Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prosecuting the pointless

I was interested to read this discussion string from the state prosecutors' association regarding bicycle traffic stops. The original poster wanted to know if results from searches at those stops might be suppressed and was told the evidence should get in. More interesting to me, though, were subsequent discussions of penny-ante criminal cases prosecutors are handling that make you scratch your head.

A cop in Marble Falls chimed in, "I routinely stop bicyclists at night for operating without a headlight, I actually had my first one a few weeks ago that DIDN'T have a warrant Wink"

A prosecutor from Fort Bend County added these examples:
We handle a lot of these in narcotics too, as you can already see the trend. There are some areas of town where bicycles (not cyclists) are the primary mode of transportation. Even worse, handling stops for walking on the wrong side of the road. Again, usually occurs in areas where there are no sidewalks nor road shoulder so there is a more legitimate safety concern. For both types of stops, communicating that biking and walking are more common than auto-related traffic issues is key for a jury to accept that this wasn't just chicken you-know-what. Although, in these same (urban) areas of town, you will find chickens freely roaming the streets/yards.
It's one thing to ticket cyclists violating traffic laws, but ticketing people for walking on the wrong side of the road? That can only be a priority when police have WAAAAY too much time on their hands. It's nigh unbelievable to me that any case of walking on the wrong side of the road ever makes it all the way to a jury! What an outrageous waste of time and taxpayer dollars!
These examples show how a small town like Corsicana might end up locking people up for 3,000+ bed days last year for fine-only Class C offenses.

There was some sentiment on the other side of the coin. One prosecutor admitted that, as a cyclist:

Of course, having spent three years as a bike commuter in Washington, DC I almost never stopped at stop signs. Momentum is the key to all avoidance techniques on a bicycle, and coming to a dead stop makes you very vulnerable. The one time I was hit by a car was when I was sitting still and couldn't get out of their way.
From a safety perspective, that's completely true. There are times when it's more dangerous for bicycles to follow the law because the laws (and transportation infrastructure) are made for cars, not them. Nolan County Attorney Lisa Peterson is a cyclist. She declared that:
My experience with motorists is that they want a cyclist in the gutter with the broken glass - even when turning left off a road with a turn lane. They do not understand the part of the regs that gives us the same rights and responsibilities as a motorist.

At least you rarely catch a cyclist talking on a cell phone in a school zone! Roll Eyes
Awhile back I read a law review article - I cannot now recall the title or author - which posed the question, if it were possible to construct a machine that would allow detection of every law violation and ensure 100% enforcement, should the machine be built? The fact that so many petty offenses exist on the books (not to mention 2,383 separate felonies in the Lone Star State) argues against it.

I'd be pretty grumpy if I were called for jury duty and arrived to find the state putting somebody on trial for walking on the wrong side of the street! It would leave one with the sense that criminal law has become more about job-security for cops and lawyers than justice or public safety.


Anonymous said...

First, I served on a jury once for a person who was ticketed for failing to stop at a stop sign while riding a bike. The officer testified that it was a blind intersection where the cyclist could not have seen oncoming traffic until it was too late. The defendant never refuted that statement, but based his entire defense on the "come on, its only a bike - I shouldn't have to obey the traffic law" standard. The jury was not amused. Most of the members wanted to give him a fine greater than the law allowed.

Second, I think you missed the point of the discussion. The point was not about enforcing penny ante crimes. The point was that those crimes could be used to justify a legal stop. Then the person who was stopped could be investigated for what you call real crimes (the outstanding warrants, drugs, etc. that were mentioned). In that respect, it's kind of like convicting Al Capone for tax evasion. It may seem penny ante compared to other criminal offenses, but if it gets a wanted felon off the street or stops the commission of crime such as dealing drugs, then I say good job officer.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I didn't miss the point of the discussion, 7:39, I just pivoted to a sub-topic. Read my first paragraph - I acknowledged the subject then turned to one that is "more interesting" to me.

By your logic, why not just set up checkpoints and stop every car, if we're going to troll around looking for petty violations as pretext for drug searches? Most stops of people on bikes or walking on the wrong side of the road are not taking felons off the street or intercepting drugs. In all instances where the intrusion doesn't find contraband (i.e., the vast majority), you're not prosecuting Al Capone for tax evasion, just harassing average citizens with little justifiable reason or public safety benefit.

