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Lawyer creates DIY toolkit for citizen prosecutions

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 25th, 2008 at 11:46 am

Lawyer Ray Thomas during a press
conference earlier this month.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Portland lawyer Ray Thomas has released a do-it-yourself toolkit of resources and case studies meant to help anyone who seeks to bring violators of traffic laws to justice.

The process, known as a "citizen initiation of violation proceedings," is based on an Oregon law (ORS 153.058) that gives a citizen the right to file a traffic citation against another citizen.

Back in February, we followed a high-profile example of this process.

In that case, Christopher Heaps (a lawyer by training) and several volunteers spent hours requesting paperwork from the police and negotiating the court system to force a driver of a car who had hit a woman on a bike to show up in court and face justice.

The driver in that collision was not initially charged with any infraction, even though she turned across a bike lane, hit someone, and caused serious injuries. After the police declined to cite the driver, Heaps filed his own citation for "failure to yield to a bicycle in a bike lane". The driver ended up pleading "no contest" to the citation and was forced to pay a fine.

Now, Ray Thomas wants to streamline that process and arm more people with the information needed to carry out this process.

On a page on his firm's website titled, Citizen Prosecution of Dangerous Drivers: A Users’ Guide on How Others Have Done It and How You Can Do It for Yourself, Thomas offers several resources including;

  • an 'Action Pamphlet' titled the Do-it-Yourself Guide to Citizen Initiation of Violation Proceedings,
  • three step-by-step case studies (including court documents, copies of emails, letters etc...) from citizens who have gone through the process,
  • and a uniform citation form, the "ticket form" that is used by police during traffic stops.

You can download all the documents and learn more about the process at the Swanson, Thomas & Coon website.

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Comments
  • Axe June 25, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Wow, this sounds great. Thanks to Ray Thomas for putting this together.

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  • a.O June 25, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Nice work, Ray...a great civic service for those dealing with the recalcitrance of law enforcement officials or simply the recklessness of those who choose not to share the road.

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  • Kronda June 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Perfect timing. I was almost run down in a *parking lot* today and a helpful pedestrian behind me got the license. The guy cruised through the stop sign and across the ped walkway at about 15 mph and when I yelled at him to stop, just looked at me like *I* was being unreasonable.

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  • GLV June 25, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    This has enormous potential for backfire against the intended users (presumably cyclists). Add this to the laundry list of reasons not to run stop lights while on a bike.

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  • Spanky June 25, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    No license plate on bike = diffcult for anyone to initiate a citizen prosecution of violation against a cyclist. The most likely things the person wishing to do so (whether cyclist, ped or motorist) might get will be a case of frustration and perhaps the finger from the odd rare rude cyclist.

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  • Paul June 25, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    You know, I\'ve wondered if a little process like this could create a citizen based red-light camera system. It could be nice at the HAWK light crossings, have a couple of folks with cameras and hit the button.

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  • David Dean June 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Or citizen based speed enforcement in neighborhoods, radar guns are cheap.

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  • a.O June 25, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    \"No license plate on bike = diffcult for anyone to initiate a citizen prosecution of violation against a cyclist.\"

    And so, it would seem, much easier to initiate one against a motorist by getting the license plate number, right?

    Not so. This is another myth perpetuated by the ignorant ragin cager set and their apologists whining about the evil, \"rude\" cyclists.

    The law requires the address of the person alleged to have committed the violation. But one\'s address is part of \"personal information\" protected from disclosure by the Oregon privacy law. (This remains true despite the fact that addresses have been printed in every phone book for the past 50 years by default, not to mention tons of other places.)

    So unless you already have the address(likely from a previous collision), or you are someone entitled to receive disclosure of personal information, a list that does not include regular people but does include attorneys, you will not be initiating a citizen citation from a license plate number.

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  • peejay June 25, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Paul and David:

    While I think it\'s a great idea to conduct our own \"stings\" at places known for bike abuse by motorists, aren\'t we letting the PPB off the hook? What if they still get their cut from the fines? What if all the time they save not having to do actual police work allows them to rove around looking for more cyclists to tase?

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  • peejay June 25, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    And if you think I\'m being a little cynical, perhaps it\'s because just today I had to complain about an aggressive police officer who tried to intimidate me on the Hawthorne Bridge.

    At about six this evening, I was crossing East on the Hawthorne, and when I got up to the bus stop, I saw a motorcycle cop doing a little radar sting. The problem was that his front tire was fully in the bike lane, and I (very respectfully) let him know it. My exact words were \"You\'re blocking the bike lane. That\'s not cool.\" What happened next was a little surprising, to say the least.

