Call

Blog

Law
02

Blog

BIKES & CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Bicycle accident ticket

Many of our cycling clients find themselves having to interact with the criminal justice system. Typically, it’s because the driver who hits them (or their family member) is charged with a crime or traffic offense.

Occasionally bicyclists themselves are charged with traffic offenses!

Every state’s criminal laws are different, but there is a lot of overlap. These responses are North Carolina based but should help you understand a bit of the process in any state. These explanations should clear up a lot of the confusion, but we are always available to answer questions.

What is the difference between the civil and criminal justice system?

In the civil justice system, people (or other entities) bring lawsuits against other people (or entities) who have wronged them. The person bringing a civil action usually is looking for money damages, but they may also ask for other remedies, like forcing a person to stop doing something or asking the court to enforce a contract.

In a criminal case, the entity pursuing the case is always the state or federal government. A person can ask the government to bring criminal charges against another person, but ultimately it is the government’s decision whether to bring the charges and what punishment to seek. The injured person is the crime victim, not a party to the action. Crime victims have certain rights (typically to be notified of court dates and to have their opinions heard) but criminal charges are always brought on behalf of the people of the state (or united states) and not the victims themselves.

In a criminal case, the government can ask for restitution on behalf of the victim. The restitution would come directly from the defendant (not an insurance company) and courts usually grant restitution only for direct money damages, like medical bills. Logistically, restitution is often difficult to collect.

I was hit by a car while riding my bike. Can I hire a lawyer to represent me in criminal court?

Yes and no. The lawyers in the Bike Law network are civil attorneys. We often, however, advocate for clients (as victims) in the criminal justice system. Depending on the case, this could mean anything from providing advice to the client about the process, sending information to, and communicating with, the district attorney to help them prosecute the case, and/or meeting with the district attorney (also harassing a district attorney who isn’t doing their job). We don’t charge a separate fee for doing these things; if the case warrants it, we will do them as part of our overall representation.

My loved one was killed by a careless driver. How is it possible that this person is not going to jail?

Laws in many states have not caught up with the reality of dangerous and distracted driving.

In North Carolina, in order to be charged with any crime at all, the driver must at least have committed an infraction, like routine speeding, or failing to stop at a light. If the state can prove that the driver committed an infraction, and killed someone, then the driver will be charged with Misdemeanor Death by Motor Vehicle. Unfortunately, a misdemeanor carries very little punishment, and a person with no past driving record is likely to get no jail time, regardless of the seriousness of the infraction. In some limited aggravated situations (like drunk driving) the state may be able to seek manslaughter, or even murder, charges.

To date, we are not aware of any District Attorney in North Carolina seeking manslaughter, or higher, charges, for distracted driving. We believe this could be done but only with the right set of facts[1], because the first prosecution for distracted driving murder charges will set precedent for the rest of the state.

What if I am seriously injured but alive?

Unfortunately, the criminal charges available in case of serious injury are even less adequate than in fatality cases. Some District Attorneys’ offices have an internal policy that, if the driver has insurance and there is a civil case, they will dismiss even the infractions (ie. speeding, failure to stop) against the driver.

In all cases where criminal charges are brought, we send a letter to the District Attorney’s office asking them to please prosecute the case, regardless of an “insurance letter.” In many cases, insurance coverage isn’t even sufficient to compensate the victim financially, and it certainly doesn’t help them feel that justice has been served. District attorneys’ offices are supposed to take a victim’s wishes into account in their decision making.

In some instances, the State may be able to bring charges of Assault With A Deadly Weapon Inflicting Serious Injury. The deadly weapon, of course, is the car, and the State must prove that the driver had the intent to use the car in a manner that could potentially inflict serious injury. The injury must be debilitating and permanent to be considered “serious” under the criminal law.

Why on earth would the State dismiss a speeding ticket, when I’ve been injured?

It doesn’t seem to make sense at all. You’ve been injured by a careless driver, the driver gets slapped on the risk with a speeding ticket, or failure to stop, or some other minor infraction, and then, even the ticket is dismissed?! If this seems unjust, you are absolutely right. Sadly, many court systems are logjammed and over capacity and district attorneys are looking for any reason (“insurance letter,” for example) to move their dockets.