Anonymous said...

Except the meat of your later comments then seems to imply that the prosecutions being discussed are for what you call "penny-ante crimes."

They're not prosecuting these guys for riding a bike without a headlight. They're prosecuting these guys for possession of narcotics. After all, look at what that same guy you quoted said later on in the thread:

"Recall the original content of this thread was about stopping a cat on a bicycle and finding his stash. I don't get the feeling we are talking about serious cyclists drafting down country roads on $1,000+ bikes. I mean, where would they hide it?"

Gritsforbreakfast said...

And yet, we are talking about serious cyclists. For every time such fishing expeditions succeed, they fail much more often. And in each of those failures, your "Al Capone" justification simply doesn't apply.

Anonymous said...

"For every time such fishing expeditions succeed, they fail much more often."

Do you have anything to support this assertion?

Anonymous said...

For your information, 7:39, Grits doesn't consider drug offenses "real crimes."

jimbino said...

So which is the "right side of the road" when walking on a highway. I always assumed it safest to walk facing oncoming traffic.

If that is true, how can a person hitchhike? I suppose only by standing still on the side going with traffic?

Texas, in all its Wisdom and Majesty, must have this all spelled out in the statutes.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:47 asks, "Do you have anything to support this assertion?"

Sure! In Austin consent searches result in contraband hits about 12% of the time, which means 88% of the time they fail. And stops with consent searches are a subset of total pretext stops. Do you have any data suggesting most people pulled over are guilty of more serious crimes than the traffic offense they're stopped for?

Jimbino, if there's no sidewalk or shoulder - according to the string - the law is you must walk on the left. On the highway, perhaps the shoulder would make a difference. Check the DAs string and they give a cite if you wanted to followup.

Anonymous said...

Hold on, now. Before you were talking about stops for bicycles and the like, and now you are talking about motor vehicle stops. The two are not identical.

If most officers' experiences are like the one you cited at the beginning of your post, most, if not almost all, of these so-called "bike stops" result in warrants/drugs/weapons.

Red Leatherman said...

My rant about my personal experiences with extend and destructive illegal searches on my person and in my car over the years, I can personally attest to the fact that I don't like being detained and searched for being in my car in a known drug area. That's most of north central Texas apparently.
Lake Dallas,
Oak Point,
35W between Hillsboro and Fort Worth,
Fort Worth,
Since that's the areas around my family's homes and mine and I'd probably have been stopped and unlawfully searched after refusing to consent in more areas.
The only ticket I ever got was once over ten years ago when I had turned around less a mile from home after realizing that I had forgot my wallet and a cop that knew me by first and last name (a small town) stopped me for looking suspicious, gathered about 3 or 4 official vehicles and a couple more plain clothes officers and ragged on my 6 year old daughter and me over a hour searching and pointing guns finally giving me my ticket for no drivers License.
I won't even rant about the time with the drugged sniffing dog that alerted several times.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

There's no reason to believe, 10:04, and certainly you've provided none, that bike riders are inherently more likely to be engaged in criminal activity than car drivers. Just sayin' it don't make it so.

Anonymous said...

This was so interesting and constructive to read. I feel my government is much improved from such frequent criticism. Next up, hold your breath and save the oxygen for your neighbor.

Anonymous said...

The thread to nowhere, IMO.


Anonymous said...

"The point was that those crimes could be used to justify a legal stop. Then the person who was stopped could be investigated for what you call real crimes (the outstanding warrants, drugs, etc. that were mentioned). In that respect, it's kind of like convicting Al Capone for tax evasion. It may seem penny ante compared to other criminal offenses, but if it gets a wanted felon off the street or stops the commission of crime such as dealing drugs, then I say good job officer."

Your exactly right. A lot of laws are simply used as pretexts to stop and search citizens. Of course, they are often implied unequally depending on what neighborhood one is in. For example, in Tyler, one may be stopped for walking on the wrong side of the street in North Tyler. That person is often likely to be questioned and searched. But, if the police were to treat people living in some south side neighborhoods that way there would be trouble.

