by Tony Pan Sanfelipo
Way back in 1992, the Helmet Law Defense League started throwing around a catchy phrase. "No List, No Law".
Relying on the vagueness of the helmet statutes in the various states, and knowing that vaguenes equals unconstitutional in courts of law, HLDL invited BOLT to a summit meeting in Los Angeles. The fruit of that meeting was a pledge by the attendees to make a concerted, unified effort to inform the motorcycle community that the helmet law could be taken out if challenged properly in court. A funny thing happened on the way to the local MRO meetings. We were met with skepticism, ridicule and accusation. Some leaders even stated that we would never take out the helmet laws in court. The only way was through the legislature.
Time has proven that to be a grave error on their part. But luckily, some less controversial individuals picked up on what was being said, and some interestingly enough, figured it out for themselves. Case after case was brought to various venues, and some actually were successful. For the most part, these were lower court rulings, and again were met with skepticism. One case which went to county court in Florida was Florida vs Yasko. Chico had independently taken on the battle with not much help, but a lot of criticism, in Florida. Even though he won his case, the result was minimized by his local ABATE chapter as only a county court case ruling. They just didn't get it. Probably because of personality problems with Chico, or whatever, but they couldn't find it in their minds or hearts to realize and appreciate what had happened here.
Now over a year later, again in Florida, another insignificant county court case has taken place. But this time, because the players are different, it's being viewed in a completely different manner.
The Suncoast Chapter of ABATE of Florida has pursued the fact that the helmet law is unconstitutionally vague, since there is no list, or any way a person of ordinary intelligence could know what helmets met the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218. Borrowing language from now famous cases in Washington State and California, the battle cry is precisely that which was brought to everyones attention by HLDL and BOLT.
On December 8, 1995, in Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida, County Court Judge Blackwood held the Florida mandatory motorcycle helmet law unconstitutional. In dismissing the case against David Raynal, the judge ruled that "Section 316.211, Florida Statutes, is unconstitutional." He went on to rule that "the statute is overly vague and fails to give the average citizen sufficient notice of prohibited conduct."
The state's response was to appeal the decision. Since Judge Blackwell noted that it was impossible for a person to understand how to comply with the standard, a memo was sent out to all patrol operations bureau personnel in Pinellas County, by Major Sam Lynn. In the memo, he instructed deputies to continue to enforce 316.211 to the extent that a motorcyclist is required to wear protective headgear securely fastened upon his head. The part which followed about complying with standards established by the department was to be ignored. He states, "if the rider and passenger are wearing some sort of protective headgear, it need not be D.O.T. approved."
First of all, the D.O.T. does not approve any helmets. Second, going back to vagueness, what in the hell is "protective headgear"? Protection from what? The cold? Bugs? The sun? Come on Major, get a grip. Judge Blackwood ruled that the entire statute was unconstitutionally vague. An attorney representing Frank Landry interpreted the ruling as meaning no helmet was required to be worn, pending the outcome of the appeal. On May 8, 1996, just such a case came up before County Judge Radford Smith, County Court of the Sixth Judicial Circuit. Guess what, Judge Smith dismissed the charge against Mr. Landry, based upon the reliance of the Court's ruling in State v. Raynal.
What this means is the helmet law in Pinellas County is unenforceable. And this could happen statewide if pursued in court as HLDL and BOLT had suggested, and Chico had proven. Let's not quibble about who gets the credit, that's not important. The thing that is important is that good advice has been given, examples have shown the way, and yet due to petty personality differences, it takes twice as long to get the job done, if it indeed gets done at all.
Pity some people can't swallow a little pride and remember what we're all here for. I thank Chico in Florida for sticking with his cause at great personal sacrifice and humiliation. I thank Attorney Ed Alden for figuring this out for himself, taking it to court and winning in Washington State, then becoming an HLDL Director for that state. I thank Skip Raring for taking the Easyriders case to fruition in California under the same premises. And most of all I thank Steve Bianco and Richard Quigley for showing the way to do this all, despite tremendous pressure from various quarters of the motorcycle community in California. Especially Richard Quigley. He's arrogant, cantankerous, obnoxious, objectionable, irritable, unfriendly, unruly, and absolutely right about just about everything, especially about not bowing down to the absurd 21-and-under modification language on helmet laws. That is an HLDL and BOLT belief and opinion, not shared by other MRO's, but certainly shared by a number of individual motorcyclists.
I personally have assisted some states in trying to get their 21-and-under modification bills passed, but went on record as personally opposing this sort of thing. To me, it's like saying, "I'm an artist and I need my arms, so shoot me in the foot. Not really what I want you to do, but I can accept it." Maybe you, but not me. Let's hang tough and go for the golden ring. Stop bargining with things that shouldn't be up for barter.