City Hall

Despite Dismissals, Challenge to Dallas Bike Helmet Law Still Alive in Federal Criminal Court

For a guy coping with the dismissal of his long-running challenge to the city's bike helmet law, Paul Woodfield sounded in awfully good spirits this morning when I reached him by phone.

Could've had something to do with the 160-mile bike ride through Washington State from which he and his wife have just returned -- no helmet the whole way, the scofflaw -- but after all the other twists and turns his challenge has taken, it was no surprise to hear the latest dismissal is far from the end of the road. Not even close, Woodfield said.

Instead, his challenge is going ahead as a federal criminal case, since Woodfield had his ticket removed to the big house from municipal court on July 26 (jump to read the full notice of removal). With that challenge up in federal court too, Woodfield said, U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis dismissed the civil case. "They essentially said you can bring all the same issues in your criminal case that you brought in the civil. The end result becomes the same," Woodfield said.

As for the phantom ticket Woodfield received earlier this summer, he says it wasn't so mysterious after all -- it wasn't a phantom so much as an old ticket he'd already had dismissed, brought back from the dead once the city found a police officer to sign on as a witness. "I've never heard of that being done before. Normally when somerthing's dismissed, it's dismissed," Woodfield said. "They went back, had the cop write an affidavit and refiled the ticket after dismissing it once."

In the chess game that's played out over the last few years between Woodfield and the city, the move recalled an earlier one by the city, a motion to dismiss the civil case because of the criminal matter still tied to the ticket itself. "I saw what their strategy is, they're trying to deprive the federal court of jurisdiction," Woodfield said. Once the city re-filed the ticket against him, though, Woodfield got it removed to federal court, where his challenge can go ahead.

Woodfield says his challenge turns on a couple of points: one, that the Texas Drivers Handbook says you don't need to wear a helmet. "Highly suggested," sure, the book says, but "not required by law." (You can look it up page 13-2.) "People do this because they've been told it's legal, and they would have no reasons to suspect it isn't," Woodfield says. Second, the Texas Legislature's latest safety equipment law passed in 2001, which lists the gear you need to stay legal on the road, doesn't include helmets.

"If this was illegal immigration, abortion, guns or something, the courts would be all over it. This isn't a hot-button issue that gets them excited. It takes a little work to get 'em interested."

Texas v. Woodfield Notice of Removal