A speedy trial

Don Bird

Photo By Josh Indar

Most people who get a speeding ticket just pay the thing and forget about it. A few people will even fight the ticket, taking the matter before a judge and usually hoping the officer who wrote the ticket will fail to show up. But as far as we know, only Don Bird, 71, of Rancho Tehama has had the nerve to challenge the entire California legal system over an instance where he admits he was breaking the law. Bird stopped by our office after lobbying an aide of Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, to enact legislation that would enable ticketed drivers to have a trial by jury. Bird, who admits he was going 71 in a 55 mph zone when he got his ticket, recently used his own amateur legal skills to bring a Second Amendment case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Why do you want a jury trial for a speeding ticket?

I’m arguing the fact that the Seventh Amendment says I have that right … if you choose not to have that right that’s your choice.

There’s going to be a certain percentage of people that are going to pay the ticket and run back to wherever they came from. Or they’ll mail their money in. … They’ll be a handful of people that will go to court that day and try to argue their way out of it. They’ll lose, 99 times out of 100. All I’m asking for is that I want to tell my story to [a jury], even if it’s the same verdict. At least I have my rights given to me.

How would it work?

I’ve got the thing figured out. You’ve got a jury pool, right? Josh and five other people are picked by the judge. [Speaks like a judge] Josh, you’re over 18 and you’re not a felon – sit down, chair No. 1.

You’ve got six people in there that were picked at 7:30 that morning. They sit there until 12. Say out of 30 tickets that an officer in Corning gives in a day, five or three or one says, “Hey, I’ve got a choice here.” You mark the box. “I want a trial by jury.” For those who check the other box, those people would be computer-selected to show up on Tuesday morning instead of Monday morning.

But it’s very hard to get people to do jury duty now, and the courts are clogged with more important things…

No, you said a nasty word to me. There’s nothing more serious than your rights. We’re at the point in our society where people will give up their rights at any expense. As far as inconvenience, I’d say, at a good traffic court, you’d get five minutes, maybe 10.

If you come up with four or five excuses why you shouldn’t pay the $192, it’s an open-court plea bargain, basically. “Yes I was speeding, I was going 72 mph, but my wife was pregnant. My dad just got hit from a falling airplane and I’m rushing to see him in the hospital.” There’s a thousand excuses. Now, the same excuses the judge hears, I want [the jury] to hear it, and I’m counting on your compassion and your understanding.