    He started up, and turned on his flashers, and went after me. When he told me to stop, I did so, since I did not want to end up like Rev Phil. He got off his motorbike, and got right up in front of me, and yelled \"What did you say?\" I told him I thought his front wheel was blocking the bike lane, which made me have to veer into the bus lane. He said, \"So?\" I asked for his badge number, which he would not give me, although his name badge said Hedges. Then he asked me why I didn\'t stop and talk to him like a man instead of \"running away like a coward.\" At that point I told him I felt he was not behaving rationally, and I was no longer going to talk. After a little more posturing, he got on his bike and sped away.

    I mean, WTF? Do they have such thin skin that they cannot take a little safety advice? I totally understand the job he was doing, and want him to keep doing it, but please, could we have a PPB that doesn\'t think everybody they talk to is the enemy?

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  • zilfondel June 26, 2008 at 12:13 am

    I have a friend who was hit by a car while riding through a crosswalk. His insurance company wanted HIM to pay the car driver. This was in Eugene - any advice for him? They finally relented and offered to pay him 60% of the cost of repairs to his bicycle. Oh, and this was a cop who hit him, too.

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  • Racer X June 26, 2008 at 12:38 am

    Yes my favorite guerilla speed education tool is made by Bushnell:

    http://www.shopbushnell.com/detail/BSN+101911

    Stop by any [GI] Joes store and get one!

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  • mike June 26, 2008 at 6:58 am

    re #12

    this radar gun is a lot cheaper:
    http://www.fabuloustoyznthingz.com/hot-wheels-radar-gun.html

    and works fine for a DIY neighborhood speed trap:
    http://cockeyed.com/science/radar/radar.shtml

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  • Spanky June 26, 2008 at 7:17 am

    aO: Ragin\' cager eh? That\'s a constructive term sure to be helpful in rational discussions of conflicts between roadway users.

    I agree there\'s a lot of misinformation out there on this issue. But I think anyone would admit that it is a bit easier to potentially identify a motor vehicle operator with a license plate to at least potentially start with than a description of a (for example) description of \"a guy on a reddish bike wearing a yellow jacket.\" All one would need to do would be get in touch with a friendly or helpful lawyer and have the plate run.

    I\'d venture that there are more bad car drivers out there than bad cyclists, but there are bad operators behind all modes of transport whether bike, truck, car, bus or Max train. Or shoe.

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  • a.O June 26, 2008 at 8:51 am

    \"Ragin\' cager eh?\"

    Hey, if you\'re going to use stereotypes like \"rude cyclist[s]\" who give \"the finger\" to motorists, then I guess you\'ll have to be prepared to be met with the same level of discourse. I\'m tired of the stereotyping of people who ride bikes. So I\'ll stop using the stereotypes if you will - deal?

    And of course you\'ve pointed out the obvious: Bicycles don\'t have license plates.

    But, as I said, the only time a cyclist can file a citizen citation without the help of a lawyer is if the cyclist already has the motorist\'s personal info. And the only likely scenario for that is where there has been a collision and police involvement. In that case, the motorist will also have access to the cyclist\'s personal info in the same manner as the cyclist - through the police.

    So in the most likely situation where a citizen citation could be easily filed, both the motorist and the cyclist would have the same opportunity to file.

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  • Rodney June 26, 2008 at 9:02 am

    \"ignorant ragin cager set and their apologists whining about the evil, \"rude\" cyclists.\"

    If people on both sides of the argument would stop the name calling maybe we could focus on the facts and come to some level of agreement.

    Once you start the name calling it doesn\'t matter whether your points are valid or not because the other party is going to focus on being insulted rather than listening to your point of view.

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  • Laura June 26, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Peejay #10, you weren\'t the only harassed bicyclist last night. My husband saw two cyclists get pulled over (maybe you were one of them?) by two different cops on the eastbound Hawthorne around 6pm. He was bothered enough by it to call me and warn me to be especially \"legal\" and \"not my usual bitchy self\" on my ride home.

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  • Spanky June 27, 2008 at 7:17 am

    Lighten up Francis. I made a reference to the rare rude cyclist giving the finger. I did not generalize about all cyclists (a group I belong to, and I\'ve never given the finger to anyone from teh seat of my bike, nor, I venture have you or most cyclists). And I imagine that not all \"ragin\' cagers\" are \"ignorant.\" And who, exactly are \"their apologists\"? Anyone who disagrees with you on any point, no matter how minor?

    This is not a discussion worth continuing. My points have been made I think. I tried to make them as diplomatically as possible, but as sometimes happens, I guess I offended you. Sorry. Namaste.

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  • a.O June 27, 2008 at 8:10 am

    No, you didn\'t offend me. You just failed to make your point properly. Sorry. Namaste.

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  • a.O June 27, 2008 at 8:16 am

    Oh, and the people I was referring to were the people who threatened my life and called me part of a \"bike mafia\" who were \"out to get\" motorists when I did the citation Jonathan wrote about above.

    But of course I was using those terms to get you to think more carefully about how you were referring to cyclists. I guess that worked OK.

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