Free Thought Project
24 Oct 2015 at 10:20 ET
Man stopped by police patrol car (Shutterstock)
It is estimated that in 2014 that there were over 41,000,000 speeding tickets issued in the USA and that over 25% of these were issued in error.
The most common errors include shadowing, RFI inference, cosine angle error, mechanical interference and devices that are out of calibration.
But out of these 41,000,000 speeding tickets only 5% challenged their citation in court.
And out of this 5% less than .05% beat their ticket or have it dismissed.
Why? Because they were not prepared!
The radar gun or lidar gun the police officer used to issue you your speeding ticket is a scientific instrument and because of this the officer must be certified and by law, must follow certain requirements.
So if you’re planning on fighting your ticket in court, we put together this guide to help disqualify the officer’s testimony and his/her equipment, so you have a better chance of winning your case.
Prepare Yourself Before You Ever Get Stopped
Before, during, and right after the stop are the most critical times to prepare your defense if you plan on fighting your speeding ticket.
Because of this, it’s CRITICAL that you remember EVERYTHING that is happening around you and document it:
- What was the traffic flow like
- What signs are on the roadway
- The condition of the roadway
- Other witnesses
- What is the weather like
As you’re doing this, look for a safe place to pull over for you and the police officer.
If you’re on the highway in busy traffic, put your flashers on, pull over to the right and consider exiting at the first exit.
Once you’re pulled over and stopped STAY IN YOUR CAR!
Many police officer shootings occur as the officer is approaching a violator. Because of this, his/her stress levels are high, and he/she is watching everything you and the occupants of the car are doing.
- Reach into the glove box
- Reach under your seat
- Keep your hands in plain sight
Your only job at this point is to reduce the officer’s stress level as much as possible.
The California Stop
One strategy to reduce the officer’s stress level is called the California Stop.
As the officer is exiting his car, roll down the driver’s side window.
If it is at night, turn on your interior lights
Then place your hands on the top of your steering wheel palms up, facing your face.
Doing this, the officer can immediately see that you’re not an immediate threat, and his stress level is reduced.
License, Registration, Insurance Card, any Weapons?
Now that the officer is standing next to your car one of the first things he is going to ask you is for your license, registration, insurance card and if you have any weapons in your possession.
If you do have any weapons, tell him where they are and follow his/her instructions and hopefully you’re properly licensed to possess them.
Do You Know Why I Stopped You?
Remember, everything you say or do will be documented by the officer so don’t admit anything, especially that you were not paying attention.
Just say “no officer, can you explain to me why you stopped me?”
Obey the Officer’s Requests
After the officer obtains the required documentation he may ask you to step out of your car or to remain in your car, just follow his commands.
Can I See Your Radar/Laser Gun?
If the officer says that he used a radar or laser gun, seem curious and ask the officer if you can see it and if he would be willing to explain to you how it works.
If the officer does allow you to see it, take a mental picture of the device, getting the manufacturer’s name and model number.
If he refuses to show you the gun, then just ask him if he could explain to you how it works.
As some point, the officer is going to either have you sign the citation or just hand you a copy.
While he is still with you, review the citation to see if he documented the type of device he used to measure your speed.
If he didn’t ask him/her to put on the citation the type of device he/she used.
Remember everything you do or say is being documented and possibly even being recorded by the officer.
It’s your job to do the same!
After the Stop
After the stop, find a safe place to pull over and write down EVERYTHING that happened. Then return to the area and snap photos of the area with a camera or your smartphone.
Get Ready for Your Case
Next it’s your job to get ready for your trial.
Step #1 – Know What the Officer Shot You With
To properly prepare your case, you first need to know what type of device the officer used to clock your speed.
Police radar guns transmit microwave radio signals, and it this type of enforcement that accounts for most speeding citations.Police lidar guns transmit a narrow beam of light in the near inferred light spectrum and they account for 20% of all traffic citations.
Other ways an officer can clock your speed are using a timing device such as a stopwatch or VASCAR, or following behind you clocking your speed using their speedometer.
Because of this, you need to know EXACTLY what the officer used to measure your speed.
Many jurisdictions will note on the citation what type of device was used and even the device’s serial number.
If this is not documented on your citation, then you may need to follow-up with a friendly telephone call to the agency or officer that issued you the citation and inquire.