For more on this, see my interview with Mecklenburg County ADA Dan McNeil: https://youtu.be/VpY5noSe5uw

What’s next?

Most, if not all, states need to upgrade their laws to reflect the danger, and prevalence, of distracted driving. The research showing that distracted driving is as bad, or worse, than drunk driving, has been around for years. It makes sense to extend drunk driving laws to distracted drivers. The challenge is proving the distraction; it would not be possible in every case for police to confiscate and download a driver’s phone. This should be a requirement, however, in all fatality and serious injury cases.


[1] We believe an opportunity was missed here: https://www.bikelaw.com/2019/01/death-by-distracted-driving/

Comments

Ann Groninger Jan 04, 2024

Many of our cycling clients find themselves having to interact with the criminal justice system. Typically, it’s because the driver who hits them (or their family member) is charged with a crime or traffic offense. Occasionally bicyclists themselves are charged with traffic offenses! Every state’s criminal laws are different, but there is a lot of […]

Read More
Bike Crash Road Defect Georgia
Peter Wilborn Jun 14, 2023

We recently shared the story of a trial victory from the State of Texas where a bicyclist was injured due to a defect in a road maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation. Texas Road Defect   We now can tell the story of another huge win in a road defect case, this time from […]

Read More
Road defect dangerous to cyclists
Charlie Thomas Mar 14, 2023

Recently, attorneys with the Bike Law network took a case to a trial against a titan of a defendant: the Texas Department of Transportation. TxDOT was represented by the Attorney General’s Office, one of Texas’ largest legal teams. We had a great client, but it was a tough case to prove. So tough, in fact, […]

Read More
bike path charlotte
Ann Groninger Jan 13, 2023

  2023 got off to a rough start for Charlotte, North Carolina, particularly in the context of road safety. Within about a week, we lost a young woman who was riding her bicycle, a pedestrian killed in the same area of town, and four people were killed in a car wreck on I-85 in the […]

Read More
North Carolina Bike Crash
Ann Groninger Dec 06, 2022

Unless you’re a very recent follower of ours, you’ve heard us talk before about “contributory negligence.” To recap: “pure contributory negligence” is the law in North Carolina and only 3 other states (Alabama, Virginia, Maryland). In pure contributory negligence states, if a person is injured by someone else’s fault and the injured person contributes even […]

Read More
Is It Illegal to Ride Your Bike on the Sidewalk bikelaw
Peter Wilborn Aug 01, 2022

The laws dictating whether you can ride your bike on the sidewalk differ depending where you live. Different states have different laws on this matter, and local ordinances also vary. Let’s take a look at the legal framework behind various state laws related to cycling on sidewalks. The laws of sidewalk-riding can be very complicated […]

Read More
Ebike crash
Bruce Hagen Apr 26, 2022

DRIVER ON METH KILLS 17 YEAR OLD BICYCLIST, BARROW COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY REFUSES TO CHARGE DRIVER WITH FELONY.   On August 23, 2020, at approximately 8:40pm, 17-year old Obianuju Osuegbu was on her way home from her summer job working at a grocery store. She had earned enough money that summer to buy herself a […]

Read More
Stop as Yield
Brian Weiss Apr 25, 2022

Finally, “Stop As Yield” (the much sought after common sense traffic law for bicyclists) is coming to Colorado in 2022, likely July 1st.   Stop as Yield, aka the “Safety Stop” After the Governor Polis signs the law and the Safety Stop becomes effective, anyone who rides a bicycle or scooter on public roads will […]

Read More
Contributory Negligence
Ann Groninger Apr 25, 2022

It took losing at trial and a long appellate process, but it ended in a blow to contributory negligence in North Carolina. We just won an appeal on a bicycle crash case that happened in 2016 and came to us in 2018. The case went to trial during the spring of 2021. Our client was […]

Read More
Load More