Legally Speaking- Taking the law into your own hands
By Bob Mionske
Posted Dec. 4, 2003
A while back I answered an inquiry posed by a New York reader who saw someone riding a bicycle that had been stolen from him earlier (see "LegallySpeaking - with Bob Mionske: My stolen bicycle (" September 25, 2003). I share one of the many emails I received on the subject for the benefit of all readers:
Dear Bob;(As the flip side to your summary of the law regarding recovery of a stolen bicycle, and further to his closing point about getting hurt in the act of self-recovery, may I present my own story:
Several months ago, I stopped for coffee at the end of my morning bike commute. While in line at the coffee shop, I saw someone ride up on another bike, pull out a pair of cable cutters and snip through the cable lock on my bike. I rushed outside, pushed him off my bike just as he was about to run away, and confronted him. We got into a fight (his corner: 6 foot 2-ish, around 200 pounds and alleged to be high on methamphetamine; my corner: 5 foot 9, 150pounds and hadn't even had my morning coffee yet), and he hit me in the head with his cable cutters. It took three "Good Samaritans" to intercede, stop the beating and hold him down until the police arrived.
The end results:(1) I ended up with six stitches in my head, $700 in out-of-pocket medical expenses and a missed day of work to make up. One of the Good Samaritans got bitten- fortunately, the thief appears to be HIV and Hepatitis C negative. (2) The police pulled a six-inch knife out of the guy's pocket- lucky for me that he didn't think to use it. (3) The thief recently pled guilty to assault and got nine months in jail, of which he had served over half at the time of sentencing. (4) One of the defense's main arguments appeared to be that I had provoked the attack, and he had merely defended himself.
Sure, I would have been devastated to lose that bike- the more so because it was a replacement for one stolen nine months earlier- but having been through the process, I can offer a quick summary of the merits and risks of self-recovery: It ain't worth it.
Just sign me(“A bit worse for wear, but wiser.”
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