Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2004 04 21

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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By Scon SCOOI'ERMANIA ROUSSEAU And Justice E rAIl any of you have no doubt followed the recent story involving the ludicrous sentencing of former South Dakota governor and U.S. House of Representatives member Bill jankl ow, who was convicted of felony second-degree manslaughter in the death of motorcyclist Randolph Scott th is past August. In December, a jury near his hometown del iberated for a mere three hours before convicting janklow of the felony, agreeing with the p rosecution th at he had driven a car through a stop sign at a speed estimated at over 70 m ph, directly into Scott's path. janklow faced more than I I years in prison for the offense, but instead South Dakota Circuit judge Rodney Steele sentenced janklow to only 100 days in jail and declared the former congressman to be eligible for a wo rk-release program , under which he could be out of jail for up to 10 hours a day after only 30 days. He also lost his driver's license for three years, will be on probation for three years , and must pay $1 1,000 in fines and other. That' s it... Like I am sure many of you did, I thought that based upon the facts in the case as presented to the jury, the conviction was warranted , but the penalty sucked . Now, in light of this case and others like it, the AMA has intro duced a new program, called "justice For All"to, as the AMA states on its websi te, "foc us the public's attention on inadequ ate sentencing of drivers who ser iously injure or kill motorcyclists, and to push for laws with tougher penalties when motorists' traffic offenses or criminal actions result in a motorcyclist's death or serious injury." As an AMA mem ber for 14 years , I am cautiously optimistic regard ing the ultimate effect that this program will have on traffic legislation, but at the same time I have to adm it that my first reaction to the AMA's new program is that it is the same type of knee-jerk campaign that has brought abo ut more strict anti-gun and hate-crime legislation. Such bills often spellout a special class of society from the general popu lation and seek to make special circumstances for those against whom the offense was committed. It sounds good enough, and while I certainly unde rsta nd the des ired outcome, I think that the method used in achieving that outcome is flawed and expo ses a serious problem within this country's legal system as it stands. M In other words, we already have legislation that say it is illegal to kill or injure anyone , regardless of the type of instrument used to do so , and regardless of what color or sexual orientation they are or what church they go to . We have enough laws on the books that we don't enforce already. I have been riding motorcycles since I was 7 years old, and I have been a licensed motorcyclist since I was 20, and in the I5 years and two falls that I have had off of streebikes (that' s total - and one was on the trac k), I have never regarded myself as the weaker entity. Nor do I feel that my ability to ride a moto rcycle makes me a special human being. A lot of motorcyclists I know personally do feel that way, however, and in their zeal to be recognized as special, they willingly support unreasonable legislation. Unfo rtun ately, there is oft e n an unwant ed side effect . As it sets tho se named in it apart from oth ers in the mainstream , such law-making can open up the specia l group to even greater scrutiny by those who are "protecting them ." For motorcyclists, the backlash could be severe. Think about it from the potential legislator's perspective: "Y ou're a motorcyclist, and if someo ne injures yo u, they could be dea lt with much more severely than if they injure you in your car. Gee, I'm a lawmaker - heh , he h, so meone pays me to make 'em - so if I don't make laws, then I'm not doing my job. So just for good measure you motorcyclists had better kiss off that helmet-choice legislation. Oh yeah, and we had better eliminate your freedom of cho ice with regard to what you wear in favor of bright neon orange jump suits. By the way, did we mention the special motorcyclist taxatio n that we are cons idering? Hey, it's for your protection." Now, if you think that such a view is out of step with reality and that the law doesn't work that way, I can quote chapter and verse with regard to the types of ridiculous boating safety and waterway access legislation that the editors of our sister publication, Personal Watercraft Illustrated, have to deal with constantly. If you still don't believe it, then I would invite you to think about the kind of system that wo uld allow Bill janklow to get 100 days in jail for killing someone. Having stated my own personal position, and having spoken with AMA public information director Tom Lindsay, I wan t to make it clear that I do support what t he AMA is doing with "justice For All" as long as it is not , as Lindsay assured me, directed solely toward protecting motorcyclists. "We [AMA speak to motorcyclists, ) and we represent motorcyclists, but we do not intend for motorcyclists to become a special class," Lindsay said. "The hate -crime issue has come up in our discussion , and that is not the inte nt here. It will be clear from the wording in the model legislation that we will be presenting soon that we seek to benefit all motorists." Lindsayalso said that the mod el legislation is not designed to deal with the offense or the infraction at the e nforcement level. "We're not trying to give law enforcement anything more to do ," Lindsay said. "We are going to propose minimum sente ncing guidelines for the penalty, depending on the type of infract ion. Right now, penalties such as $200 or $300 fines are not unusual in these cases ." Clearly that much needs to change. Somethi ng mo re must be done to eliminate the scen ario where an irresponsible motorist killsanyone and is fined no more than $200 or $300 . If there is a loo phole in the system that allows this to happen , then it must be plugged, and if motorcyclists can be the so-called vehicle by w hich that happe ns, then nothing but good can come out of the "justice For All" cam paign. I wou ld encourage anyone , motorcyclist or not , to check out what the AMA has to say on the matter at ce . The organization would also like your feedb ack at justice@amadirectl . And no matter who you are , you should neve r be afraid to fight for your rights. CN CYCL E NEWS • APRil 21 , 2004 10 7

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