Police Interactions For Cyclists

Jerry Bowman, Owner and Managing Attorney

Bicycle Accidents
September 8, 2014
Police Interactions For Cyclists

Despite the common complaints that cyclists never receive tickets for violating the law, Denver police continually issue bike infractions, ranging from speeding to failure to stop. The City of Denver has made a valiant effort to ensure cyclists abide by the same laws as drivers. Our Denver bicycle lawyers offer this primer on police interactions for cyclists.

All cases vary because they include different facts, laws, jurisdiction, and witnesses. Police officers started to crack down on cyclists for violating Colorado law. If you have been cited for violating a law while riding your bicycle, you should contact our experienced Denver bicycle lawyers.

The Traffic Stop

The traffic stop is where the legal process begins. If you take nothing else from this blog, walk away with the understanding you should never ignore a police officer when ordered to stop. It does not matter if you were aware whether you were breaking a law; you must stop when directed. From the moment you are stopped, the officer is observing your behavior so your responses may affect whether or not you get a ticket. Accordingly, it is essential to cooperate. Remember, however, not to say anything incriminating and never bribe the officer. If a ticket goes to trial, the officer will testify about everything you said and did. It is completely reasonable to answer, “I do not know.” Keep in mind, an officer can only frisk you when there is sufficient reasonable suspicion.

The officer is going to ask you for your driver’s license. While you do not need a driver’s license to ride on Colorado roads, you can be cited for failure to produce a form of identification when requested. Moreover, lying about your identity can lead to even greater problems. As it relates to questions about your ID, the officer is likely still looking for evidence to be used against you. For example, if your license is not up-to-date or you have a suspended license, you will likely be ticketed for additional violations. Again, when answering the police officer, the best answers are those that do not incriminate you.

Ticketed for Violating the Law

As the saying goes, you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar. Otherwise stated, be nice. Perhaps the officer did not plan on writing a ticket, but simply wanted to speak with you. Or, maybe the officer planned on writing a ticket, but changed his mind when you presented with respect.  If your kindness is not helping, do not be combative with the officer. Police officers write a lot of tickets. You do not want to be the person that stands out in the officer’s mind. Do not give the officer incentive to actually show up to court and testify. Fight the battle in the proper venue, which is the courtroom.

When the officer writes a ticket, he is making a “non-custodial arrest.” This means that instead of placing you under arrest and taking you to jail, he is giving you a summons to appear in court and answer the charge against you. The ticket does not mean you are guilty. It does mean you must appear in court.If you do not respond to the ticket, or if you schedule a court date but skip it, a bench warrant will be issued. In the future, when stopped for another violation, you will be arrested because the bench warrant will appear when the officer searches your record.

Contesting a Ticket in Court

Your next steps depend on a number of factors. Ask yourself, did you break the law? If so, consider whether there were any extenuating circumstances a judge would listen to in mitigation. Even if you broke the law, you can still fight the ticket (see defenses below). You should also consider the effects a ticket has. If found guilty, will you be subject to a fine or is there jail time involved? Will the ticket have any effect on your insurance rates or driving privileges? Moreover, some employers ask to see the driving record of job applicants. Will pleading guilty prevent you from getting a job in the future? All of these factors must be weighed in deciding how to proceed.

When the officer explains why you are receiving a citation, take down as many details as you can. The officer may indicate he was standing in a particular position when you were alleged to have broken the law. This may be useful if you can demonstrate the officer could not have had a clear view. Similarly, if the officer alleges he saw a cyclist violate a law but could not say whether it was you, you may use this information to create doubt at trial.

If you are planning on contesting the ticket, you will be required to enter a plea of not guilty and appear in court. Contact the court clerk by the date specified on the ticket. You will be given further instructions on when and where to appear. Again, it may be wise to schedule a consultation with a Denver bike attorney. Prior to going to court, make sure to study the law under which you are charged. Also, during the pretrial process known as discovery, you have the right to request the officer’s notes on your stop. Since you have the opportunity to question the officer, prepare a list of questions that can cast doubt on the officer’s observations. Perhaps it would be wise to present a diagram of what you think happened.

The Trial 

As discussed above, a trial may boil down to you versus a police officer. If you can demonstrate to the court that the officer was wrong on the law or facts, there is a chance you can win. If the ticket was the result of a traffic collision and you did not beat the ticket, you will likely not be compensated for your injuries. Accordingly, if compensation for injuries is in order, like in the story I referenced above, fighting one of these tickets is absolutely necessary.

At trial, you do not have to prove your innocence. Rather, the district attorney is required to prove your guilt. Your only job is to poke holes in the State’s case. Therefore, it is not a bad idea to present exculpatory evidence if you have any. It would be helpful to take photos of the scene if your defense is based on physical evidence. If a traffic signal is not working properly, you could contact the local government responsible for maintaining the light and ask for copies of maintenance reports. When going through the evidence, it would be wise to consult an experienced Denver bike attorney. One of the most important pieces of information I can provide is to look up the law you allegedly violated before your court date.  For information relating to bicycle laws, check out Denver Municipal Code – Rules for Cyclists in Denver, Colorado.

If you believe the police officer is lying, you should be very careful not to base your defense on such a lofty accusation. It is possible the officer mistakenly believed hat you violating a law. Regardless, the court is not going to listen favorably to a defense premised on “the officer is lying” because the judge will presume the officer is telling the truth while you have a powerful incentive to lie. Without evidence proving the officer’s testimony is a lie, you will likely just anger the court and be convicted of the violation. Instead of waging this war, it would be wiser for you to make the defense that the officer was mistaken on the facts or the law, or both. That is the whole point of your own evidence-gathering.

Keep in mind, you may be able to present evidence to use as a defense in court. I worked on a case recently where my client was cited for running a stop sign on a road he traveled thousands of times in the past. The stop sign was recently installed and he was completely unaware of its existence. Moreover, the stop sign was concealed from his view because of foliage. Technically, my client ran a stop sign. However, the case was dismissed based on a “mistake of fact” defense, in that it was impossible for my client to see the stop sign and there was no way for him to know it was there. Let’s consider a different scenario. Perhaps you swerved to avoid a collision and ended up on a sidewalk in downtown Denver. While it was illegal for you to ride on the sidewalk, you could make a “necessity defense” because you swerved to avoid an accident and you intended to return to the roadway immediately after your evasive maneuver. Both of these patterns involve a reasonable explanation for why you broke the law.

Appearance in Court

There are a few basic things you should know before appearing in court. One of the most important tips I can offer is to be on time and prepared for trial! If you are late on your appearance date, it is possible the judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest and your case will be dismissed. Do not take that chance. Also, arrive appropriately groomed and attired. If you are not in appropriate attire, you run the risk of angering the judge. It does not matter if you do not feel you have to subject yourself to “that world.” The courtroom is the judge’s house and you are expected to follow his rules. Remember you are in court to defend yourself and not to stand up for your liberty to express yourself. On that note, remember your manners. Address the judge as “your honor” and be courteous to others in the courtroom.

The bottom line is that you want the court to view you as a credible defendant. By being on time, prepared, appropriately groomed and attired, and courteous, you are allowing the court to only focus on your arguments.

Contact our Denver Bike Lawyers

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our attorneys today at 720.863.6904 or email us for your free consultation. Our lawyers handle a wide range of personal injury cases, including Motor Vehicle AccidentsBicycle AccidentsPedestrian AccidentsSlip & Fall Accidents, and Dog Bites & Attacks. We service Arvada, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Commerce City, Lakewood, Littleton, Thornton, Westminster, Wheat Ridge, and other parts of metropolitan Denver, Colorado.