Doff Your Helmet to Richard Quigley

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Richard Quigley, who has been resisting California's motorcycle helmet law for years, has won an important victory in Santa Cruz County Superior Court. A judge dismissed a dozen or so citations against Quigley for failing to wear a helmet, agreeing with him that the requirement is unconstitutionally vague because the California Highway Patrol has never specified what qualifies as a safety helmet. Quigley, who was featured in my November Reason story about helmet laws, likes to ride his bike while wearing a trucker cap with a plastic insert, saying it satisfies the nonexistent standards as well as any other headgear. The transcript of Quigley's June 1999 brush with police in Capitola, California, is worth a look just for the surreally comic dialogue, which reads like a collaborative effort by David Mamet, Kevin Smith, and Larry David.

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  1. I’m deeply disappointed at the lack of a “Snakes on a Plane” post given that the film arguably is a new high (low?) of media consumers’ influence on media producers.

  2. What is the whole obsession with Snakes on a Plane? I’ve seen sites that seem to just go on and on about it. I think BoingBoing spent some quality bandwidth on it quite a while back. Did I miss something? It’s possible. I’ve missed stuff before.

  3. Where’s the transcript? The link just seems to reference the page it’s on (http://usff.com/calbolt/history.html#Capitola).

  4. “What is the whole obsession with Snakes on a Plane?”

    I don’t really know what the appeal of it is. I do, however, know that the fact that a studio repeatedly retooled a movie in response to large scale on-line feedback seems like it would be a natural for Reason’s on-going coverage of how the public influences the media.

  5. joemama, click on the green link that says “here” to get the transcript.

  6. “What is the whole obsession with Snakes on a Plane?

    Obviously, it’s snakes….. on a plane!

  7. Looks like it’s a lame javascript link and that’s why it wasn’t working. Here’s a direct link: http://usff.com/calbolt/capitola.html

  8. perhaps a simple solution would be for states to forbid officers from arresting people for “violation of a lawful order”, and limit arrests to only those people for whom they have a warrant for arrest or who are imminently a danger to the life, health or property of others

  9. Never having been issued “a lawful order” by a cop, I’m not sure I would know one when I heard one. It appears that the cop gets to be the judge of what is a lawful order. If the cop says it is, it must be so.

    How much do you want to bet that the punishment for not following a lawful order is greater than the punishment for issuing an an unlawful order and the punishment for the ensuing false arrest?

    Effing police state.

  10. I know of nobody else to call. And then . . . and then, I don’t know, I don’t know how [my lawyer’s] gonna determine whether or not this has been a lawful order. I know it’s not a lawful order, but that’s for the courts. In the meantime, I get hauled to jail. I get the motorcycle towed. I gotta deal with the storage fees. I gotta deal with all this shit, and on the back side, I gotta sue everybody. And all that shit sucks! I don’t don’t wanna do any of that.

    Bureaucracy: a tool of oppression effective against even the eternally vigilant.

  11. I’m not sure I understand why we should cheer a guy for wasting our law enforcement and judicial resources by intentionally violating the spirit of a law in an effort to prove that he’s not violating the letter of it.

    I mean, was Quigley really concerned with the fact that the law does not spell out what a motorcycle helmet is? If the state revises the law to provide more specifications will he be happy with that?

  12. How much do you want to bet that the punishment for not following a lawful order is greater than the punishment for issuing an an unlawful order and the punishment for the ensuing false arrest?

    Since punishment for actually killing “civilians” is rare, I’d say that’s a safe bet.

  13. “I’m not sure I understand why we should cheer a guy for wasting our law enforcement and judicial resources by intentionally violating the spirit of a law in an effort to prove that he’s not violating the letter of it.”

    We are truly a religous country now that our laws have spirits. Seriously, what is the spirit of the law? Given the steps necessary for a bill to become law, can you really assert that a law has a spirit? Generically, you’ve got a few hundred lawmakers in the popular body who have to vote on the law, and many trade votes for things they care about or owe people favors, then you have a more deliberative body (like the Senate) that has to do its own caucusing and vote trading, then it has to be signed by the executive who’s motivations can be completely different from each and every legislator. Then you have the local district attorney’s deciding how to enforce the law. So far, we’ve got 500 or so people, each with his or her own ambitions. And yet, all these people have a consistent view of the unstated “spirit” of the law? We have a hard enough time figuring out what the letter of the law means, and that’s there in black and white. Trying to figure out the spirit of the law is not possible.

