The Ohio Supreme Court this morning overruled a judgment from the 8th District Court of Appeals in Cleveland to confirm that a police officer trained to visually estimate speed can use a visual estimation to issue a speeding ticket. The 5-to-1 ruling supported a ticket for a 27-year-old driver from the Akron area. Although it is important for police officers to cite drivers for traffic infractions that increase the risk of serious car accidents, speeding being chief among them, the ruling seems contradictory to the evidence in this case.
In order for a speeding charge to be presented the law requires that speed measuring devices (like radar and laser-speed measuring devices) meet certain criteria, but a speeding conviction can be upheld simply on the basis of a visual estimation, according to today’s decision. In this case the officer initially estimated the driver’s speed at 70 miles per hour, then used the radar to test the vehicle’s speed. The radar showed that the driver’s speed was 82 miles per hour. The officer wrote the driver a citation for 79 miles per hour out of clemency. In court, the officer presented the radar evidence, which was determined to be inadmissible because the officer could not produce a certification that he was qualified to operate the radar, so the trial court approved a verdict on the basis of the visual estimation.
The driver’s attorney asked the Ohio Supreme Court to say that the visual estimate of speed is insufficient to overcome the presumption of evidence and the state’s burden of proof, and one Justice raised concerns about speed traps abusing such a rule. In response, prosecutors argued that the statute did not include a need for radar verification, and that a person could be convicted under the statute even for traveling below the speed limit as driving too fast for conditions based on only a subjective judgment. The Court ruled that unaided visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed is sufficient to support a conviction for speeding, although one justice wrote a dissent stating that an officer’s estimation should be considered only as testimony that should be weighed against other testimony, not as sufficient evidence on its own.
However, the evidence in the case certainly seems to weigh against the rule. According to the officer, he was trained and certified by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy to estimate vehicle speeds to “within three to four miles per hour.” But if the radar is the first evidence of choice for the police, then the variance between the two estimates certainly puts that claim into question. Even if the radar evidence is brought into question, the disparity between the two pieces of evidence would say to me that the visual estimate of a trained officer is likely to be ten or more miles per hour off, and, in absence of corroborating evidence could just as easily be over as under, making it insufficient in this, or most cases, to support a conviction for driving over the posted speed limit.
Speeding is one of the most common contributing factors to both car accidents and large truck accidents, and, unfortunately, can dramatically increase the severity of any accident. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a car accident, the lawyers at Robert W. Kerpsack, LPA can help you get compensation for what you have suffered. Please call or email us today to schedule a free initial consultation.