General Question

JackAdams's avatar

Is a radar gun a witness against a speeding motorist? Can you request to have your experts examine it?

Asked by JackAdams (6536points) August 20th, 2008

You are in court, accused of speeding, but the only witness against you is a radar gun, because the peace officer who pulled you over, is only accepting the display of his radar gun. So, because the device is the real (and only) witness against you, it should be required to be sworn in and testify, like any other witness, and you should be able to have that device given to your own panel of experts, to determine that the device is functioning perfectly, right?

There have been cases where radar guns were proven to be inaccurate, and the radar gun itself should be subpoenaed as a witness, just like any other witness. Don’t you agree?

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15 Answers

blastfamy's avatar

If you can pull up precedent of this happening, I would say that you have a case.

It seems a little outlandish to “swear in” a piece of machinery. The cop is the one sworn in. Instead, your case should be over the legitimacy of the testimony of the cop based on the possibility of faulty equipment. This is where you take your stand: the cop was wrong in assessing your speed (due to faulty equipment); therefore you are innocent.

The question still remains though: were you speeding?

JackAdams's avatar

@blastfamy: The cop is basing his testimony on hearsay evidence. He is saying, in effect, “The machine told me the defendant was speeding, because I couldn’t tell how fast he was going, on my own.” After all, if the cop could determine speed with such accuracy, he would not need to use a radar gun.

I’ve never exceeded posted speed limits in my life.

robmandu's avatar

“I’ve never exceeded posted speed limits in my life.”


Rest of the argument is about swearing in the radar gun and hearsay is ridonkulous.

You can request to see certification records on the radar gun’s maintenance and calibration, the officer’s training, the calibration equipment’s maintenance and calibration, etc.

Personally, I’d attempt to negotiate a plea bargain to a non-fine speed or something like a prayer for judgement (if your state has such thing).

sndfreQ's avatar

According to wikipedia: “Hearsay is a legal term referring to the use of out of court statements as evidence.”

This would mean that someone (a person) other than the person in court (the police officer) has said something, and that person’s out-of-court testimony is being admitted in a court of law.

The police officer giving a first-hand account of the incident that he/she was directly involved in is not hearsay. Their testimony is first-hand eyewitness accounting, and under oath, their testimony is valid.

Also, when they attend court in the event of a contested ticket, the police officer has the burden of proof to determine the accuracy and calibration of his/her radar/laser detection unit.

That certification is usually gained by a third party that is bonded by the state where the licensed radar/laser gun is being used.

I know this because in 2000, I had a speeding ticket by way of a laser detector. I went so far as to shoot video of the “crime scene” alley where I was driving through, which wasn’t even admissible in court as the video which was, at best, circumstantial evidence (not the exact incident, and could not be verified or corroborated), wheras the laser detector was certified, and the officer swore that it was used according to procedure, and the device was recently calibrated.

JackAdams's avatar

@sndfreQ: Do you think you could have requested that the laser detector be subjected to testing, via your own chosen experts? And if so, do you think the judge would have honored such a request?

In the 1960s, actor Elisha Cook portrayed the fictional Samuel T. Cogley, Esq. on the TV series, “Star Trek.” The IMDB has the following dialogue from the episode, “Court Martial,” where Capt. James T. Kirk is falsely accused of wrongdoing, by the ship’s computer:

Cogley: [moving to the judge’s dais] “I’d be delighted to, sir. Now that I’ve got something human to talk about. Rights, sir! Human rights! The Bible, The Code of Hammurabi, and of Justinian, Magna Carta, The Constitution of the United States, Fundamental Declarations of the Martian Colonies, The Statutes of Alpha III. Gentlemen, these documents all speak of rights. Rights of the accused to a trial by his peers, to be represented by counsel, the right of cross-examination. But most importantly, the right to be confronted by the witnesses against him; a right to which my client has been denied.”

Areel Shaw: “Your Honor, that is ridiculous! We’ve produced the witnesses in court. My learned opponent had the opportunity to see them, cross-examine them…”

Cogley: “All but one! The most devastating witness against my client is not a human being; it’s a machine, an information system: the computer log of the Enterprise. And I ask this court adjourn and reconvene aboard that vessel.”

Areel Shaw: “I protest, your honor.”