Allowing these type of stops for silly things to be used as pretexts for searches is one of the reasons Texas is now a police state. Why not just do away with the pretext. Just allow officers to stop, detain and question anyone they wish anytime they wish. Take away the pretext. Would there really be any practical difference?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, meant applied, not to start proofreading.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Anon 8:46 for cutting to the chase. Always wonder when those who support pretextual stops will concur with a pretextual search of their own home for they are always seem to also be remarking about how the innocent have nothing to hide. Problem is since Adam and Eve none of us are innocent whatever we may pretend to oourselves...but that's for another discussion! :~)

Anonymous said...

That's funny i was a bicyclist in marble falls a few months ago , in February. I was Riding my bike 6 miles to wal-mart and back for Simple food. I was pulled over Twice , once for no headlight and another for riding on the wrong side of the road. "Its just crazy" , I was trying to go straight , I have over 10 thousand Dollars of surcharges. Lucky they were nice and gave me warnings. But i know the only reason the police are nice to me is Because they are aware ""Ive had IT""!!!!

I Tell them that i am working a 7.25 hour job to pay over a thousand two hundred dollar fines for DWLI and no legal Papers on my car. I barley can afford to pay my fines and now im a month late and risking a warrant.

But who cares!! I Drive Everyday and can no longer ride a bike due to heath problems. I dive with no insurance and Registration. I want as many tickets as i can Get. Only six months ago i Snapped and ran from the police because of surcharges. Got off lucky because at age 29 Ive never been to jail. ( and I'm attractive white male) Now having paid another thousand bucks I'm off Scott Free.

Now what am i supposed to do , I swear i just wish the police would have shot me when i jumped out of my car abruptly. Even if it was a tazer gun, with my Weak heart it would kill me !!

I don't know the cars about the Break down again. I Just wish i could use my 140 IQ and Perform a creditable job. But always being poor has taken to tools for an education and i wont get myself into anymore DEBT!

So now i just a fucking water-boy/busboy and just cannot wait for this pathetic life to end.

I'm sure i will end up a real Criminal Soon enough. I'm tired of not having enough money to buy cheap booze. or anything for that matter , I guess its time to move in with my ill mother!

Anonymous said...

If I'm called to jury duty for a 'walking on the wrong side', 'jaywalking', 'no headlight on a bike', or similar bs case, I will vote to acquit and hang the damn jury any way I can. No harm, no foul, the state in its infinite wisdom has made the law an ass.

velociped said...

Interesting post. Thanks for the summary.

I find several problems with both your analysis/viewpoint and the apparent reverence given to so-called "serious" cyclists. (Reverence may be the incorrect term, but seems appropriate.)

As the TDCAA thread mentions (and you seem to ignore), in Texas, bicycles are legally recognized vehicles. They are, therefore, subject to the same laws and responsibilities of any other recognized vehicle. State law requires that when operating a bicycle at night, it be outfitted with a forward facing headlight capable of being observed from 500 feet. If a cyclist is operating at night (or under low light conditions) and does not have a proper headlamp, they should be ticketed.

Though not relevant to the discussion of vehicular cycling, your contempt for the concept of "ticketing people for walking on the wrong side of the road" is curious. That, too, is a violation of the law.

§552.006(b) of the Transportation Code states: "If a sidewalk is not provided, a pedestrian walking along and on a highway shall if possible walk on the left side of the roadway; or the shoulder of the highway facing oncoming traffic."

I see no ambiguity. If there is no sidewalk and the pedestrian chooses to walk in the roadway, they must make every effort to do so on the left-hand side of the roadway — facing traffic. Issuing a citation for this is not indicative of "police [with] WAAAAY too much time on their hands." It is enforcement of a law designed to protect the pedestrian and motorist, alike.

Both you and at least one commenter referred to club/fitness cyclists as "serious cyclists". This is a ridiculous classification. As a competent, experienced vehicular cyclist, I would not consider any cyclist serious if they operated on the roadway and did so while flaunting vehicular statutes. The law says, no more than two abreast. Three or four abreast does not convey safety; it reflects cyclist inferiority.

In response to the quote from a former Washington, DC, commuter rationalizing the treatment of stop signs as yield signs, you comment: "From a safety perspective, that's completely true." No, that is completely ridiculous. There are no instances where a cyclist coming to a complete stop, looking both ways, then proceeding will represent a safety issue. The whole premise that stopping represents an impediment to transportation cycling due to loss of momentum is specious. Most every bike produced today has a multiple gear system. Shifting down to a lower gear before coming to a complete stop will represent no greater expenditure of energy or loss of momentum when resuming than any other mode of human-powered locomotion.

