Judge rules helmet law is "unconstitutional" and "vague"
By TOM RAGAN
SENTINEL STAFF WRITER
WATSONVILLE — It looks like Richard Quigley's legal home-schooling, not to mention the hundreds of hours of community service he's spent at the Santa Cruz Law Library, have paid dividends.
A Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that at least a dozen citations leveled against Quigley for not wearing a motorcycle helmet are unconstitutional because the California Highway Patrol has failed to properly define what constitutes a safe motorcycle helmet.
In his seven-page ruling, Judge Michael Barton sided with Quigley, 61, of Aptos, whose argument in numerous court appearances over the years is that his soft leather baseball cap is just as much a helmet as the so-called standard hard-shelled helmets worn by most motorcycle riders.
The California Highway Patrol must define what a helmet is or any citations written by officers are unconstitutional, Barton ruled.
The interpretation of what constitutes a helmet, the judge wrote, is unfairly left up to the CHP officer's "subjective opinion," and the set of guidelines and safety standards are "vague."
Quigley, who's been fighting the helmet law for 15 years, since it first went into effect, was elated at the judge's detailed clarification of a ruling last month.
"I finally feel a sense of victory," said Quigley, who's received dozens of citations for wearing a baseball cap as a helmet for more than a decade. "The point in all this is that the CHP doesn't have any idea what a helmet is, and until they figure it out, they shouldn't be issuing tickets."
In July, Barton sided with Quigley and dismissed nine helmet citations against him on the premise the law was too vague. Wednesday, he dismissed the final two citations against Quigley, ruling that "The CHP is the only state agency authorized by the statutes to adopt reasonable regulations establishing specifications and standards for motorcycle safety helmets. The CHP's failure to adopt such regulations, and make them available to the public, has rendered the helmet law statutes void for vagueness as applied."
The judge's order and its implications caught the California Highway Patrol off guard, and the agency's general counsel was seeking legal advice late Wednesday, said Tom Marshall, a spokesman for the CHP.
"We're going to review the decision to determine what, if any actions, we will take," said Marshall.
Closer to home, the California Highway Patrol office in Aptos was waiting on a decision from Sacramento.
"It's going to be interesting to see what happens from here," Quigley said, adding, "If I were a cop, I wouldn't be writing any more tickets. They might get sued if it's unconstitutional."
Since the motorcycle law went into effect, Quigley said he has never paid any fines as a result of a citation. Instead, he said, he has served hours of community work at the Santa Cruz Law Library.