Reasonable Doubt: Common grounds for challenging that speeding ticket

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      Recently we’ve received a slew of questions from readers about speeding. Most of you feel that it’s rather unfair when the police accuse you of speeding and the only way they could have measured your speed is by having (as one reader puts it) “radar eyeballs”. This article is an introduction to what you need to know to challenge that speeding ticket.

      Generally, at trial, evidence that is considered opinion is not admissible. Generally witnesses are only allowed to testify to facts they have observed and must refrain from giving their opinion because that would otherwise usurp the function of the trial judge.

      Statements like “he was speeding” and “she was drunk” are opinions. It would be silly, however, if a witness could not describe what she or he saw in this manner, so the court has made exceptions to the opinion rule where, in essence, it just makes more sense to let it slide. Better to let a witness say “she was drunk” than describe all of the objective facts that lead to that opinion like she was slurring words, making bad decisions, et cetera.

      So, if a police officer forms the opinion that you’re speeding, he can go into court and say that. If the evidence is accepted after (hopefully) a stiff cross-examination into why his or her opinion is wrong, then this evidence would be sufficient to convict a person of speeding.

      All the fancy equipment they have now is not necessary to catch and convict a speeder, but it certainly makes the police officer’s evidence look more reliable. Here are the four most common ways police measure speed along with their most common reasons for unreliability.

      1. Pacing

      This concept is as easy as it sounds. They simply match the pace of the vehicle that they think is speeding and verify the speed on their own speedometer. Clearly it matters if their own speedometer is broken or not and whether or not they were accurate in matching the pace of the vehicle they’re measuring. Further, if they’re just following the car, they have to make sure they’re keeping an even distance from the car ahead and not closing in on the car they’re following.

      2. Photographic imaging

      These are the devices that take pictures of your licence plate when they see you run a red light or break a certain speed threshold. These devices cannot prove who was driving, so the ticket is sent to the registered owner of the car.

      3. Radar (radio detection and ranging)

      There are three different ways of using radar; each way comes with its own problems.

      a. Vehicle-mounted stationary radar

      The radar unit is either mounted outside the car facing oncoming traffic or inside the car—pointing out the rear-view window unobstructed. Once the cruiser is parked the police officer no longer has to monitor the device, he just waits for the alert to tell him that he has a speeder. There can be many problems with the reading because it’s impossible to make sure that the radar unit is only reading a single lane of traffic.

      b. Handheld radar

      The police officer has more control over this device, but the police officer has to keep it still when they’re targeting a vehicle. Not only must their aim be accurate, but the slightest movement of their arm can be translated into a false speed reading.

      c. Mounted moving radar

      Again this radar unit is mounted in or on a police vehicle; it takes into account the speed of the police vehicle in relation to the vehicle being targeted. Vehicles can be moving in the same or opposite direction when they’re measured. There are many reasons for faulty readings from this more complex radar unit, but they’re too long and too boring to go into.

      4. Laser

      Instead of using radio waves, a laser uses pulses of light in a similar fashion to the way radar uses radio waves to detect speed. It sends out pulses of light that are aimed at a moving vehicle, the pulse bounces off the moving target and returns to the laser gun where a quick calculation determines the speed of the moving vehicle. A lot of things can affect this device including light pulses bouncing off passengers moving around inside the car. Also the device is only effective if it is used within 1,000 feet.

      Reasonable Doubt appears on on Fridays. The column’s writers, Laurel Dietz and Nancy Seto, are criminal defence lawyers at Cobb St. Pierre Lewis. You can send your questions for the column to them at

      A word of caution: Don’t take this column as personal legal advice, because it’s not. It is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only.



      Martin Dunphy

      Nov 28, 2011 at 11:37am

      Whaaaa! Whaaaaa! You got caught. Pay the ticket. You know you were speeding. It's nothing personal; it's not a discriminatory practice. And if you think it is some kind of fraudulent conspiracy to line the pockets of various police departments or government ministries, you should adjust your Alcan fedora.

      If I ruled the world (oh, and I will), anyone who challenged a speeding ticket and lost would be fined double the original amount (based on the eminently reasonable practice in the NHL regarding challenging the legality of an opponent's stick). It's a frivolous waste of the court's time.

      Andrew Lewis

      Nov 28, 2011 at 2:52pm

      @Martin. I disagree that it is not a discriminatory practice, and that it isn't used to line the pockets of police departments. Some cops really do give out tickets they know are false, especially to out of state drivers. A friend of mine was driving in Alabama and was going 50, the cop pulled behind her and seconds later flipped his lights on. He said She was going 90, and issued a ticket, when she challenged him he just looked at her license plate and said "Take it to court."

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      Nov 28, 2011 at 4:46pm

      Wow Martin, you really feel that the police are ALWAYS right? That human beings and equipment are incapable of making errors? Thank whatever higher being you will never rule the world. There are many instances of police abusing their powers, least of all writing fraudulent tickets, knowingly or not.

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      Bobbie Bees

      Nov 28, 2011 at 5:28pm

      My gawd, the georgia straight has just lost all respect in my eyes. Why not just tell car driver to slow the f^%k down. That 50 means 50 and not 95. That Beach Ave is a 30km/h zone for a reason. And stop whining your useless little a$$ off when you get caught speeding. Driving is a privilege. Too many ar drivers seem to forget that.


      Nov 28, 2011 at 7:08pm

      It's a matter of acceptable decided proof. As it is a lot of it is designed with the presumption you are guilty because your driving, like random checks (like after the Grey Cup) and photo radar. Some people are good fast drivers, even have racing licenses and taken defensive courses. No consideration there? No mitigation to drop the cost or allow it? Hey with all the lanes up, what is the cyclist speed limit? They aren't all racers.

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      Gentleman Jack

      Nov 28, 2011 at 7:12pm

      I watch a lot of traffic court.

      I would recommend that if you are going to pay and there is not a statutory minimum and it would cost you less to go to court than to simply pay it (i.e. lost wages), go to Court, Plead Guilty and beg for a reduction.

      If you are not going to plead Guilty, you may be able to win. Sometimes the officer fails to appear; sometimes the officer fucks up his testimony (Does not say the corporation in which the offense took place (City of Vancouver, Province of British Columbia); fails to specify he was a police man on duty in uniform (was he a fireman? A telephone repair man?); etc. etc.

      As an aside, I have never seen a constable go up against a lawyer for a speeding charge; every time I have seen a lawyer (or articled student) come along and say "I have case law", the constable tends to withdraw the matter---that's just my experience, of course. So, if you have a friend who could dress up as an articled student (bring one of those caskets---err, briefcases---on wheels), maybe that is what you should do.

      Or, for epic lulz, as soon as your matter is called, in a loud voice, proclaim "I demand sight and hearing of the commission by which you claim jurisdiction over me!" That is certain to garner some lulz.


      Nov 29, 2011 at 5:45pm

      Gentleman Jack, start with complacency. now you are truly Canadian. Nice set of options all the same.

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