Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 6th, 2007 at 9:09 am
The other day I met someone who claimed to have gotten more tickets while on their bicycle than anyone else in town. While I don’t think that’s anything to be proud of, I did think it was an interesting story and I was curious to know more.
I asked the person, who asked to remain anonymous, a few questions:
How many outstanding tickets do you currently have?
“I’ve gotten around 10 tickets, with the average being a “failure to yield to a traffic control device” at $242. My total bill is somewhere around $2000, which is more than any other biker that I know of. A few of these tickets have been issued while I was riding through a yellow light. How? Turns out that in Oregon law, a yellow is to be treated the same as a red light. Obviously cops never enforce this one, save for special occasions like Critical Mass or Driving While Black. I’ve also gotten one for “improper lane change” even while signaling my turn. But my favorite was “improper use of the road” for standing by the side of the road and questioning a cops legal basis for issuing another cyclist a citation.”
Why do you think you’ve gotten so many?
“Well, I was one of the few cyclists who didn’t immediately quit CM [Critical Mass] when they turned the heat up, a few years ago. As such, I had a lot of experience dealing with police tactics in this new, beaten down version of CM. Most of the riders at this point were first time CM’ers, since the old ones had been scared off. As new riders, they had no idea how to deal with the police, like which streets to avoid during the ride (for instance, streets with bike lanes allowed the cops to ticket everyone outside of the bike lane, so it’s best to avoid those streets), basically myself and a few others to be unnamed, had to guide the ride to the safest routes, and teach people how to avoid being arrested/pepper-sprayed.
For the record, I was never arrested, because I know exactly how far my legal rights extend and what police can arrest you for, and what they can’t. The cops apparently saw me as a “leader” -a ridiculous term when talking about CM, but one they used. And the first thing a cop is trained to do in crowd control is take out the person who the most people are listening to, or just the loudest one, I guess I qualified as both. So, every time I rode, I got ticketed.”
What’s the status of these tickets?
“Unpaid, every one of them.”
“The first two tickets I received, I went to court to fight them. That’s when the judge informed me that the burden of proof for a violation (i.e. traffic violations) rests on the defendant. In short, for violations, you are considered guilty until you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are innocent.
Misdemeanors and felonies are different, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. But, in traffic situations, a judge will always side with the cops. Even if you bring witnesses. So, after that, I just stopped worrying about paying them for a few reasons. One, I didn’t and still don’t have $2000 to throw away. At the time, I was unemployed, and even now, I’m marginally employed. Two, these tickets were all given out of harassment. It’s pretty hard for me to stomach paying the police money for the privilege of being harassed. I’ve never received a single ticket, outside of CM. I’m a very safe biker.”
Do you have a lawyer?
“No, I can’t afford one. Money will solve all your legal problems I discovered. If you have it, you can hire a good lawyer to get you out of any problem, and at worse, even if convicted, you can still pay the court fees. It’s hard to have faith in a legal system in which money plays such a huge part. I think the only two people who believe in the legal system anymore are the naïve ones, and the ones who profit off of it.”
Are you worried about bounty hunters and warrants?
“Nope. Why? Well, after doing some research, I discovered that in the state of Oregon, an officer cannot arrest someone for a violation. As such, no bench warrant can be issued for unpaid traffic tickets in Oregon. The worst they can do is suspend your driver’s license. And they did. So, my license to drive a car is now suspended because I ride my bike. Make sense? Didn’t think so. However, I’ve been car-free for around seven years, so not being able to drive a car is sort of irrelevant to me. Ideally, it would be nice if my license was reinstated so I could help my friends with the driving on long distance road trips, and the occasional FlexCar rental.”
Have the tickets changed your behavior?
“Not really. I did give up on attending CM though. Not because of the tickets, but because it just got so tiresome dealing with police harassment every two blocks.”