Furthermore, your suggestion that "the laws (and transportation infrastructure) are made for cars" is completely asinine. The transportation code is designed to regulate the operation of any and all vehicles on the public roadway system; the transportation system is designed to facilitate vehicular conveyance from one point to another. It has already been mentioned that a bicycle is a legally recognized vehicle. Therefore, there is no prejudice against cyclists in the law, when those cyclists operate in a legal, competent, predictable manner.

The quote from Lisa Peterson sums up the discussion nicely. There is a great deal of ignorance among the ranks of both motorists and cyclists. Driver education in Texas is atrocious when it comes to the consideration of alternative vehicles. Though the "Texas Driver's Handbook" devotes a whole chapter to the subject, it is, more often than not, glossed over during driver training and Defensive Driving courses. Cyclist training is no better.

Education is the key — whether a formal, proactive curriculum or being cited for violations of the statutes applicable to the operation of any recognized vehicle.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

velociped, you assume traffic in the same lane and direction pose no threat to a cyclist, only the t-bone. I don't think that's right; the sideswipe is frequently just as great a concern. Also, it's one thing to slow down in traffic in a car where you're highly visible and have break lights telling those behind you what you're doing. On a bike, though, people in cars are a) not watching for you anyway and b) think if a bike goes too slow they should pass it. In that light, the behavior described by the prosecutor from D.C. was IMO as rational as it is utterly common, regardless of the laws on the books. The laws may apply to all vehicles, but the roads are not engineered equally well for all of them.

In any event, you've missed the point of this post which was not to defend errant cyclists but that if officers are spending too much time writing tickets for bikes with no headlights or walking on the wrong side of the street, then there are too many of them with too much time on their hands. Anybody racking up lots of tickets of that nature should find their position at the top of the budget cut list.

velociped said...

No, I don't think I missed your point at all. You latched on to what you apparently perceive to be a scapegoat in an attempt to make an irrelevant argument.

You suggest that ticketing scofflaw cyclists is indicative of an officer "with too much time on their hands." My rebuttal is, the law is the law. If the cyclists are breaking the law and the officer sees the infraction, then it is their responsibility to cite the infraction.

One could argue that an officer parked in a school zone, watching for those exceeding the speed limit or talking on their mobile, has too much time on their hands. Never mind that the deterrent value would be incalculable to the family of the child spared being hit and killed, because the officer was there to make the would be scofflaw motorist think twice about flaunting the law.

The vast majority of cyclists regularly ignore vehicular statutes when operating on the roadway. They treat stop signs as little more than yield signs; treat most red lights as if they were stop signs; ride at night (or low light) without lights; ride on the wrong side of the road, etc. They cry for special, segregated facilities to "protect" them from the nasty, mean motorists who are out to kill them.


You are so far from the truth when you suggest, "the roads are not engineered equally well for all of them." The roads are designed and engineered for ALL classes of vehicles — from horse-drawn carriage, to sports car; from bicycle, to Peterbilt. It is the responsibility of every vehicle operator to be aware of their surroundings and avoid harm to others. In fact, that responsibility is codified as weighting heavier upon the motor vehicle operator — most likely due to the greater peril non-compliance of their machine poses to others.

"The states find that the safety of their streets and highways is materially affected by the degree of compliance with state laws and local ordinances relating to the operation of motor vehicles; violation of such a law or ordinance is evidence that the violator engages in conduct which is likely to endanger the safety of persons and property; and the continuance in force of a license to drive is predicated on compliance with laws and ordinances relating to the operation of motor vehicles in whichever jurisdiction the vehicle is operated."

I don't think it gets any plainer than that.

When you suggest, "people in cars are not watching for you anyway", then those individuals are violating the law.

On the other hand, when you suggest, "people in cars ... think if a bike goes too slow they should pass it", you lose relevance. The cyclist will almost always be traveling at a slower speed than the motorist and they are always free to pass them, provided they do so safely and legally.

There is no law prohibiting a motorist from passing a cyclist. As long as both parties adhere to the rules set forth in §545.051 and the motorist is complying with §545.053, §545.054 and §545.055, then there is no conflict and no problem.

R. Shackleford said...

...uh huh. You know, I have nothing very constructive to add to this, but I just want to say: You bicycle people look like idiots in your goofy helmets and stretchy pant-suits.

grussell903 said...

