This segment was inspired by Keith, who writes:
Dear Editor, I have a question. How do I use the Reaffirmation of Oath of Office? And in doing so, what results would you think or would know would this arise in court? Please explain.
Yours is the second inquiry about this document in just two days, so I guess my response should be published in "Letters." I didn't write the Reaffirmation of Oath of Office (RAO), and it may be possible that I don't completely understand it. But I'll be happy to give you the benefit of what I do understand, for what it's worth.
Back in the early days of my studies, I presented the RAO to officers at two different traffic stops. In each case, I told the officer to read and sign it, and informed him that if he did not sign it, then his oath of office allowed me to sign it on his behalf. Each officer took the RAO back to his car and was gone a long time, presumably consulting a higher-up on the radio.
One of those times the cop handed the RAO back to me, gave me a warning instead of a ticket, and quickly left the scene. The other time, I got the ticket anyway. I've played around with a lot of tickets over the years, and I don't remember what happened with that one. I do know that I did not go after the officer for violation of oath, because I've never done that yet.
A number of my friends and acquaintances have had similar experiences with the RAO. To my knowledge, no one has tried the issue in court. I guess you could say we have used the RAO as a paper tiger, of more use for its intimidation factor than anything else.
When I got the other inquiry about this, earlier in the week, it was the first time I'd looked at the RAO in several years. I discovered that I'm not completely comfortable with the wording, and I've put it on my to-do list to make some changes.
My discomfort comes from the use of the phrase accomodation party. It smacks of the early line of thought which eventually led to the Commercial Redemption procedures. This line of thinking has sent many good people to federal prison. I don't think prison is much of a danger with this particular document, but if I'm reading it right, then it also lacks good sense.
Black's Law Dictionary Sixth Edition, has this to say about the accomodation party:
Accomodation party. One who signs commercial paper in any capacity for purpose of lending his name (i.e. credit) to another party to instrument. U.C.C. § 3 -415. Such a party is a surety.
So if I'm reading it right, the RAO has you, the potentially damaged party, offering to be a surety for the officer, who is the potential damaging party. In other words, if you sign the RAO as an accomodation party you're saying, "If you damage me and I successfully sue you for damages in court, then I'll pay the damage on your behalf."
Kind of defeats the intended purpose, don't you think? Here's how I see the RAO:
The RAO does several things which are all good:
1. Gives administrative notice to the officer that you claim protections under the Constitution;
2. Gives administrative notice that you do not waive any of those rights;
3. Gives administrative notice that you will hold the officer personally liable for rights violations;
4. Offers to enter into a private contract with the officer, to add strength to the performance of his public duty.
Administrative notice is very important. Many civil rights suits have failed primarily on the basis of intent; that the damaging officer was not aware of the civil rights violations at the time he perpetrated the damage, and acted in good faith to the best of his knowledge. I've read several such cases. No, I don't remember the cites, so please don't ask. If I had time to look them up, I'd do it now. The point is, that giving the officer proper prior notice destroys his ability to later claim he didn't know. It gives you an advantage you'd not otherwise have, and closes a loophole through which many officers have escaped.
You can always offer a private contract to anyone. If you can get him to go for it, so much the better. You can even make the offer of a contract appear as though it may be mandatory, even when it is not. However, I believe the RAO errs in naming the potentially damaged party as surety for the officer, which is the only way a victim of a traffic stop could ever sign the document on the officer's behalf. The intended cure destroys the remedy.
I believe I can write a document which does a better job than the RAO. I'm going to write one when I have the time. If someone else wants to take a stab at it in the meantime, feel free to send me a copy.
Meanwhile, my suggestion is to strike references to accomodation party, and continue to use the RAO as a paper tiger. Cops hate paperwork, and if they think writing you a ticket may be more trouble than it's worth, they will often walk away.
Can governments lawfully restrict, register, or otherwise encumber our free right to travel? Should they? Discussions on Right to Travel.
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