  14. Lamar,

    Excellent reply!

  15. Dan,
    What you call “wasting our law enforcement and judicial resources” we call “exercising his constitutional rights”. Perhaps you would rather we pass only vague laws and let the police interpret them? Or maybe you’d be happy to spend the night in jail and sue everybody on the back side.

    And yes, it’s IOTTMCO that Richard Quigley wouldn’t be using this tactic if the law were intelligently written.

  16. Seriously, what is the spirit of the law?

    Generally speaking, the term ?spirit of the law? refers to the basic purpose of a law as commonly understood by the people to which it applies. For example, the spirit of this law is ?If you ride a motorcycle, you must wear a motorcycle helmet.?

    Quigley appears to be breaking the spirit of this law by claiming that something that is no reasonable person would consider a motorcycle helmet is, in fact, a motorcycle helmet.

    All laws, I submit, depend on at least some level of agreement as to what the terms involved mean. Otherwise we could have no enforceable laws, as people could simply challenge the definitions over and over again.

  17. Dan,
    What you call “wasting our law enforcement and judicial resources” we call “exercising his constitutional rights”.

    I?m not sure that the Constitution mentions ?the right to ride a motorcycle without a helmet?.

    Perhaps you would rather we pass only vague laws and let the police interpret them? Or maybe you’d be happy to spend the night in jail and sue everybody on the back side.

    At some level, all laws are going to be subject to interpretation. Personally, I feel it?s reasonable for the police to interpret a ?trucker hat with a plastic insert? as ?not a motorcycle helmet.?

  18. I’m not sure I understand why we should cheer a guy for wasting our law enforcement and judicial resources by intentionally violating the spirit of a law in an effort to prove that he’s not violating the letter of it.

    I doubt seriously that he’s wasting as much of our law enforcement and judicial resources by intentionally violating the law as the lawmakers did by creating it. Besides, anybody who breaks an unjust law ought to be cheered, it seems to me.

    Also, I cheer him because he’s very lucidly illustrating the fact that the law is poorly written and not understood by law enforcement.

  19. “I?m not sure that the Constitution mentions ?the right to ride a motorcycle without a helmet?.”

    I vant to make it ABSOLUTLEY CLE-AR – That vich
    is not permitted iz strictly VORBIDDEN! Mein Fuhrer I Can VALK!

  20. I?m not sure that the Constitution mentions ?the right to ride a motorcycle without a helmet?.

    This is a great statement!…it now means I can effectively ignore you because you’re so totally ignorant about what the Constitution does. It’s a government-restraining document, not a rights granting one. I am not allowed to call you names, but I can tell you this is sheer idjitry on your part.

  21. This is a great statement!…it now means I can effectively ignore you because you’re so totally ignorant about what the Constitution does. It’s a government-restraining document, not a rights granting one.

    Okay, so where does it say that the government cannot require a motorcycle rider to wear a helmet?

  22. I’m thinking that the right to ride a motorcycle without a helmet falls under those unenumerated rights retained by the people, according the 9th Amendment, as would most of the rights that, taken together, comprise the Declaration of Independence’s “right to pursue happiness.”

    Now, I suppose that a State can abridge or infringe such a right, especially if the exercise of it leads to someone else’s involuntary expense or injury, but not if the state does so by violating our right to clear law, uniformly enforced.

  23. I’m thinking that the right to ride a motorcycle without a helmet falls under those unenumerated rights retained by the people, according the 9th Amendment

    Now that strikes me as a little bit vague!

  24. Okay, so where does it say that the government cannot require a motorcycle rider to wear a helmet?

    In this case, the due process clause.

    You have to be given notice of what the requirements of the law actually are. A law that is too vague to give you notice of said requirements is void for vagueness.

    A properly drafted law that actually specified what counted as a helmet would probably be legal at the state level.

    Those few of us (what are we down to, a couple dozen, tops?) who actually care that the federal constitution creates a government of limited and enumerated powers would argue that the federal government has no enumerated power to create such a law, and so a federal helmet law would be unconsitutionally ultra vires .

  25. The Tenth Amendment

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    Now please tell me, Dan T, where exactly does the Constitution give the feds the power to make people wear helmets? What clause would that be ?

