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Legally Speaking – with Bob Mionske: Taking the law into your own hands

By Bob Mionske

A while back I answered an inquiry posed by a New York reader who saw someone riding a bicycle that had been stolen from him earlier (see “LegallySpeaking – with Bob Mionske: My stolen bicycle
” September 25, 2003). I share one of the many emails I received on the subject for the benefit of all readers:

Dear Bob;
As the flip side to your summary of the law regarding recovery of a stolen bicycle, and further to his closing point about getting hurt in the act of self-recovery, may I present my own story:

Several months ago, I stopped for coffee at the end of my morning bike commute. While in line at the coffee shop, I saw someone ride up on another bike, pull out a pair of cable cutters and snip through the cable lock on my bike. I rushed outside, pushed him off my bike just as he was about to run away, and confronted him. We got into a fight (his corner: 6 foot 2-ish, around 200 pounds and alleged to be high on methamphetamine; my corner: 5 foot 9, 150pounds and hadn’t even had my morning coffee yet), and he hit me in the head with his cable cutters. It took three “Good Samaritans” to intercede, stop the beating and hold him down until the police arrived.

The end results:
1) I ended up with six stitches in my head, $700 in out-of-pocket medical expenses and a missed day of work to make up. One of the Good Samaritans got bitten- fortunately, the thief appears to be HIV and Hepatitis C negative.
2) The police pulled a six-inch knife out of the guy’s pocket- lucky for me that he didn’t think to use it.
3) The thief recently pled guilty to assault and got nine months in jail, of which he had served over half at the time of sentencing.
4) One of the defense’s main arguments appeared to be that I had provoked the attack, and he had merely defended himself.

The case never went before a jury, so no idea how that would have played (poorly, I should hope), but the experience of having to face the thief in court and be cross-examined on the whole thing was extremely unpleasant.

Sure, I would have been devastated to lose that bike- the more so because it was a replacement for one stolen nine months earlier- but having been through the process, I can offer a quick summary of the merits and risks of self-recovery: It ain’t worth it.Just sign me
“A bit worse for wear, but wiser.”

Now read the fine print:

Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.

After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).

If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to info@bicyclelaw.com. Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.

Important notice:
The information provided in the “Legally speaking” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.