Judge overturns conviction of Boise cyclist ordered to pay fine after getting hit by car

A district court judge has overturned a ruling from a lower court requiring a Boise cyclist to pay a $90 fine for violating the law when she was struck by a car in an intersection in July.

The case involved Elizabeth Hilton, who on the morning of July 19 was riding her bicycle in the area of the three-way intersection of Emerald Street, Latah Street and Americana Boulevard. The Boise City Prosecutor’s Office argued Hilton disobeyed the traffic lights at the intersection and rode through when it wasn’t safe. While cyclists in Idaho can treat red lights like a stop sign, they can only cross a street against a red light when it is safe to do so. The cyclist is responsible for correctly making that decision.

The Idaho Press reports Josh Bishop, of the Boise City Prosecutor’s Office, argued during a roughly 90-minute trial in September that Hilton violated Idaho law in making her decision. The trial was a bench trial, meaning there was no jury, only a judge — in this case, Ada County Magistrate Judge Theodore Tollefson. Tollefson agreed with Bishop and ordered Hilton to pay the $90 fine.

But Hilton appealed the conviction and her attorney, Kurt Holzer, argued prosecutors had charged her under the wrong statute. Prosecutors charged Hilton under Idaho code 49-801, which reads “The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any traffic-control device placed or held in accordance with the provisions of this title.”

Holzer pointed out there is another Idaho law that deals more specifically with cyclists — Idaho code 49-720.

“A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic,” section 2 of that code reads. “Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution.”

Appeals on magistrate court decisions are handled by district court judges. Senior District Judge Gerald Schroeder handled the appeal in Hilton’s case, and he agreed that Hilton had been charged incorrectly.

“The appellant was not charged under the appropriate statute,” Schroeder wrote in his decision, which came out Thursday.

Holzer told the Idaho Press the next step would be to help Hilton get the money back from the fine, and also to help her file an insurance claim for damages as a result of the crash, which shattered her ankle. At the time of the trial, she was still on crutches.

“She’s walking now, but she has a permanent injury for sure,” Holzer said.

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