Step #2 – Start by Downloading These Free NHTSA Guides
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is responsible for developing training programs responsive to the Uniform National Standards established by the Highway Safety Act of 1996.
Because of this, the NHTSA has published guidelines both police agencies and officers MUST follow when operating radar or laser.
As we will be referencing several portions of each of these guides in this article to help you build your case, we would recommend “googling” these titles and download these free PDFs now:
Speed-Measuring Device Performance Specification: Across-the-Road Radar Module
Lidar Speed Measuring Device Performance Specifications
Police Radar Instructor Training Course
Basic Training Program in Radar Speed Measurement
Step #3 – Have an Understanding of Case Law
Case Law Regarding the Use of Police Radar
If you were cited by an officer who used a police radar gun, your next step is to have a understanding of these most significant case laws pertaining to the use of radar in speed enforcement.
State of Florida v. Aquilera (1979)
This infamous case is known widely as the Miami Radar Trial. After a local television reporter showed a house clocked at 28 mph and a palm tree clocked at 86 mph, the story broke nationwide and radar was quickly shown to be less than accurate. In this case the Dade County Court sustained a motion to suppress the results of radar units in 80 speeding ticket cases.
The court’s opinion stated that the reliability of radar speed measuring devices as used in their present modes and particularly in some cases, has not been established beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt, nor has it met the test of reasonable scientific certainty.
United States v. Fields (1982)
District Court in Ohio ruled that it was not possible to establish from the radar results whether the defendant was traveling at 43 mph or whether the Speedgun 8 radar unit was measuring the rotation of the ventilation fan at the sewage pumping station next to the officer’s car.
The court also found that the officer was not qualified to operate the radar unit since he did not know the requirements for correct operation of the unit. In addition, the officer did not calibrate it before use, on that occasion.
Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Honeycutt (1966)
This case is a very common prosecution weapon against the 24 hours of classroom and 16 hours of field training requirement. In this case the court ruled that an officer should not be required to know the scientific principles of radar.
The court also ruled that the officer only needs to know how to properly set up, test and read the radar unit. As such, a few hours of instruction should be enough to qualify an officer to operate the radar unit.
State of Connecticut v. Tomanelli (1966)
In the case, which is the same year as the Honeycutt case, the Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled that “outside influences may affect the accuracy of the recording by a police radar set sufficient to raise a doubt as to the reliability of the speed recorded.”
The court also stated that tuning forks must be proved to be accurate to be accepted as valid tests of a radar unit. In order to establish the accuracy of the radar unit the operator must testify to the following:
- That he made tuning fork tests before and after the defendant’s speed was recorded.
- That the tests were made by activating 40, 60 and 80 mph tuning forks and by observing that the unit responded correctly in each case.
State of Minnesota v. Gerdes (1971)
The Supreme Court of Minnesota ruled that where the only means of testing the accuracy of a radar unit is an internal mechanism within the unit, and there is no other evidence of the motorist’s speed other than the radar reading, the conviction cannot be sustained.
The court also established the following conditions for proving the accuracy of the radar unit:
- The officer must have adequate training and experience in the operation of the radar unit.
- The officer must testify as to how the unit was set up and the conditions the unit was operated under.
- it must be proven that the unit was operated with a minimum possibility of distortion from external interference.
- The unit has to be tested with an external source, such as a tuning fork or an actual test run with another vehicle with an accurately calibrated speedometer.
People of New York v. Perlman (1977)
The Suffolk County District Court ruled that the radar device was not proved to be accurate since no external test had been performed before or after the arrest. This case is significant since it established the criteria of testing before and after a citation is issued.
State of Wisconsin v. Hanson (1978)
In this landmark case, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin set minimum conditions for the use of radar as evidence. Sufficient evidence to support a speeding conviction with moving radar will require testimony by a competent operating officer that:
- He had adequate training and experience in radar operation
- The radar unit was in proper working condition at the time of the arrest
- The radar unit was used in an area where there was a minimum possibility of distortion
- The input speed of the officer’s car was verified; the car’s speedometer was expertly tested within a reasonable period after the citation was issued
- All testing was done without the radar unit’s own internal calibration device being used
State of Florida v. Allweiss (1980)
The Pinellas County Court ruled that the testing methods for radar equipment are legally insufficient. “The use of such a tuning fork furnished by the manufacturer in this court’s opinion is tantamount to allowing the machine to test itself.
