Indiana Supreme Court hears moped law arguments
The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Friday over Indiana's confusing and outdated moped laws. The high court took its courtroom on the road to Martin University on the Indianapolis east side.
The case starts with a loophole that allows habitual traffic violators back on the road, on low-powered 49cc mopeds designed to travel 25 mph.
"The citizen can't be held accountable in criminal law for laws that are unclear. That doesn't tell him what's right or what's wrong," explained Acting Chief Justice Brent Dickson.
At the center of the case is Michael Lock, a habitual traffic offender with no license. In 2009 Lock was convicted of driving while suspended after a State Trooper pulled him over on U.S. Highway 24 on his 49cc moped.
It wasn't the horsepower but the speed that got him into trouble. He was cruising at 43 mph.
Prosecutors say anything going that fast is not a "motorized bike" as Indiana law calls them, but a motor vehicle.
"People like Mr. Lock don't want something like a vehicle that can only travel 25 mph. He wants something that goes a bit faster because he does things like travel to work on U.S. 24 where the speed limit is 60 mph," argued Andrew Kobe, Deputy Attorney General.
Now the State Supreme Court is weighing in.
"Your client was driving at 43 mph. Why can't we let the jury decide?" questioned Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. "Why do we need five guys in black robes to make that decision?"
"I don't believe it's Mr. Lock's responsibility to show it's an exception. It's the state's responsibility to show that that was a motor vehicle and to do so beyond a reasonable doubt," responded Matthew Grantham, Lock's Attorney.
He argues that just because the moped had the capability to reach higher speeds doesn't mean that it was designed to optimally run at that speed.
State Representative Milo Smith tried to clear up some of the confusion with a proposed law during the last legislative session.
Both the House and Senate wanted plates and registration for mopeds. But after the BMV said there had to be insurance, the bill died.
"I'm thinking we need a speed limit on these motorized bicycles," said Rep. Smith after hearing both sides of the debate. "If we had put a speed limit on these, this case wouldn't have even been here today," he said, acknowledging the confusing laws.
For habitual traffic violators across Indiana, a lot is riding on the decision.
John Smith doesn't want to think about a ruling against habitual traffic offenders. "Hurting, man. Can't get around. I had to ride a bike I for sure ain't doing that or catch the bus. Other than that it's going to be bad, man," he said thinking of the possible repercussions.
Rep. Smith plans to reintroduce changes to the moped law next year.
The Indiana Supreme Court expects to make a ruling within the next three months. If it upholds the trial court conviction, Michael Lock's driver's license will be suspended for life.