There is NO SIDEWALK HERE and The Width of The Paved Shoulder is SO WIDE That a Tyler PD SWINE VIC (Otherwise Known as THE JIM CROW CAR) all FOUR WHEELS ARE ON THE Asphalt PAVEMENT) A REASONABLE PEACE OFFICER WOULD NOT PARK THEIR SWINE VIC on THE NARROW SHOULDER of Loop 323 On The FAR (EAST) SIDE By Swan's Furniture [Unless it was an Emergency] In The Same Light A REASONABLE WILD BOAR WILD PIG HALF-WIT HELIUM HEAD WOULD PARK Their SWINE VIC On The NARROW SHOULDER With THE White Curly White PIGTAIL FACING TRAFFIC and The White Racist PIG SNOUT In FRONT Don't SQUEAL In Fact I have Warned SEVERAL Officers About Created Such a Hazard and Book Marked a Video of a State Trooper on You Tube whom Was Thrown Like a Rag Doll in a Motor Vehicle Detention on a Bust Roadway as a Passing Motorist hit Him Standing Bedsides and Detained Vehicle [ Known in Legal Parlance as a Traffic STOP or a Motor Vehicle Stop in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure The State Trooper Miraculously Lived THANK GOODNESS ( See grussell903 You TUBE Feed- A 1st Amendment Protected Area) Not Well-Trained WILD ANIMAL .

. This is not The case at The False Arrest for Walking on The Wrong Side of the Road by Tyler PD Officer Holz ( The Holtzman Thermodynamic Law Constant for The Ideal Gas Law Helium Head Liter Than Air -Half-WIT Sgt Holcomb HALF-BRAIN HOTHEAD HOT ASS .." Am I under Detention officer Holtz for Walking On The Wrong Side of The Road or Not.?" " I do not Have to give You my ID Do you know and Understand The Texas Penal Code 38.02 Failure To ID.?" "Are you Warning me about walking on the wrong side of the road or Am I Being Detained?" This Repeats itself over several Times .. This is PER The USUAL BEHAVIOR of The WILD ANIMALS of The REDNCKED Racist Malicious Corrupt HOT-HEAD NOT WELL TRAINED WASTE OF TAXPAYERS MONEY both THE Rank & File and Defective Leadership and Incompetent Supervision of The 711 West Ferguson KKK Lair 9-10 Wild Animals Lose Emotional and Psychological Control and NOW I AM IN TECHNICAL CONTROL OF THE DETENTION FROM A LEGAL STANDPOINT AS WELL AS A PSYCHOLOGICAL STANDPOINT I OUT-KNOW THEM IN THEIR OWN Bread & Butter of The Rank and File of Peace Officers The STOP & ID LAWS !!
Gerald Russell's profile photoGerald Russell originally shared this post:
Sgt Thompson Middle aged Female Tyler PD stated The Defective Leadership and Incompetent Supervision " Is There something we can get him on Like Walking Where There is No Sidewalk" She Looked In Both Directions on WSW Loop 323 and " No There is No Sidewalk To Walk On We Can't Get Him For That" Texas Trans Code 552 ;Pedestrians

Sec. 552.006. USE OF SIDEWALK. (a) A pedestrian may not walk along and on a roadway if an adjacent sidewalk is provided and is accessible to the pedestrian.

This is Permitted.

(b) If a sidewalk is not provided, a pedestrian walking along and on a highway shall if possible walk on:

(1) the left side of the roadway; or

(2) the shoulder of the highway facing oncoming traffic.

(c) The operator of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building, or private road or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian approaching on a sidewalk extending across the alley, building entrance or exit, road, or driveway

.Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 165, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995. Amended by Acts 2001, 77th Leg., ch. 497, Sec. 3, eff. June 11, 2001.
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Sgt Thompson Supervisor of Tyler PD Offcs Berend and Rosales Hispanic Female whom was called to Explain the Texas Penal Code 38.02 as I was DETAINED while Walking Taking Pics along WSW Lopp 323 (Near The FOOD FAST on Memorial Day 2009 after leaving the China King Buffet This was near The Hooper's Dental Office which was EXPLAINED TO THE BEREND that The Mercury from the Dental Fillings was The Cause and Effect Relationship - and That The Safe Levels were defined by the SMITH STUDY.. a Memory Jog--!!!