This morning, in Saratoga Springs City Court, a motorcyclist and Schenectady resident, James Slater, appeared before Judge James Doern for a non-jury trial to plead his case in response to being charged with having a “modified exhaust system on his motorcycle which created excessive noise” in the city of Saratoga last March 22, 2012. Mr. Slater was issued the ticket for having pipes that “altered the sound” of his motorcycle’s engine. Attorney Ben Rabin , representing Mr. Slater, questioned the issuing officer, asking if he first saw or first heard the motorcycle. The officer could not remember. When questioned by Mr. Rabin as to where the officer was and what he was doing at the time of the incident the officer replied that he couldn't recall, when in fact he had another motorcycle pulled over at the time. Mr. Slater specifically remembers observing the officer three blocks away while pulling another motorcyclist over on the road. In fact, it was at that moment that Mr. Slater believes the officer first noticed him, as he (Mr. Slater) was coasting toward a red light. The officer also admitted that he couldn’t recall seeing anything that would amplify the sound of Mr. Slater’s motorcycle, and that he received no complaints from residents in the area that day. Rabin further questioned the officer regarding his ability to recognize the sound of a motorcycle engine, keeping in mind that motorcycle engines are more exposed and inherently louder than engines on a car or truck. In addition, he questioned his personal knowledge on which components come with a 2003 Heritage Softail , which is the model in question, owned by Mr. Slater. The officer replied that he had attended three training classes during the last three years, at which he was “taught” how to recognize the difference between the sound of a stock motorcycle engine and an “after-market” motorcycle engine; however, he has no personal knowledge re the 2003 Softail in this case. He learned in these classes that the Vance & Hines pipes, for example, such as the ones on Mr. Slater’s motorcycle, are the type that “amplify” the noise on a muffler and alter its sound.
The officer stated that he saw an after-market stamp on the motorcycle, and that if there is no OEM stamp, the parts are not original (the officer did not check to see if there was an OEM stamp on Mr. Slater’s bike). Mr. Rabin reminded the officer that not every component on every vehicle is stock, and that in fact, the tires on most of our own vehicles are not the tires that came with the vehicle when we made our purchase. It is important to note, as Mr. Rabin also stated, that Violation 381.11 requires that the noise on the vehicle be “unreasonable.” The officer testified that there was no testing done to compare the sound of Mr. Slater’s muffler to a stock muffler, but that the knowledge he gained in his training classes, along with the certificate of completion he received, enabled him to determine that Mr. Slater’s exhaust caused unreasonable noise.
Mr. Slater then testified that he purchased the motorcycle in 2005 exactly the way it is now, with the same engine and exhaust system. The only equipment Mr. Slater has added in the seven years he has owned the motorcycle is chrome and extra lights. Mr. Slater has been riding motorcycles for 44 years, has been examined at three road blocks, and never ticketed. He has had inspections done on his motorcycle for the past seven years and received the appropriate stickers indicating that his cycle had passed every inspection.
Naturally, Attorney Rabin moved for dismissal based on the glaring “holes” in this case. The Judge denied the motion, however, is reserving a decision, pending the receipt from both attorneys, of written cases citing law referencing “loud pipes,” and also, a determination as to whether the training classes and certificate received by the issuing officer are sufficient to endorse his ability to conclude that Mr. Slater’s motorcycle caused “unreasonable noise” in the city of Saratoga in March 2012. Judge Doern will make a final decision on this case after review of these additional materials.
Mr. Slater’s is the first (reported) case dealing with the nature of motorcycle exhaust ever brought to trial in New York State. It is somewhat disconcerting that a police officer may answer to the majority of his cross-examination with “I don’t recall,” yet still maintain he has the skill to determine what defines an amplified sound. Mr. Slater is convinced that the officer was “profiling” motorcycles only in this case and the officer in fact stated to Mr. Slater that motorcycles were not welcome in Saratoga (and chuckled as he continued to write the ticket). As Mr. Slater said, “If we allow the State to strip our rights as citizens, we are fools. I took this to trial not just for myself but for all my fellow riders, both men and women.” Incidentally, the District Attorney offered Mr. Slater a reduction via a ticket for parking on the sidewalk. Mr. Slater declined the offer, refusing to lie and preferring to fight for his justice. Mr. Slater has written long and detailed letters to County Legislator Jim Tedisco as well as to the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce . While Tedisco never responded, the Chamber did, suggesting that Mr. Slater contact the Mayor. That may still be an option to consider, even though it is unlikely that would make any difference in this case.
Hopefully, the judge will spend enough time to research the details in this case, which would obviously lead to dismissal. Mr. Slater and members of our biker community do realize the gravity of this decision, as it will affect every motorcyclist in New York State.
*Stay tuned to this Examiner page for the final decision on this case.