TCS: How To Contest Your Bicycle Citation in Hennepin County Court in Three Easy Steps

[Blimey! It's the fuzz!]
Step 1: Contesting the Ticket

So, you got pulled over for riding a bicycle. Bummer! That totally sucks!

Maybe you didn’t completely stop at a stop sign. Maybe you did. Maybe you just biked down the wrong part of the U of MN campus. Who cares? I don’t care. I doubt you endangered anyone’s life (other you’re your own, maybe, if you’re an idiot). But whatever. Let’s move on.

Holy crap, what? you have this little piece of paper that says you owe some exorbitant amount of money? WTF? that’s bullshit! i agree.

OK. What do we do now?

Well, we contest the ticket. See that little phone number on the bottom of the ticket? Down by the address in the finey print? Yeah, go ahead and call that number. You’ll be put on hold, but eventually someone somewhere in Hennepin County will pick up. Say to them that “You got an unwarranted bicycle violation and you want to contest it.” They’ll be really bored and they’ll spend a minute punching buttons on some computer in Plymouth, and then they’ll give you a future date somewhere in the six-week range. That’s your appointment for a hearing.

Congratulations! You don’t owe any money for a while!

Step 2: Having a Hearing

A month or so goes by. What? Damn. I have this hearing on my calendar, you say. Good thing I remembered about it, you say. Good thing I’m someone with a lot of spare time on my hands, you think. What do I do now? you wonder to yourself.

Have no fears, friend. Head down to the Hennepin county government center. It’s in downtown Minneapolis by the “government center” stop of the LRT, between second and third streets and fourth and fifth avenues. (I think? Or is it the other way around? Stupid Minneapolis.) PROTIP: It’s the huge building that’s shaped like a giant ‘H’ with skyways in the middle. Try and get there on time.

Ok, go inside. There’s a weird escalator, but go up it! Instead, take a right and find the [Oops. I forgot the name!] window. Announce your name to the secretary behind the plexiglass, and make sure you say pompously, “I have an appointment.”

CAVEAT: If you’re not a n00b, you might know that you secretly don’t need to get an appointment. You can actually skip Step #1 entirely, and just go up to the ‘walk-in’ window, though you’ll have to wait there all day.

When they call your name, try not to look excited, so that you don’t embarrass the people in the waiting room without appointments. Instead, calmly and professionally proceed through the door and down the beige hallway to meet Officer M, a boring man or woman who will usher you into his or her unadorned cubicle.

Go ahead, sit down in the chair. You might want to pull out your ticket or other documentation. You might want to gaze for three seconds at the plaque on the shelf in the right hand corner that says “Hearing Officer of the Month Award, Hillsboro County Florida 2006.” It’s shiny.

At this point, your hearing officer will unassumedly ask, “So. What is it you are after?”

Here you are given a choice. The hearing officer will say, “Either we can give you a break on this citation, or you will go to court and go to trial.” (He will sound 8% like a mob boss in one of those movies where they make you an offer you can’t refuse.)

Ideally for the hearing officer, you would say, “I am upset by this hardly warranted ticket and am seeking a reduction in my fine.” At which point the hearing officer would reduce your fine to something like forty dollars and you would all leave happily ever after, never to set foot in the Hennepin county court system again.

Instead, you will say, “I want to contest this ticket.” You will not blink. You will not budge. you will say, “I would like a court date. This ticket is unjust. I am but a simple bicyclist, and I am going to fight it in a court of law in accordance with my rights guaranteed to me by the United State Constitution.”

Actually, you don’t need to say any of this stuff. Just make him or her give you a court date.

The hearing officer will shrug and in that bureaucratic way that is neither happy nor sad, neither perturbed nor unperturbed, fill out some triplicate paperwork and hand you the yellow copy. The hearing officer will circle the date of your appointment, probably about a month into the future. She or he will tell you to make sure to look at the hearing court screen on the skyway level, and send you out the door with a quizzical look.

Leave the government center and proceed with your day.

[Departures on the left, arrivals on the right.]
Step 3: Going to Court

A month or so passes and lo and behold, it’s your court date. Congratulations! Today is your moment in the bright sun of justice.

Head down to the Hennepin County Government Center. This time you know where it is. This time, when faced with the strange escalator, go up it. Now you’re part of the skyway system, Minneapolis’s equivalent of the Egyptian pyramids!

Find the courtroom part of the building, on the left on the skyway level. In this large nook, you’ll find a series of blue screens that look like the TVs in airports that tell you about all the gates. Somewhere on there is your name, followed by a series of letters and numbers that correspond to one of the many 11th floor courtrooms. (The Hennepin County Government Center is like an airport for justice.)

Proceed down the hall and go through Hennepin County Justice Airport security. Take the elevator up to the 11th floor. You’ll be sharing it with a mustachio’d and friendly security policeman. Find your courtroom. Go inside!

Wow. You’re in a courtroom. A real courtroom. It’s large and beige and strange. There are lots of empty seats and it’s unclear what to do. Sit down and spend a few minutes or hours watching the proceedings. It’s still unclear what to do. There’s a bench in the far corner, way up high, but nobody is sitting at it. A bit lower and closer is another bench, and there are two people sitting there, only their heads sticking up from behind the beige wood paneling. In front of that bench there’s a railing and a table stacked with books. One woman sits there in a nice suit while another suited woman walks back and forth from the railing to a gray-beige cubicle over in the corner. Amongst these benches and suited people wander less well-dressed consternated people, many of whom are engaged in heated conversation with the two suited women. This goes on for some time. In the ‘audience’ sit many folks wearing various degrees of formal attire, people from “all walks of life”, a real cross-section of Minneapolis. Most look nervous. Some of them look eerily relaxed.

When you’re ready, walk up, take a pen, and put your name on the clipboard sitting on top of the railing, in the very center of the room.

Once they call your name, stand and wave quickly and go talk to the Hennepin County Prosecutor.

Try one of the TCSidewalks-approved bicycle defenses! Hope that it works.

If it works, congratulations! You’re free. You don’t owe any money!

If it doesn’t quite work, don’t give up. Ask for a Continuance Without a Plea (C-WOP). They give this to people without long records of criminal behavior. That means you don’t have to pay any money, as long as you promise not to do it again.

If that doesn’t work, wow, you must have done something terrible in a past life. Ask for a real court date with a judge and everything. You’re on your own, buster. Good luck.

[This is how a courtroom looks, kinda like my parent's basement.]


Unknown said...

Congrats on your avoidance of a fee.

Mike Hicks said...

An airport for justice! Heh.

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