Cogley: “And I repeat: I speak of rights! A machine has none; a man must. I ask that my motion be granted. But more than that, gentlemen, in the name of a humanity fadng in the shadow of the machine, I demand it. I demand it!”

The idea, in this fictional teleplay, is that the only witness against Kirk, was the computer aboard the USS Enterprise, so naturally, Kirk’s attorney was right to ask, is this machine really accurate? How do we know that what is shows, is what really happened?

It’s a sad world we live in, indeed, when a machine can convict a human being, without the defendant being able to have the machine examined for accuracy. Machines can make errors, as one radar gun did, when it was shown in a courtroom that such a device showed a tree was moving at “85 MPH,” when the radar gun misinterpretted the fluttering of the leaves on the tree as “speeding.”

andrew's avatar

Here’s where you’re going to get screwed: police officers are trained to detect speeds visually at 5 MPH, so even if the radar gun was miscalibrated, there’d still be enough evidence to convict.

Of course, I can’t remember where I found that source, so if someone can help me there, it’d be great.

JackAdams's avatar

@andrew: So, you’re saying that no one, in the history of the USA, has ever “beaten” a speeding ticket in court, because a police officer’s word alone, is sufficient to convict?

andrew's avatar

@jackadams: Not at all (see, but discounting the validity of the radar gun doesn’t mean you’ll evade conviction.

JackAdams's avatar

@andrew: But discounting the validity of such a device would certainly introduce “reasonable doubt” into the equation, wouldn’t it?

alive's avatar

if you want your own “expert” witness to testify on how functional the device is, you must first subpoena the witness, (i.e. create a witness list) and get it certified by the court, as well as turn the witness list over to the plaintiff (the State).

also, your expert’s credentials will be questioned by the opposing side (a CV might be a good idea to enter into evidence), so unless he is as qualified, or more qualified than the agency that the State uses to test their radar guns you might not have much luck.

if you were to propse that the radar gun be “sworn in to testify” the opposing side would object to the outlandishness of the statement and say something along the lines of “patrol officers are trained in their field to use a number of types of equiptment to aid them in their work, the radar gun is one of the pieces of equiptment officers are trained to use. So there is no need to have the gun “testify” because the officer has knowledge on the subject.” (that is the nice way of putting it, because obviously the radar gun cannot testify.)

as for all this talk about hearsay, a lay person or civilian can be accused of hearsay in a criminal proceeding, even if they were standing right next to the person who was speaking. i.e. your friend says to you that “i was speeding.” You cannot testify to that in a criminal proceeding (civil, maybe). A police officer on the other hand can testify about what someone told them i.e. “hearsay”... For example if this same friend says to a cop “i was speeding.” That then can be entered into testimony with not objection of hearsay.

so looking at your issue of “hearsay” from the radar gun, the gun is “telling” the officer the speed, but officers, due to their training are permitted to testify to what they were “told” by “others.” (quotes are because i am refering to the inadimate object of the radar gun)

anyways, speeding tickets suck, i think they are a waste of time and money, so good luck with that.

JackAdams's avatar

@alive: I’m glad that we agree about “speeding tickets suck,” because they do, indeed.

In 1976, I was privileged to drive the Autobahn highway from Frankfurt to Munich, in what was then called, “West Germany.” Speeds of over 120 MPH are common on that highway (designed by Adolph Hitler, if you can believe that) and there are no posted speed limits, until you are approaching an exit for a town, and then you might see a sign telling you to “slow down” to 80 MPH (but the sign would be in KPH, of course).

I made the 400-mile trip in almost 4 hours, on that highway.

alive's avatar

HA! awesome! (minus the fact that there must be many people who die horrible deaths at such high speeds….but it was fun while it lasted…too morbid?)

robmandu's avatar

Hitler did not design the autobahns… but he did champion their construction after assuming power in 1933.

And yah, they’re great and fast. Coming back to national 55 mph speed limits in the U.S. was such a drag.

JackAdams's avatar

@robmandu: i’m glad to know that, if he didn’t.

I hope that he didn’t design the Volkswagen “Beetle,” either, as is sometimes claimed.

Actor/director/comedian Mel Brooks said he would never ride in one, because he called it a “Hitler-mobile.”

robmandu's avatar

Heh… same deal. It was designed by Porsche, and again, championed by Hitler.

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