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Libertarian loses seat-belt decision

Radio show host went to court 28 times

Friday, December 9, 2005

WOODSTOCK (AP) - A Libertarian who hosts a weekly radio program called "Freedom Rings" spent more than two years and appeared in court 28 times fighting a $25 ticket for not wearing a seat belt. After a two-hour trial, a McHenry County jury found Ken Prazak guilty Wednesday. He was ordered to pay the $25, and Judge Suzanne Mangiamele added 100 days of probation.

"This is still a victory," Prazak, 53, said at the end of the trial. "I was able to get the word out, and educate the jury and even the judge about cases she had never heard of."

The painting contractor from East Dundee maintains the law requiring drivers to wear seat belts is unconstitutional. He also believes seat belts make some drive more recklessly because they feel secure.

Prazak was ticketed in July 2003 by Algonquin Police Officer Nicholas Corso.

"(Prazak) told me he doesn't believe in seat belts, he will never wear a seat belt, and the government doesn't have any right to make him wear a seat belt," Corso testified.

Prazak, who spent more than $2,000 fighting the case, represented himself at trial. During his closing argument, he told the jury of times in American history - such as regarding slavery - that jurors had ruled outside the law.

"Whose life is it, anyway?" Prazak said. "Do we own ourselves or are we a cog in the wheel of government?"

After the verdict, Prazak said he has not decided whether he will appeal.

Illinois, which is one of 49 states with mandatory seat-belt laws, also is among the more than 20 states that allow police to stop drivers just for failing to buckle up. The other states allow ticketing if a vehicle is stopped for another reason.

The courts have consistently upheld the laws as constitutional. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with police who arrested a Texas woman four years earlier because she and her two children were not wearing seat belts.

Safety advocates argue that seat belts not only save lives but help save taxpayer money that would be spent caring for people without insurance severely injured in accidents.