Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lessons Learned from Fighting a Wrongful CVC 21202(a) Citation

In March 2009 I was cited for violating CVC 21202(a). The Police Officer understood that code as mandating that bicycles always operate as far to the right as possible. You can read the Court Transcripts, My Appellant’s Opening Brief, and the City Attorney's Respondent’s Brief. I was found GUILTY in court, but was able to convince the City Attorney that I was not in violation, and they agreed that the trial decision should be overturned. It may be several more months before the Appellate Judges actually issue a decision, but with the City Attorney’s endorsement, they will overturn the traffic court decision.

The following is a list of things I wish I had known or wish I had done differently in dealing with this entire situation. Perhaps you can learn from my experiance:

1) Make sure you know the vehicle code pertaining to bicycles, verbatim, and don’t violate it. If you aren’t operating in conjunction with the law, you don’t have a leg to stand on and you make all cyclists look bad.

2) If you are pulled over, and it is apparent that the law enforcement officer does not understand the law, do your best to not argue the point. Road-side “educating” will, most likely, not end in a handshake and a heartfelt “take care.” It will end in a ticket. Avoid the ticket and ensuing court battle by keeping your mouth shut, taking the “lesson” the officer is teaching you, and moving on. Make sure you get the officer’s name for the next step. . .

3) Correct improper law enforcement by contacting the officer’s superior after the incident. This gives you a chance to review the pertaining section of the vehicle code to ensure you are 100% correct, gather your thoughts and your argument, and present both in a much more clear and less emotional manner. You are calling the superior because you are concerned for cyclists’ safety and police misunderstanding, not as a personal vendetta.

4) Contact your City Council member and inform them that their efforts to educate law enforcement are inadequate.

5) If you do find yourself with an unjust citation you have 3 options:
1. Pay the fine
2. Contest the citation via mail-in argument. This gives you a good opportunity to write out a well-argued position, and really remove emotion from the discussion.
3. Take the matter to court. Be aware that going to traffic court requires a visit to the courthouse prior to the actual trial, as you will have to appear before a judge to enter your Not Guilty plea, and set a date for the actual trial.

****6) If you have decided to take the matter to trial, arrive PREPARED! Contact the SDCBC and attain expert witness (certified cycling safety instructor) to testify on your behalf. Do not assume that facts and logic will prevail. Assume, rather, that you are responsible for proving not only that you weren’t violating the vehicle code, but are responsible for showing why the vehicle code was written the way it is. You have to assume that the judge and police officer are anti-bicycle and don’t like bicycles in the traffic lanes. You have to prove not only that you are allowed in the lane, but WHY you are allowed in the lane. Bring cycling safety instructions. Bring expert witnesses. Be Prepared!****

7) If you are found in violation in court, contact SDCBC and appeal! The appeals process is not simple, but it isn’t impossible to navigate on your own. Legal assistance would be very helpful during the process. It can be time consuming, confusing, and difficult, but the results may prove well worth the effort; not just for you personally, but for all cyclists in California.

8) Contact the San Diego City Council and tell them what you’ve been through because of their inability to educate law enforcement.

PLEASE feel free to contact me if you have any questions about how to proceed in any situation. I’m not an expert, but I’ve been through the whole process and can certainly lend a hand or give advice on how to proceed. I am not a lawyer, just a guy who’s been through the ringer on this one. Avoid my pain.