  26. I don?t think I ever made the claim that the Federal government had the power to enact a helmet law ? it was another poster who claimed that helmetless riding was a Constitutional right. But it?s not, as states can and do have the right to pass such laws.

  27. states don’t have rights, Dan, people, individuals, do.

  28. Just to clarify my position.
    I concur with R C Dean, this is a due process problem. I am not contending that the US Constitution prohibits the States from passing helmet laws (although a State Constitution might).

    The problem here is that the law in question is LUDICROUSLY written so as to have no intelligible meaning. I find Dan’s thesis of “we all know what a helmet is and this guys a jerk for forcing the issue” obscene. I agree with Dan that all laws require some interpretation, but this law is so poorly constructed that it is incompatible with any interpretation. Unless you consider “it means what I tell you it means” a valid interpretation.

  29. Dan T writes:

    Okay, so where does it say that the government cannot require a motorcycle rider to wear a helmet?

    I write:
    Okay, so where does it say that the government cannot require a person to sign in and out of his house?

  30. hey Dan: I actually ride motorcycles. Decades worth.
    gvt mandated helmets interfere with my ability to avoid attempts on my life by incompetants granted drivers liscenses by the State, for profit.
    I live in CA, a helmet state now.
    No, the immune from responsibility State has no legitimate authority to order me to wear something that makes me more easily prey to the incompetants they grant drivers liscences to.
    It interferes with both hearing & vision. So those of us who choose to place self defense foremost are suseptable to being pulled over at whim by armed buraucrats.
    Id say that is legit fodder for a libertarian website.

  31. I know it’s the principle, but don’t we have more important things to worry about than some moron who wants to make a fashion statement with a trucker’s cap? Let’s suspend the jaywalking laws just for a day so we can cull out some of these mutants.

  32. I know it’s the principle, but don’t we have more important things to worry about than some moron who wants to make a fashion statement with a trucker’s cap?

    Would that more of our citizens were morons like Mr. Quigley. I suspect the government would get away with somewhat less than it does.

  33. Good point Bob, if it wernt for jaywalking laws, millions would perish.

    Quig is no moron. He is a bit of a blowhard and many think he is a jerk. He has also caused quite a stir with the local sheriff’s dept. He has a big brass pair and stands up and fights for what he believes in.

    In other words, he is unlike all of the wimpy H&R latte sucking nihilists that are different from Peace and Freedom regressives by an RCH.

    Quig is also dying of terminal lymphoma or some such nasty shit, so this is a nice send off for him. When he passes, it is the sign that the Libertarian Party is dead as well.

  34. If a legal document (such as a statute or regulation, or a code containing statutes or regs) doesn’t define a word as a technical term, then it must be understood in the ordinary meaning its apparent audience would have. So in this case, the dictionary definition of “helmet”: any of various sorts of protective head covering. It not being certain a reinforced baseball cap would not qualify as a “helmet”, a violation cannot be determined to have occurred.

  35. Okay.

    How about you put yourself in my shoes?

    Imagine . . . tomorrow morning you wake up and go to work only to find out that all the speed limit signs have been modified. They no longer have posted speed limits, but merely say “no speeding.” Now, try to get to work.

    If requirements to wear helmets do not include a clear specification of what constitutes a helmet, it justifies doing that very thing the very moment the government figures out how to turn “no speeding” requirements into a cash flow generator even beyond what they are doing now.

    btw: As a matter of fact, not only do I have a constitutionally protected right to ride a motorcycle on the public roadways dressed virtually any way I choose (assuming, of course, that my attire in and of itself does not infringe on someone else’s right) that dates back to the Magna Carta, as does your inalienable right to use the roadways (in the manner to which they have been adapted and devoted, for other than commercial purposes). One day, someone like myself will take on that particular battle, and one day they will win. On that day, the responsibility may overwhelm you, but that is the price of Freedom . . . responsibility. Some of you may find it more comfortable to pay tribute money to the robber barons, to assure they regulate every aspect of your roadway use, than to take responsibility for yourself. But some of us don’t.

    Feel Free to stop by and visit the United States Freedom Fighter Web Site to get some idea of what foundations the waste of taxpayers dollars complained of above.

    What are YOU prepared to do?

  36. Oh, and if you want to read the judge’s decision, you can click here.

    It’s not as simple an issue as it first appears.

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