It has recently come to the attention of the motorcycle accident lawyers at Riderz Law that a number of bikers — specifically patch holders — have been arrested for carrying decorative motorcycle leashes, sometimes called “getbacks whips” or “getbacks.” The leashes are made of braided leather, often in club colors. At the end of each leash is a metal clip, substantially similar to what one would find on the end of a big dog’s leash. Typically, they are attached to a motorcycle’s handlebars for decorative purposes.
Friday and Saturday, we discussed the legal justification under which bikers are being prosecuted for carrying these seemingly-innocuous items. Here, we talk about defending a charge of California Penal Code section 12020(a).
Defending of the Charge of PC 12020(a)
In short, the biggest question in defense of this charge is whether decorative motorcycle leashes have an ordinary, innocent use. The simple, obvious, and convenient answer is YES – the leashes have an ordinary, innocent use – they are decorative! Bikes and cars alike are often adorned with items that have no purpose other than decoration or aesthetics – from fancy rims to “L.A. Lakers” flags. This would seem to be an ordinary, innocent use. As such, the burden should fall on the prosecution to show that the possessor would use the object for a dangerous purpose.
In Fannin, discussed in Friday (Part 1) and Saturday’s (Part 2) blog entries, the prosecution met this burden by the admission of the defendant – there, the defendant told the police that he carried the metal chain “for protection.” As always, it is imperative that NO ADMISSION be made to law enforcement. A seemingly innocuous statement such as “it’s for self-defense” could all but seal the fate of a motorcyclist who is in possession of these decorative items. (Check out this page on what to do if you’re stopped by a cop, and our Stopped By a Cop “Do’s and Dont’s.”)
In summary, the Court offered the following: “[A] slungshot is a striking weapon consisting of a heavy weight [made of metal or rock] attached to a flexible handle. An ordinary object such as a bicycle lock . . . may be a slungshot. The prosecution bears the burden of proving the defendant possessed such an object as a weapon. The prosecution may meet that burden with circumstantial evidence, or with the defendant’s statements explaining why he carried the object. On the other hand, the defendant may present evidence that he possessed the object innocently, for the purposes served by its legitimate design instead of those proscribed by Penal Code section 12020.” (People v. Fannin (2001) 91 Cal.App. 4th 1399, 1406.)
Tip on Potentially Avoiding Prosecution
Recently, I spoke to one of the manufacturers of these decorative leashes, Ms. Bonnie Collins of Cactus Leathers. Bonnie is a member of the Graveyard Gamblers MC, and a member of the San Diego Confederation of Clubs. Bonnie advised me that she is aware of recent police harassment with regard to her leashes, and has advised purchasers of her products that they “zip tie” them to their bikes. This advice has a logical appeal, as it would make the leash very difficult to remove from a bike, rendering it nearly worthless as a “potential weapon.” It should be noted, though, that no information is yet available as to what reaction this will get from law enforcement (i.e., whether they would still file charges for violation of the statute), or how it effective its use would be in a criminal defense.
We hope this information is helpful to our biker brothers and sisters. If you run into problems with LEOs on this subject, or would like to keep us informed of any biker discrimination you’ve run into, feel free to contact the motorcycle accident lawyers at Riderz Law by calling us or shooting us an email. And as always, ride safe.