Matt's recent success, coupled with Ron's dismisal and my recent citation motivated me to give my elected reps an update. Robert Grady represents the NC House District 15 (Onslow County). Harry Brown represents NC Senate District 6 (Onslow and Jones Counties). If you live in NC, ride a motorcycle, and want to be done with helemt laws, I encourage you to use this letter as a template or compose your own and let your reps know how you feel.
I have not written you in some time, but I wanted to drop a note to let you know of some recent events with respect to the NC helmet law. The section below is an excerpt of a write up that Mathew Carr of Hampstead produced detailing his experience with a helmet citation. On the 6th of August, he was cited near Bogue by the NC SHP for wearing an improper helmet. He lost in District Court and appealed to the Superior Court. He was arraigned in November and given a 4 January 2010 date to appear in the Superior Court of Carteret County. He had secured the services of a Virginia lawyer licensed to practice in NC who defends helmet tickets pro bono, but because our courts function so dysfunctionally, she could not hang around for the period the court session was set for, waiting for Mr Carr’s case to be called. The ADA handling the matter would not accommodate any reasonable request to establish a day that the case could be heard so that Mr. Carr’s lawyer could be present. Local lawyers either did not return his calls or advised him to just pay the fine and move on. His principle would not allow that so he determined to represent himself. He drove back and forth from Hampstead to Beaufort every day and sat in court all day on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of January waiting for his turn to defend himself. At the end of the 3rd day, the following ensued:
“She started by saying that my case wasn’t going to be called this month and that she could re-schedule it for next month (Feb) but that she wasn’t going to do that. That this case wasn’t worth prosecuting. She said that she could see that I was quietly sitting there in the back every day, always early, nicely dressed, and always ready to go. She could tell that I was an intelligent man who would bring a good argument to the court. Then she started to tell me that I would be better served in taking this helmet fight up with the legislators, that sitting here in the courtroom is a waste of my time and the courts time. That’s when I interrupted her and told her that I never intended to go to court had it not been for the trooper telling me that Harley riders don’t listen to warnings and that they (warnings) were a waste of time. She apologized for that comment and said I could always go to the trooper’s supervisor and make a complaint against that trooper. Yeah right like that would make a difference I thought. But then I started talking to her about the actual helmet law, how I didn’t know much about it before this ticket. But now I do and what I understood of it, was that it is greatly flawed. I told her I understood both sides of the argument, why we need helmets and why we don’t need them. Personally, I don’t like being told what to do or what to wear. That it would be better if the state educated riders then let then decide if they want to wear a helmet. She laughed and said she had heard that statement from her friends who ride. But then I told her that if we were going to have a helmet law, that it needs to be better than the one on the books, because this one is greatly flawed. She agreed with me saying that this law is a bad one, the state could and should do better.”
Some months ago Ronald McAnally of Henderson County had a very similar experience as Mr. Carr. He was cited, lost in District Court, and appealed to the Superior Court only to have the ADA say the case was not worth prosecuting and dismissed it. This very week, Mr. McAnally is back (by back in court I mean he has been instructed to wait by the phone for the next 2 weeks in the event his case is called this session) in the Superior Court of Henderson County for an alleged infraction of the helmet law. He will prevail again; either because the prosecutor will recognize the huge waste of judicial resources or because the law cannot be successfully prosecuted, or the state will simply lose because the law is so vague as to not be understandable by citizens or the police. Oh to be sure the police, the executive, and your legislative lawyers say differently, but the proof is in the pudding. The words of the Carteret County ADA ought to tell you something.
We can do better. The Carteret County ADA advised Mr. Carr to take it up with the legislature. I have written both of you on this matter. I have written the NCSHP, I have written the Governor. I have written NC DOT. I have written the GHSP. No one except motorcyclists who are successfully challenging this law in court seems to understand that the law is seriously flawed. Sunday, January 17th 2010, I received a citation from JPD for an alleged violation of the NC helmet law. I asked the officers repeatedly, what the standards were and what a compliant helmet looked like. They couldn’t tell me. Oh, they tried, “It has to be DOT approved, sir”. Guess what DOT doesn’t approve helmets. “Go to a bike shop and ask them.” I guess that’s where JPD goes for expert advice on the helmet statute. Like Mr. Carr and Mr. McAnally, I expect to prevail too.
I hope this note convinces you to try to do something about this ridiculous law. Without a list of approved helmets, nothing the legislature can craft will have any objective standard. You and I know that the state cannot accept the liability that it would incur if someone was injured or killed wearing a brand of helmet the state has declared as compliant. I, and many like-minded North Carolinians demand a repeal of NCGS 20-140.4 and the freedom to chose, just like the majority of states, whether we need to wear a helmet and if so, the type to wear. If prosecutors won’t prosecute, why is this law on the books?
In closing, the NC court system needs a truth in scheduling statute. A defendant should know the exact day their case is to be heard. Take scheduling away from the DA and place it with the Court. The DA’s use their scheduling power to exhaust defendants like Mr. Carr and Mr. McAnally into giving up their day in court by making them return to court day after day with no guarantee that the case will even be heard during the session. The system makes it impossible to arrange for witnesses to appear on behalf of the defense. It is broken and it needs to be fixed.