June 3, 2010 -- Imagine a highway trooper pulling you over in the middle of your summer travel and declaring that you were speeding. How's he know for sure? Because he says so; at least, in Ohio.
The state's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the trained eyeballs of police officers are enough to hand out speeding tickets. A radar gun is unnecessary.
Some Ohio drivers were stunned. One woman called it "crazy," adding that "just the radar gun itself is disputable."
The 5-1 ruling comes in a case involving motorist Mark Jenney, who was given a speeding ticket nearly two years ago by a policeman in Copley, Ohio. The officer said his radar had clocked Jenney traveling 82 mph in a 60-mph zone.
He also said that with his 13 years experience as a traffic cop and certification in speed estimation by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, even without the radar, he visually guessed Jenney's speed was at least 79 mph.
A lower court threw out the radar evidence because the officer was unable to produce the required certification for his training on the device. But the court ruled that the officer had the background and training to make an educated guess of Jenney's speed and found the motorist guilty.
In its ruling upholding that conviction, the Ohio Supreme Court said "a police officer's unaided visual estimation of a vehicle's speed is sufficient evidence to support a conviction for speeding ... if the officer is properly trained."
In this case, the court ruled, the office was properly trained and certified to eyeball speeding motorists. The court added in its ruling that a radar gun "is not necessary to support a conviction for speeding."
The prosecutor in the Summit County case said the ruling changed little. It "still requires an officer to be trained," he said. "Judges in the past have found defendants guilty based on the same evidence [visual estimation]. It's just that no one has ever appealed it before.''
But one dissenting judge argued that the ruling creates too broad a standard for jurors who must evaluate police testimony. He said the ruling "eclipses the role of the fact-finder to reject such testimony" which, by itself, may not be enough to support a conviction.
Rare for Ohio Cops to Depend on Observation
Other Ohio motorists had a more basic objection. Some worry about vengeance. One said "a police officer could know you and have it in for you and just make up something."
Ted Hart, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General's office, which operates the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, said it's unusual for officers to rely solely on observation to issue tickets.
"Typically, an officer would observe someone that appears to be speeding and then use radar or laser to confirm it," Hart told the Plain Dealer of Cleveland.
Jenney's attorney, John Kim, told the newspaper, "We might as well throw all that technology out the window.
"And now a police officer based on his own human biases can stand on the side of the road and write all the tickets he wants. So, we have taken Draconian steps backwards."