A tuning fork furnished by the manufacturer is merely an extension and part of the total speed measuring apparatus.
Case Law Regarding the Use of Police Lidar
If an officer used a police lidar gun to cite you, then your next step is to have a basic understanding of these most significant case laws that pertain to the use of lidar in speed enforcement.
Admissibility of Motor Vehicle Speed Readings
714 A.2d 381, 391-92 (New Jersey Superior Court 1998)
The Superior Court of New Jersey ordered that admissibility to lidar is subject to the following rules:
- Expert testimony is not required.
- Officers must be properly trained in the use of lidar and that training must be documented.
- The lidar must be tested according to procedures recommended by the manufacturer.
- The court further ordered that the lidar be tested against a known speed.
- Speed reading obtained by lidar are not affected by temperature, the degree of ambient light, or light to moderate rain. Readings shall not be accepted during heavy rainfall or while snow is falling.
- Speed reading made at distances up to 1,000 feet are admissible. Readings obtained in excess of 1,000 feet shall be admitted only with supporting evidence and expert testimony
State of Hawaii v Abiye Assay
Once an officer has completed a course of instruction and certified to operate lidar – training is not done. Officers must understand (memorize) 11.2 Principles of Operation.
For example, during the known-distance test officers must testify that the lidar uses proven time-distance formulas (pulse principle) and the speed of light (universal constant) to determine the known distance. Since the lidar utilizes one microprocessor to calculate time-of-flight and thus confirms the correct pulse repetition frequency, the lidar can accurately determine speed.
Then officers must obtain, read, and understand the manufacturer’s operator’s manual (10.7 Certification) for the particular lidar used and follow the manufacturer-recommended procedures for testing. Officers must further test the lidar as outlined in 11.16 Testing the LIDAR:
Known Speed Test. All lidars must include a Technician Certification (10.7 & 11.16) every 3 years in accordance with manufacture’s specifications and NHTSA standards. (Note: New lidars come with a Technician Certification from the factory.)
Officers must successfully complete Visual Speed Estimations, Enclosure 13.2 and be prepared to present this information in a court of law. During operation officers must understand and follow a proper tracking history (11.4 Lidar Tracking History) and be prepared to testify as to visual observations and speed estimates prior to clocking with lidar.
Officers must understand all lidar effects (11.5Lidar Effects), including proper operation to avoid any of these effects. Officer must be currently certified (10.7 Certification) to operate radar/lidar. Finally, the officer must prepare all court cases as outlined in this manual. (10.8 Court Testimony, 10.9 Traffic Evidence Kit)
Step #4 – Get the Manufacture’s Manuals
Next you will want to obtain the manuals from the manufacturer for the speed measurement device used by the officer.
Sometimes a simple search on Google can locate these.
If not, you then may have to contact the manufacturer to purchase a copy and/or subpoena the manual through the courts from the police agency.
Take special note what the manufacturer’s recommendations are as far as:
- Use and Care of
- Any training and certification that may be required
- Recommended record keeping
- Tuning fork care of the device and recommendations
Step #5 – Subpoena Records
Next, you will want to contact the court to find out the procedures in obtaining the following records from the police agency through a subpoena:
- Officers training records
- Officers disciplinary reports
- Radar/Laser device maintenance records
- Tuning fork calibration records (radar)
- Officers certification records for the device
- Annual calibration records for the device
- Daily calibration records for the device
Step #6 – POST Records
All states have what is called Police Officer Standard Training (POST) regarding the certification and use of speed measurement devices.
Contact your state agency and request copies of these.
Step #7 – Preparing Your Defense
Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to go through all these manuals, training records, and training guides to discredit the officer and the equipment he/she used to issue you your citation.
Here are some examples:
Was the Officer Properly Trained/Certified to Use the Equipment?
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and case law requires that the officer issuing you the citation be properly trained and certified for the device he/she used to issue you your citation.
Once you receive his training records, check this, along with the operator manual for that particular radar/lidar gun to see if any updated training was required.
Was the Radar/Lidar Device Operated Properly?
