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.
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.
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 Straight.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.