Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on April 21st, 2006 at 10:14 am
Allan Folz is the third cyclist in as many weeks to successfully defend himself in court. Earlier this week, he fought a citation he got while riding to work in Beaverton back in February (read his story in the Forums). His victory follows the cases of Sean Barrett and Mike Reuter who also took the initiative and won respect from a system that still caters to car culture and leaves cyclists guilty until proven innocent.
We’re still many years away from garnering the same respect in the system as motorized vehicles, so it’s up to us to demand it. We need to educate ourselves and be willing to fight for our rights when necessary. Here are some great tips from Allan about how your can increase your chances of victory in court:
- When going to trial prepare many times more than you think you need to. Have a script of questions you want to ask written out ahead of time. Try to anticipate all possible statements the witnesses may make and have questions scripted to follow-up on any of those points.
- Be polite. I thought I was polite, yet not yielding or deferential to the cop or witnesses. The judge picked up on my unyielding demeanor, and in his lecture more or less told me I was a rude person. If I had actually allowed myself to be rude (easy to do when faced with a bunch of motorists acting like bikes-don’t-belong) in addition to unyielding I’m sure the judge would have been even more disinclined to believe my side of the story.
- Recognize many police officers are ignorant or outright wrong concerning statutes that apply to bicyclists. They make many mistakes and errors. Don’t bother to argue or attempt to educate them. Save it for the trial. At trial, be an expert on the law yourself and be ready to object to any factual mistakes an officer makes.
- You are guilty until proven innocent, so you must prove your innocence. This is always the case in traffic court, but as a cyclist it applies doubly so. That means you have to be all the more prepared and ready for every eventuality. Defending oneself in traffic court is a tough job. At trial when nerves are tingling and adrenaline is rushing, you won’t be thinking clearly. You need to have planned and rehearsed your cross-examination questions so they are down cold. They should be second nature. You should be able to quote them as easily as dialog from your favorite movie.
I hope people like Allan will continue share what they’ve learned. It would be great to set up a legal resource space in a law office or at the BTA where cyclists could go to learn more about the laws, prepare for trials, and get advice.
Hopefully someday we won’t have to do so much work just to protect our basic rights, but until then we can’t allow the courts, law enforcement personnel and motorists to disrespect our rights and get away with it.