December 9, 1997

Maryland Court of Appeals - Mike Lewis

Today, the Maryland Court of Appeals heard the State's appeal for Mike Lewis' case concerning Mike's St. Mary's County case in which Judge Raley held the Maryland Helmet Law unconstitutional.

First, when the State's Attorney began, he was not that well organized and did not seem to have a grasp of the issues. Soon, the Judges began grilling him on some pertinent points such as,

If the state is going to rely on the federal code (FMVSS 218 testing standards), could he, the State's Attorney, read the testing standards, and make an intelligent decision as to which helmet to buy? The SA's response: "Well, I think I probably could, but I'm not sure". Whereupon, the judge said, "I've read FMVSS 218 and I don't understand it!"

The Judges pretty much grilled the states attorney and with questions designed to determine whether or not the law was being properly enforced. For example,

"Has the state of Maryland every cited any one for wearing an improper helmet or just people who do not wear helmets."

The SA's response? "Only people who have not worn helmets."

The judges then asked if there wasn't something wrong the the fact that "substandard" helmets aren't being looked at and were the police just being content to see "something" on someone's head - making the true enforcement of the law a mockery?

When Terry Nolan got up to speak his peace in the defense of Mike Lewis, he presented a clear, cool, deliberate articulation of the facts in a step by step analysis of what's wrong with the law. Essentially,

  • the legislature has told the MVA to produce a list,
  • the MVA has not produced a list,
  • the MVA is relying on the people to ferret out, read and comprehend FMVSS 218, the set of Federal testing standards which, neither the States Attorney nor the court admit they comprehend.

The questions posed to Nolan were different from those posed to the States Attorney in that they sought clarification as opposed to "what in the world are you trying to enforce here?"

Bruce Bereano closed for the last five or ten minutes on behalf of Lewis driving home the point that the Administrator of the MVA had last year tried to get out of the responsibility for publishing a list by introducing a bill in the legislature. That bill was killed in committee by a vote of 17 to 2, clearly indicating that the legislative intent is there should be a list.

After the dust settled, one court insider stated that based on his observations of the demeanor of the court and the nature of the questions posed by the court to the two sides, there is an extremely strong chance that the law will be held unconstitutional.

A decision is hoped for in January 1998.

ABATE of Maryland
Anne Arundle County

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