COCONUT SHELL PASSES FOR HELMET
by Richard Quigley
Over the years, we have had some great stories about great characters doing some unbelievable stuff in fighting the injustice of helmet laws, but this time we're going to push the edge of believability . . . particularly for those people who have not been paying attention to some of the work that's being done on the streets these days.
On September 26, 1996, Steve "Red" Barron appeared in the San Diego Municipal Court to answer a complaint which had been filed (at the request/demand of the "defendant" Barron) alleging that he was not wearing an approved helmet. It seems that in spite of an injunction forbidding the conduct, and an in-house communication specifically instructing police not to do it; San Diego Police Officer Kyle Kelly just could not resist writing Red a ticket for violating California's helmet law by wearing a helmet that very closely resembled a coconut cut in half (actually less than half, and secured with some very strong twine . . . sounds like an Ill Eagle Helmet Company model helmet to me.)
With the nay-sayers taking book on how long Red was going to spend in jail for this one, Red walked proudly (and well informed and prepared) into court, representing himself, and walked away with a solid "NOT GUILTY"!
It seems that when Judge Kaneshiro asked the City Attorney (actually, there were two present) for a determination of noncompliance from NHTSA, or a recall by the manufacturer (?) or laboratory tests on the helmet; the City Attorney couldn't believe his ears.
"But your honor, it's just a coconut." he complained.
Reportedly the judge proceeded to inform the City Attorney about the recent decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District. According to that decision (which is just one more confirmation of the 1993 "loss" by Bianco and HLDL in Bianco v. CHP ), a helmet is a helmet is a helmet unless the police and the prosecutors can demonstrate that there has been one of the three events regarding the helmet -- a determination of noncompliance by NHTSA, a recall by the manufacturer or competent objective evidence from an independent testing facility. Without one of those three elements, any helmet (particularly one with a DOT sticker) must be presumed to comply with the California Helmet Law, "But your honor, it's just a coconut" notwithstanding.
The court's order reads as follows:
Municipal Court of California, County of San Diego
San Diego Judicial District
The People of the State of California vs. STEVEN R. BARRON
SEPTEMBER 26, 1996 CRIMINAL DOCKET - PAGE ONE CASE V484509
CASE TRANSFERRED FROM THE PRESIDING DEPARTMENT TO DEPARTMENT FIVE FOR A BENCH TRIAL.
COUNSEL FOR THE PEOPLE:
LA DELL DANGERFIELD III,
DCA SUPERVISING CERTIFIED LEGAL INTERN CONNIE FORSYTHE.
COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENDANT:
IN PROPRIA PERSONA
PROCEEDINGS ARE TAPE RECORDED ELECTRONICALLY ON COURT'S OWN MOTION.
8:55 A. M. COURT IS IN SESSION WITH ALL PARTIES PRESENT. THE COURT DISCLOSES TO THE PARTIES THAT SHE HAS PERSONALLY PRESIDED OVER SOME OF THE DEFENDANT'S CASES ON THIS SAME OFFENSE. THE DEFENDANT STATES HE HAS ENTERED A NOT GUILTY PLEA TO A CHARGE OF V. C. 40610. THE COURT AT THIS TIME STATES SHE WILL RECESS THIS MATTER TO REVIEW THE LAW AND HANDLE OTHER MATTERS.
9:00 A.M. COURT IS IN RECESS.
10:00 A.M. COURT RECONVENES WITH ALL PARTIES PRESENT. THE DEFENDANT ARGUES THE RELEVANCE OF VEHICLE CODE SECTION 40610. THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE'S WITNESS IS SWORN AND EXAMINED: OFFICER KYLE KELLY (TP1 - 1800). THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE'S EXHIBIT NUMBER ONE IS MARKED FOR IDENTIFICATION AND RECEIVED INTO EVIDENCE OVER THE DEFENDANT'S OBJECTION ON RELEVANCE GROUNDS:
1) PHOTOGRAPH OF A COCONUT SHELL HELMET.
DEFENDANT'S EXHIBIT A IS MARKED FOR IDENTIFICATION AND RECEIVED INTO EVIDENCE WITH NO OBJECTION BY THE PEOPLE:
A) A SAN DIEGO POLICE DEPARTMENT ORDER DATED 10/9/95.
THE PEOPLE REST.
THE COURT ON HER OWN MOTION DISMISSES THIS CASE IN IT'S ENTIRETY FINDING THE PEOPLE HAVE NOT MET THEIR BURDEN OF PROOF BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT
THE PARTIES STIPULATE TO THE RELEASE OF THE EXHIBITS.
GALE E. KANESHIRO, JUDGE
San Diego County Municipal Court
Congratulations, Red. Nice Job! We know what's it's been like, beating your head against all those other judges and commissioners who find it inconvenient to abide by the law.
Now coconut shells can be added to the list of things which have been found to satisfy helmet laws -- like Steve Bianco's demonstration of a small drinking cup in the Northern San Diego County Court trial. In Maryland, it's everything from just plain scalp and hair to Santa Claus hats, compliments of Mike Lewis. In Northern California, it's a yarmulke size Ill Eagle Helmet, thanks to Don Blanscet. And, we must assume, as long as the Ill Eagle Helmet Company continues to manufacture and certify helmets which resemble all kinds of stuff -- from dark glasses (which doesn't invade the 218 test area, and thus won't "fail" the tests) to the newest, lightest, tiniest-ever stealth model which requires special equipment just to view, never mind testing -- bikers can still make some reasonable choices regarding their own safety.
And, of course when it comes down to a coconut shell qualifying as complying with the helmet law, there is even a good chance that the legislature will finally figure out that a helmet law is nothing more than a fashion statement, imposed for the express purpose of making bikers "submit", and nothing more. Then maybe someone will actually use that understanding to make some headway on a repeal bill for California, and on similar legislation for the rest of the country.
Here's to the future!