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Ask Our Lawyer - August 2004

Q: I get so infuriated when I hear about drivers who run over bikers then get off with a light sentence. I remember your column about it, but I want to know what I can DO about it!

A: It is time to get involved. A.B.A.T.E. Legal has contacted Terry Lee Cook of Ohio, one of the leaders of the AMA, and has proposed a task force to be formed to track and monitor these events. From Bob Chapman in Indiana, to Randy Scott, who was killed by Rep. Janklow in South Dakota, bikers seem to have become fair game on our nation’s roadways. The only way for us to fight back is to do so as a group, with one voice. It was group action and brotherly support that got Bob Chapman’s shooter some jail time, [he’s still in prison as we speak] and it’s going to take similar action to remind prosecutors that it is not open season on bikers. Recall that A.B.A.T.E. Legal Services did a survey last fall concerning the sentiments of members of motorcycle rights groups and their feelings concerning sentencing guidelines. It is our intent to compile this information for use by judges and prosecutors.

We propose to the AMA that this task force be composed of motorcyclists nationwide who will share information and assist in conveying the intense interest of motorcyclists with fair sentencing. We believe that prosecutors and judges will no longer be able to get away with one standard for motorcyclists and another for non-motorcyclists. So far our informal efforts have been successful.

As you know, in previous columns, we were outraged over the South Dakota incident. We were equally upset that it was called the Janklow Incident, as opposed to the Randy Scott Incident, the motorcyclist who was killed. I think that it is fitting that this task force be called the Scott Justice Task Force in memory of Randy Scott and the scores of others who did not receive justice.

At this writing we have several motorcyclists from around the country who are willing to serve on a Blue Ribbon Task Force, in their individual capacities as motorcycle enthusiasts, for this effort. Jay Jackson, Executive Director of A.B.A.T.E. of Indiana, Inc., Michael Farabaugh, a founder of A.B.A.T.E. of Indiana, Inc., Greg “Sidecar” Wagner, State Coordinator of A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois, Inc., Doc Jones, D.V.M., former State Coordinator of A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois, Inc., George Tinkham of A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois, Inc., Hairy George Nitsky, Legislative Director of A.B.A.T.E. of Ohio, Inc., Steve Zimmer, Executive Director of A.B.A.T.E of Ohio, Inc., Dan Waterfield, former executive director of A.B.A.T.E. of Ohio, Inc., Tony Shepard, Chairman of A.B.A.T.E. for Missouri, Inc., and member of Freedom of Road Riders, Inc., Dal Smilie, Assistant Attorney General of Montana and AMA Trustee, and others from around the country have enlisted in this effort. We are establishing a website dedicated to this issue. If you wish to volunteer and/or have some great ideas and advice, please let us know.

Our goal is to have a source from victims to turn to when they lose a loved one in cases like those involving Bob Chapman and Randy Scott. In Bob Chapman’s case, if it had not been for organized motorcyclists seeking justice, I am convinced that the bad guy would have walked. He now sits in prison – and that’s where he should be.

ABATE OF OHIO – STEVE ZIMMER AND JERRY SPRINGER?

The power and the influence of ABATE of Ohio continues. Steve Zimmer even convinced Jerry Springer to get on stage and jam with the band. Congratulations to Steve and ABATE of Ohio – a good way to keep ABATE’s voice heard.

GOING TO A JURY

I get a lot of calls from people who have been summoned to jury service. Here are some thoughts on what to expect.

Why is jury service so important?
When you are called to be a juror, you become the most important person in our legal system. In the United States, our justice system is based on the belief that a just and fair result in court comes from having disputes settled by our fellow citizens. We have an obligation to our fellow citizens to honor the summons and appear at court. Some cases may be more important than others, but to the parties involved, their case is very important, and they deserve to have it decided by honest and impartial jurors.

How are jurors selected?
Usually, persons are called at random for jury service from the list of registered voters in a court's geographical area. In some counties and in federal courts, the list of registered automobile drivers also may be used. Jury trials are held in the United States district courts, the county circuit or superior courts, common pleas court, the municipal courts, or county courts.

What are the different types of juries?
Most jurors will be selected to serve on a petit jury, one that is selected to hear and decide a particular case. If the case is a criminal trial involving a felony (a more serious type of crime), the law requires 12 jurors. In a civil case, a smaller number of jurors (usually six or eight jurors) are selected.

Unlike the petit jury, a grand jury hears evidence about alleged crimes, usually felonies, and only decides whether or not a person should be indicted and tried for committing a crime. Also unlike the petit jury, the grand jury does not decide guilt or innocence. If you are summoned to court to be selected for service on a grand jury, you will probably serve for a longer period of time than if you serve on a petit jury, although in most smaller counties, grand jury duty may only be once or twice a month for a three- or four-month period.

What happens when I appear for jury service?
When you arrive at the court, you are directed to a particular courtroom or to an assembly area. Some courts provide a brief orientation talk or video to help acquaint you with the system. All prospective jurors take an oath or affirm that they will answer truthfully and fully questions posed to them by the judge and the attorneys during the selection process.

You are also told a little bit about case so that it can be determined if any past experience or bias might make it hard for you to be fair. You also have an opportunity to tell the court about anything else that might impact your ability to sit as a juror, including health problems, employment situations, and other obligations in your life. You have the right to respond to questions confidentially to the judge and attorneys, if you wish.

Generally, each side in a case has the right to ask that a certain limited number of jurors be excused without giving a reason (called a peremptory challenge). Each side also can make an unlimited number of challenges for cause (for a good reason). When attorneys make these challenges, it is not their intent to personally embarrass potential jurors, but to ensure that they engage jurors they believe will evaluate the case as fairly as possible for their clients.

Can I get out of jury service?
Probably, although serving will give you an “up close and personal” view of the judicial system. Most states provide exemptions for certain occupations or conditions that would interfere with a juror’s ability to serve. If you don’t meet one of the exemptions, you will have to show up for duty and participate in the process.

Serving on a jury will be one of the most patriotic events of your life. It may even be the equivalent of serving in the armed forces, and I’ve done both.

Ride safe and free,

Rod Taylor

ABATE Legal Services

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: ASK OUR LAWYER, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206_2850, or email rodtaylor@abatelegal.com.

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