One example we assisted in preparing a defense on was regarding an officer who targeted vehicles with his laser gun, aiming at their reflection in his side view mirror.
During the questioning of the officer, the defendant asked in what training guide and/or manual could the officer reference that this type of targeting was approved.
Because the officer could not provide this information, the case was dismissed.
When Was the Radar/Laser Gun Last Certified?
In 2004, a reporter from the Hartford Courant newspaper contacted us regarding a speeding ticket she received and asked for some tips.
The first thing I asked her to do was to check the calibration certification records on the radar gun the officer used to issue her the citation.
A few days later she called us back and related that the last certification was done over 4 years ago.
Did the Officer Properly Calibrate the Radar/Lidar Gun?
It is required that the officer perform a calibration check prior to and after issuing any citations during his/her shift as outlined in the manual for that particular make/model.
However, we have found that even if the officer may have performed this calibration test, they never documented it. This is how you can impeach an officer regarding his/her test.
One of the first things a police recruit is ever taught in training is to document EVERYTHING.
Thus, this calibration test should be documented by the officer either on the citation that was issued, in his personal notebook, on the logbook, or on the units calibration records.
Did the Officer Use the Correct Tuning Fork(s)?
Each tuning fork used for calibration is designed for a particular make/model of radar and/or laser gun and is serialized.
Check this serial number against the calibration records for that particular unit while also noting the last date of the calibration of the tuning fork(s).
Are There Any Cracks or Chips in the Tuning Fork?
A strategy we have shared with clients is to subpoena the tuning fork(s) used during the calibration and check them prior to the trial.
Because tuning forks are made from a light aluminum alloy, if dropped, small chips and/or cracks may form, which will impact the accuracy of the tuning fork.
If these chips and/or cracks are observed, then while the officer is on the stand, introduce these tuning forks into evidence asking if these were the ones used to calibrate the gun.
Once he/she does confirm this you can then introduce into evidence the facts on how this could impact the officer’s calibration test.
Was There a Shadow Error?
A Shadow Error occurs when the moving radar’s “Low Doppler” incorrectly locks onto a large metal object like an 18 wheeler in front of the patrol car and adds the speed differential to the opposite lane target vehicle’s speed.
Was There a VSS Error?
Low Doppler is used to determine the patrol vehicles speed. Shadowing has and is being eliminated by interfacing the police radar gun into the vehicle’s speed sensor. This is known as VSS or Vehicle Speed Sensor interface.
Now that the patrol car’s speed is obtained by the vehicle’s own speed sensor, the low Doppler signal from the police radar gun can be compared and accuracy is increased.
Was There a Cosine Error?
Cosine error is standard with both radar and laser guns. The greater the transmission angles of the gun to the target vehicle, the greater the error.
Who does the error favor?
Well if it was a stationary radar gun or a laser gun, the error is in YOUR FAVOR!
An example would be a stationary speed radar/lidar gun transmitting at a 10′ degree angle from the approaching target vehicle. The target vehicle’s actual speed is 60 mph, but the radar gun shows 59 mph.
However, if it is a moving radar, the consign angle could put you at a disadvantage.
Moving radar was developed so an officer could measure your speed while he is driving.
To do this, the moving radar has to capture the speed of his vehicle and the speed of your vehicle and then the internal computer displays both his speed and your speed on the display.
The speeds are computed accurately as long as the officer is within a ten-degree angle as you approach.
However, if your vehicle is at a greater angle than this, it’s anyone’s guess who has the edge.
Was the Officer’s Heater or Air Conditioner On?
In 2004, the Pennsylvania State Police purchased hundreds of new radar guns.
They were clocking rocks at 70 mph.
This is an example of mechanical interference as the police car’s heater/air conditioner fan was producing the erroneous speed-reading.
The fact remains; radar and laser guns still make mistakes.
If you successfully apply all the information in this article, you should have a very good chance of beating your next speeding ticket.
This story first appeared at The Free Thought Project.
Need More Help and/or Advice From Radar Roy?
Since 1997 Radar Roy has helped thousands of people just like you beat their speeding tickets in court through his helpful guides and resources found on his website RadarBusters.com
In 1995, Radar Roy retired at the rank of Lieutenant from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and then went on to teach you how to fight the system.