. In contrast, the imposition of laws to govern human behavior is anything but natural. No other species of animal have written and codified laws, nor prisons to punish offenders. But laws are now a major part of our current way of living, so much so that many human animals can not even imagine a society without them. The imposition of laws upon us is rationalized as being for our own protection. In some cases Laws clearly have nothing to do with our safety and far more to do with protecting those who exploit people or other animals for profit, yet still there does exist those few laws that are hard to disagree with without looking like a psychopath. Hate crimes legislation for example, or laws that seek to punish sex offenders. Yet as Joel Schwabe found out recently even these laws can be used to criminalize and repress people who have really done piss all wrong.
-Interview with Joel Schwabe, interviewed by Comrade Black
CB: Can you elaborate on what happened that lead up to you being charged?
JS: I was stuck near the Snowqaulmie pass on I-90 heading east. It was Memorial Day long weekend, and traffic was packed. There was a line of cars that must have been 3-5 miles long. The combination of the long weekend, the festival goers, and a bout of highway construction resulted in traffic slowing to a crawl, and stopping completely for long periods of time. About half an hour after I had crawled past the last exit, I realized I needed to urinate soon. I was looking left and right for appropriate places to go, and noticed that some people were pulled over on the left hand shoulder, and peeing on the barrier. I’m a shy pisser, so I was looking for something a bit more discrete. An hour later, and not much further down the road, I found a double wide shoulder on the right, near an on ramp, and pulled over to take a leak on the barrier, my body “hidden” between my car and facing away from traffic, onto a barrier. Granted, I could see a few cars on the desolate road leading to the on ramp, but the barrier was waist height, and I was as quick as possible. The moment I get back into the car, I see a police officer right behind me in the mirror. He comes up and says “Does this look like a restroom to you?” to which I manage, “Um….no…sorry, but-” and he cuts in with “Do you think these people here enjoy looking at your wiener? I’m writing you up for indecent exposure.” This is almost word for word what he said. And then he headed back to his car to write me up.
CB: And what exactly are the charges you are facing?
JS: The charge was indecent exposure, which is essentially: exposure of the genitals in public with the purpose of causing affront or alarm. Like an old man with a trench coat flashing kids at the playground. That kind. It has a possible $2000+ fine, as well as up to 90 days in county jail. My lawyer told me that it would not count as a sexual offense for your first time. If convicted however, I would have that possibility lurking in the background. Laws can be retroactively changed in America, and it could, in the future, be a zero strike situation, and I would be labeled a sex offender(level 1 of 3).
CB: Do you feel you had any other options? Was there a public washroom near by?
JS: My other options would have been: take the earlier exit, tried to make it to a small town, or: pee in a bottle. If you google “Snoqualmie Pass, Kittitas, Washington” you’ll see that it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and a bad place to be stuck. I probably would have just ended up peeing in the woods somewhere. I didn’t want to pee in a bottle because I was driving, and there were three ladies in the car. And it would have been super awkward to try to do, because my car is standard, and half of the crawl was very slowly uphill. It wasn’t quite slow enough at some points that I could have just stopped and pissed in a bottle. I’d thought of it though.
CB: Did the cop who charged you have any suggestions as to where you could have peed instead or what else you could do to have relieved the situation?
JS: The cop told me that there was a rest stop 7 miles back and 3 miles ahead as well. I didn’t see clear signage for either of them, and it wouldn’t have helped my situation either way, because of where the traffic started to back up.
CB: What would happen if you simply ignored this and continued on with your life as if it never happened?
If I ignored this, I wouldn’t notice anything at first, it’s not important enough for them to try and extradite me. However, I would not be able to travel to, or through, the US, as a warrant would be out for my immediate arrest. At that point, I would have multiple other charges laid against me(I assume, for failing to show, etc.). I would probably spend a good while in prison.
CB: You were recently offered a pee bargain… er sorry, plea bargain. Can you tell us more about that?
JS: I chose not to take the offer. My lawyer said it was one of the best offers she’s ever seen offered, and that it was also offered very quickly. It was a good enough offer in my eyes, but I feel that even though the charges are dropped if you take the offer, that you are still in some small way admitting guilt. I was willing to take the chance to push all the way to prove my innocence.
Note that I would not argue at all if I had gotten a ticket for public urination. I would have paid my fine and been done with it, knowing that justice had properly been served. I’m strictly arguing that I did not indecently expose myself.
CB: If you were to be found guilty for whatever reason what would be the possible repercussions you would be facing?
JS: If my case went to full trial, it would be a trial by jury, and for me to be guilty 12 people would have to agree that in a 3+ hour traffic jam, a young man pulls over to the side of the road and: A) pees, or B) decides that it’s a good time to flash people for kicks. Hopefully I’ll have an intelligent bunch and they can, even without any evidence to support my case, see that it’s obviously A because ‘Occam’s Razor’(pick the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions).
If not, then I’ll probably face a modest $1000+ fine with a week or two in jail. But that’s purely speculation.
CB: In what ways has this already affected your life?
JS: It’s made me lose a lot of sleep, put me in a prolonged state of stress, not knowing if I’ll be going to jail, not knowing how to plan for the worst.
CB: It seems like it would be pretty expensive to have to travel to another country for court and hire a lawyer. How are you affording all this?
JS: It’s very expensive, especially for multiple trips. My lawyer gave me a good price for her representation ($1000 flat fee, as opposed to $2000-3000 normally), and each round trip will cost approximately $450.
I’m lucky enough to have lots of really awesome friends. Near the end of June, I had a fundraising kegger party/raffle/bake sale. With the help of my family and friends we managed to raise over $1700 in a single night. It was amazing to see so much support. And people said that the party was awesome too, which is great to hear.
CB: So when we started this interview your case was still going, now it is finally over. Can you tell us how it concluded?
JS: I went down Washington on the 25th of July to appear at my pre-trial. It’s a meeting between judge, prosecution and lawyer to see if things can be worked out without the use of a jury. My lawyer had presented her case to the prosecution beforehand, and they had agreed to change the charges to “public urination” in lieu of ” indecent exposure “. The only way that this was possible is because my lawyer had brought up the fact that I was in a state park at the time I was charged. This resulted in the federal laws that govern state parks overriding the Washington State laws that I was charged under. Lucky for me, federal law in the USA (for state parks at least) has a public urination section.
I ended up “getting away with it” for the measly sum of $250. After paying my lawyer, after travelling to Washington and back. So, it really cost me $1500-ish. The one cool thing I got out of it all was a great apology. It came from my lawyer. She said “I apologize to you on behalf of the whole United States. Things like this shouldn’t happen to good people, but everything has gone to shit since 9/11.”
CB: Any last thoughts you would like to share?
JS: This seems to be the part where I would say something like “Fuck the Police!” , but I’d rather say “Be incredibly careful around the police for they may find some way to make you out to be a criminal regardless of what you’re doing” .