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Cyclists fight back in court…and win

Posted by 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.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

8 Comments
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    anon April 21, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Um, why was this clown riding on the sidewalk in the first place? Or is it allowed in beaverton?

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    joel April 21, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    As far as I can tell by reading the city code, it’s allowed. It appears there was much more to the code under chapter 6 and Bicycles, but it appears to have been removed by city ordinance 4258 back in ’03, save for a few clauses regarding impounding bikes. I can’t find the text of the ordinance online.

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    Toby April 21, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Odd no one has responded to this anonymous troll yet. While I wouldn’t generally recommend riding on sidewalks (unless the street seems unsafe for some reason), it’s allowed everywhere in Portland except for a small part of downtown. Presumably it’s also allowed in Beaverton, or Mr. Folz wouldn’t have been able to argue his case sucessfully. So I can’t see calling him a “clown” for doing something perfectly legal. That said, my experience is that it’s typically less safe to ride on sidewalks, since intersections, driveways, etc. become much less predictable.

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    Josh April 21, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    Why is this clown riding on the sidewalk?

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    Randy April 21, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Knowing that Allan is an experienced cyclist, I would have to imagine that he had a reasonably good reason for being on the sidewalk in the first place.

    As for the troll, most of us cyclists know from experience that the first thing a motorist will yell at you when you’re ‘in their way’ on the street is…drum roll please…”you’re supposed to ride on the sidewalk”

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    West Cougar April 21, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    Here’s another useful piece of preparation advice: prior to your own day in court attend a few trials and take notes on the proceedings.

    By attending some trials in advance you can see the types of questions the officers will very likely ask (they have a script of their own memorized from years of doing this stuff) and can be prepared for them. If you are lucky you will also see some of the questions (winning) defense attornies ask.

    Traffic court is always open and quite often in the evenings, so it is just a matter of making some time to attend.

    If you have a lot riding on a case, there is absolutely no reason not to attend some advance trials.

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    Andrew April 24, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    Interesting. Here in BC it’s explicitly illegal to ride on the sidewalk or in crosswalk. I blame the bike-don’t-belong pedestrian culture!

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    Evan April 25, 2006 at 7:11 am

    Did anybody out there know this?
    “League Names Beaverton, OR a Bicycle-Friendly Community”
    That from the League of American Bicyclists in 2003. What the?
    Link: http://www.bicyclefriendlycommunity.org/press_beaverton.htm

    Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone from the League actually came to Beaverton to ride a bike there. It’s funny how Portland can be such a good bike town (relatively) while Beaverton is so unsafe. I ride through Beaverton on a regular basis, and I dread it every time. Basically, Beaverton is in my way and I have no real alternative unless I take the MAX. I especially like that they widened the sidewalks on Beaverton Highway but did not add a bike lane. Maybe we really are supposed to ride on the sidewalk in Beaverton, like children? And whatever happened to that motto, “To Protect and to Serve?” Protect and serve who?

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