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Legally Speaking – with Bob Mionske: You can’t outrun the law

Dear Readers,On this great day for U.S. Olympic Cycling I would like to congratulateTyler Hamilton, Dede Demet and Bobby Julich, who won the Gold, Silver andBronze Medals in their respective Individual Time Trial events in Athens. They all have great stories and are deserving medal winners.  I would also like to acknowledge the brave ride by Dede’s husband and fellowVeloNews contributor, Michael Barry who competed for Canada in lastSaturday’s Men’s Olympic Road Race where he finished a very respectful32nd.While everyone knows about Bettini, Paulinho and Merckx winning thegold, silver and

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By Bob Mionske

Dear Readers,
On this great day for U.S. Olympic Cycling I would like to congratulateTyler Hamilton, Dede Demet and Bobby Julich, who won the Gold, Silver andBronze Medals in their respective Individual Time Trial events in Athens. They all have great stories and are deserving medal winners.  I would also like to acknowledge the brave ride by Dede’s husband and fellowVeloNews contributor, Michael Barry who competed for Canada in lastSaturday’s Men’s Olympic Road Race where he finished a very respectful32nd.While everyone knows about Bettini, Paulinho and Merckx winning thegold, silver and bronze, few know that there was another rider in the mixin the last 10 kilometers.  Michael Barry had attacked the pelotonat 7 kilometers to go and was in solo chase of Bettini and Paulhino until3 kilometers to go, when Axel caught and passed him on the difficult cobbledsection. It was not until 1.5km to go that Michael was caught by a chargingUllrich as he was leading out compatriot Eric Zabel for 4th place.
BobDear Bob,
I am a bicycle patrolman in Florida, which has very restrictive lawsregulating “hot pursuits” of fleeing suspects. If I give pursuit to a pedestrianor cyclist, would that that be considered a “hot pursuit” and what wouldbe the potential for liability?
DLDear DL,
Regular readers may recall my misadventures of trying to flee bicyclepolice while in college.  I dropped the bike patrol in the dust, butmet my match in the way of their Chevy-Caprice-driving colleagues and subsequentlypaid my price to society.With regard to your question, a couple of interesting cases have comedown the pipeline in the last few years, although there is no discernabletrend yet and the law is probably going to veer wildly from state to statefor a little while. In a 2000 Washington case, State v. Refuerzo,a bicycle patrol officer pulled up to a suspicious car in traffic on acongested street in Seattle. The officer identified himself and told thedriver, Refuerzo, to pull over. Instead, the driver gunned the car andtried to outrun the bicycle officer, dodging wildly through the dense traffic.However, the street was so crowded that Refuerzo couldn’t get away fromthe officer, who had meanwhile radioed for backup. Seeing the roadblockbeing laid out ahead, the fugitive slammed to a halt and tried to run,but was tackled by the bicycle patrolman and one of the backups. He wascharged with violating a state statute that made it a felony for:
 

“Any driver of a motor vehicle who wilfully fails or refusesto immediately bring his vehicle to a halt and who drives his vehicle ina manner indicating a wanton or wilfull disregard for life or propertywhile attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle . . . the signal tostop may be by hand, voice, emergency light or siren.”

Refuerzo didn’t deny that that he tried to flee the officer, butargued that it was legally impossible for him to have broken the law becausea bicycle can’t be police vehicle, so he couldn’t have been trying to elude”a pursuing police vehicle.” The court didn’t buy that argument for a minute,stating that “when a properly uniformed officer is operating a marked policebicycle, [the] police bicycle is an official police vehicle within themeaning of the eluding statute. Had the Legislature intended “police vehicle”to exclude police bicycles, it would have used the term “police motor vehicle,”or a similar term.Refuerzo’s lawyer was a creative woman, however, and wasn’t finishedyet. Pointing out that the purpose of the “eluding” statute was to addressthe serious dangers of a high-speed chase, she argued that the bicycleofficer’s chase wasn’t “high speed,” so that her client’s dash didn’t fallunder the meaning of the statute. By this point the judge had heard enough:

“High speed does not necessarily mean speeds beyond thatwhich bicycles can travel. High speed simply means going faster than conditionswarrant . . . such as here, when a driver attempts to elude an officerin the presence of heavy auto and pedestrian traffic. A driver who attemptsto elude an officer by weaving in and out of heavy traffic, disregardingstop signs and lights, and proceeding through crosswalks in the presenceof numerous pedestrians is no less culpable merely because the pursuingofficer is on a bicycle.”

So do as I say, not as I do–these days, you’ll spend a lot more than onenight in the city jail. This was a felony charge!A somewhat different situation cropped up in Philadelphia a year laterin Harding v. City of Philadelphia. Bicycle Officer Ferraro wasriding on the sidewalk while following a suspicious subject when he raninto an elderly lady. Normally, Philadelphia does not permit bicycle ridingon its sidewalks in its business district. The woman sued the city forher injuries. The city sought to have the case dismissed, claiming thatthey were immune from suit under a Pennsylvania statute that prohibitednegligence suits against governmental agencies for accidents arising fromthe negligent operation of official vehicles. (This sounds more draconianthan it is–typically, the effect of the law is to force injured partiesto sue a municipality’s insurance carrier instead of the agency itself.)The Commonwealth’s high court ruled that the city did not have immunityunder the statue. It pointed to Pennsylvania law that defined a vehicleas a “self-propelled vehicle.” Because a police bicycle is propelled byits rider, it is not a vehicle and thus the court concluded that it cannotbe an “official vehicle.”These are the only two cases I have come across so far dealing withpolice bicycles. As they become more popular states will probably haveto deal with them through legislation, much as they have had to grapplewith issue of whether police dogs are police officers. (Usually, no, althoughyou can pass special laws to protect them.) Until then, its probably goingto be, legally speaking, “anything goes.”
Good luck,
Bob
(Research and drafting provided by Bruce Epperson, J.D.)


Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who representedthe U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the roadrace), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championshiproad race.After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached theSaturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to lawschool. 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 mionskelaw@hotmail.comBob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He willalso select a few questions each week to answer in this column. Generalbicycle-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 publicweb site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors tothis web site. The information contained in the column applies to generalprinciples of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legaldevelopments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and thereforeshould not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand thatreading the information contained in this column does not mean youhave established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske.Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained inthe web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.