Get A Noise Ticket In Golden? Then Read This....
By Wade Eldridge, Attorney at Law
As you may have heard by now, the City of Golden, Colorado, has begun an aggressive campaign of ticketing motorcyclists for allegedly loud exhaust mufflers. Rumor has it that more than 120 (one hundred twenty) tickets have already been issued so far this summer.
The City is using a Colorado state statute, C.R.S. 42-4-225. That law requires that vehicles be equipped with an “adequate” muffler, and outlaws any “excessive or unusual” noise. You might ask yourself, “what do the words ‘adequate,’ ‘excessive’ or ‘unusual’ mean?” If they are not defined in the law, doesn’t that mean we have to GUESS what conduct is allowed and what is prohibited? And, since those phrases are not defined in the law, doesn’t that mean that a police officer can decide for himself what conduct HE thinks is illegal? A lawyer might ask: “Don’t those two problems with the law mean that it’s “void for vagueness?”
Well, there are LOTS of cases (including Colorado cases on disturbing the peace, for example), which say just that, e.g., if you can’t tell what conduct is allowed and what conduct is prohibited, the law is unconstitutionally “void for vagueness.” Unfortunately, when it comes to muffler noise prosecutions, our county court judges don’t seem to care. In upholding the statute against a constitutional attack, one judge recently held: ”Well, the officer testified it sounded ‘deafening’ to him, that’s enough for me.” (I am not making this up!)
So, what can we do to “fight back?” PLEAD NOT GUILTY AND INSIST ON A TRIAL. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
Before the trial, you might want to file “pre-trial motions,” such as a) a motion to dismiss the charge, alleging the statute is unconstitutionally vague; b) a motion to suppress the officer’s close-up inspection of the bike, on the grounds that there was no legitimate reason to stop you, and c) a discovery motion (seeking production of any memos, etc of the Golden police department about stopping motorcyclists.) Every case turns on its own facts, but you can view some samples of such motions on the website of the Colorado Confederation of Clubs (colorado-coc.com)
At the motions hearing (and/or at the trial), you might ask the officer to define what the words ‘adequate,’ ‘excessive’ and ‘unusual’ mean. You may want to ask him how many decibels of noise must be emitted before he deems it to be excessive. Consider asking the officer how many decibels of sound your mufflers were emitting, and how he determined that. You could ask him how many decibels of sound are emitted by stock pipes. You might also ask him how much of the total sound he heard, before he stopped you, was due to other sources (cars, jackhammers, etc), and how much was due to the effect of the local environment (noise bouncing off downtown buildings, for example).
Since the state law doesn’t define what “adequate,’ ‘excessive’ or ‘unusual’ is, anyone who has heard the mufflers could be competent to testify on that issue at the trial. One good witness might be your next door neighbor (“sure, I hear it, but it’s not excessively or unusually loud”). Another good witness could be a mechanic from a bike shop (“doesn’t sound that loud to me, about the same as stock pipes”) [Caution: the same law (C.R.S. 42-4-225) makes it illegal to put on any mufflers on your bike that are louder than stock! ]
The powers that be in City of Golden has apparently made a political decision that they don’t want us in their City. The police department will continue stopping us, and writing these tickets, until enough people PLEAD NOT GUILTY AND INSIST ON A TRIAL. Remember, you have a RIGHT to REQUIRE the prosecution to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. When the court is (even more) backlogged with these cases, we will see some official pressure to stop them. If enough of all one hundred twenty of the already-ticketed defendants had demanded a trial, this kind of harassment would have stopped already.
Wade H. Eldridge, Attorney at Law
DISCLAIMER: Every case is different. The suggestions set forth above not does not constitute legal advice, they are just suggestions and ideas .