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Ryan… In Court!

I went to court today to contest the ticket that a UW bicycle police officer issued to me on February 3, 2009 for allegedly failing to obey a traffic control device.

As I got there early, I sat through a few mitigated hearings before making my way to the contested hearing courtroom. I listened to a few others plead their cases, mostly unsuccessfully, until I had the chance to present my case.

I started out with the nit-picky technicalities, but the judge did not seem to be too interested in them. Maybe I just introduced them the wrong way, but I have a feeling if it had been a lawyer there the judge would have paid more attention to what I was actually saying — for example, the case against me was not mailed to one of the addresses I requested, the ticket was not signed, and the ticket was listed as a non-traffic violation even though the cited RCW is a traffic violation.

Next I proceded with my case. I gave the judge a photo of the intersection where the officer alleges I failed to stop and showed that, by RCW 46.61.755, I was acting as a pedestrian at the time I passed the stop sign and was therefore not required to stop.

The judge said “Well how do I know that’s what happened?” and decided to postpone the courtdate to subpoena the officer to testify.

Since it looks like its turning into a “my word versus his” battle, a battle that police officers will always win unless there is compelling video evidence to the contrary, my next step is to find some witnesses who can back up my story. This is no small task — the incident occurred two months ago — and more importantly, a college quarter ago — and the only witnesses were random people out and about at 10:40 am. Perhaps my best bet is to stand out there with a sign saying I’m looking for witnesses, but even that seems like a long shot.

A more realistic option will be to postpone the court date as long as possible, hope the officer doesn’t show up, and if he does quiz him about other facts in the case — such as the color of the car I rode alongside as I came to the stop sign, the color of my bike and my backpack, about how many bicyclists ran the next stop sign where he detained me while he ticketed me, and so forth. But even that seems like a losing battle.

And if I lose that battle, I will appeal based on the unsigned ticket, the traffic-vs-non-traffic disparity, and the insufficient time to subpoena witnesses.

What I do promise is that the state will, overall, lose much more money going after me than they can possibly hope to gain by forcing me to pay the ticket.

In fact, I would encourage everyone who ever gets a ticket of any kind to contest to the fullest extent of the law — if we make it so expensive to enforce these inane laws that overall they lose money, the laws will either go away or become unenforced, which is better for everyone. Maybe the cops can go back to stopping and solving real crimes instead of harassing motorists and bicyclists on UW campus.