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Radar v. Laser – How They Work and Are They Reliable

Posted Friday, April 5, 2019 by Andrew Charles Huff

A Radar speed measuring device directly determines a vehicle’s speed by measuring the doppler (speed induced) shift of the return of its transmitted frequency. For example, the sound you sometimes hear of an approaching or receding train or emergency vehicle.

How does police radar operate?

Police radar can be operated in two modes. The first is continuously transmitted or constant-on (CO) operation. Police utilize “speed traps” using constantly transmitting police radar that are designed to be harder to detect by radar detectors. Police can operate constant-on radar from a “covered” position—hiding amongst heavy foliage of a median, for example, and pointing their gun across the roadway at an angle—not directly at approaching vehicles.

The second mode of police radar operation is called RF-hold, more commonly known as instant-on radar or IO radar. This method of police radar operation began to appear in the early 1980’s as radar detector usage grew in popularity and it’s designed to specifically defeat drivers who operate a radar detector.

What types of police radar are used?

Police radar guns operate on three frequency bands: X-band, K-band, and Ka-band. Most newer police radar guns operate on the super-wide Ka-band. K-band is still quite common, given its historical advantage to Ka-band. The oldest X-band radars are slowly being supplemented with newer and smaller digital (DSP) Ka-band radar and even more lethal police laser guns.

How is police radar used from a patrol car?

Police radar can be operated in a stationery position or moving vehicle. Washington state allows radar to be operated by a patrol officer while driving or “moving mode.” Some police radar units that are mounted to patrol vehicles have two transmitters, one pointing forward and one pointing towards to rear. The rear facing transmitter can easily clock vehicles that are following a patrol vehicle so be mindful when approaching a patrol car on the highway.

Is radar accurate?

The short answer is yes, it’s very accurate. Sometimes radar’s performance can be reduced during times of inclement weather, but that doesn’t reduce accuracy, just effective targeting ranges.

How far can my speed be determined by radar?

Generally speed measurements are taken when you are within a 1000 feet and sometimes closer when an officer hides in a stationery position.

How is laser different from radar?

Today’s laser guns provide the same advantages of stealth operation and offer very quick acquisition of speed.

Radar is not particularly efficient at determining a single vehicle’s speed when there are many vehicles on a crowded highway. With laser, the officer can specifically target your vehicle in much the same way a sniper with a scope does.

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Washinton's Speeding Laws

Posted Monday, April 1, 2019 by Andrew Charles Huff

Washington has two types of speeding laws: “absolute speed limits” and a “basic speeding law.” The difference between the two are significant.

Basic Speeding Law

Washington’s basic speeding law prohibits driving at a “speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.” In other words, motorists must always drive at a safe speed. What a safe speed is will depend on the circumstances. For instance, driving 55 miles per hour might be safe on a sunny day with little traffic on the roads. However, if you are driving that same road on a dark night with and icy conditions, then traveling 55 miles per hour could be dangerous and a violation of the basic speeding law.

Absolute Speed Limits

Washington’s absolute speed limits are pretty basic. These limits prohibit driving faster than:

60 miles per hour on state highways50 miles per hour on country roads25 miles per hour on city and town streets25 miles per hour when passing school or playground crosswalks

Penalties for Exceeding Speed Limit

Generally, a speeding citation will cost you up to $250 in fines. The maximum fine is doubled for speeding violations in school and playground crosswalks.

Reckless Driving and Other Possible Charges

Depending on the circumstances, speeding could lead to a “Reckless Driving” charge depending on the speed and circumstances. Washington defines Reckless Driving as operating a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

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To Refuse or Not to Refuse

Posted Friday, March 29, 2019 by Andrew Charles Huff

One question I’m frequently asked is if arrested for Driving Under the Influence whether you should provide a breath sample when requested by the officer. The answer really depends on the type of breath test offered but also the potential penalties attached to a “refusal” of the breath test machine.

One of the first things you may be asked to do after an arrest for Driving Under the Influence is to provide a breath test. While you could decline the invitation to submit to a breath test, doing so can create a much more complicated outcome for you.

The only breath test machine you can refuse in Washington without consequences is the portable breath test (PBT) device normally administered at the scene and many times prior to arrest. This hand-held device is used by the officer to determine whether there exists probable cause to arrest. Any results are not admissible as evidence. I normally advise clients to decline the portable breath test (PBT) because the results are not admissible and no licensing consequences exist.

Don’t refuse the formal breath test at station

Once you are under arrest and transported back to the station, you will most likely be asked to submit breath samples into the breath-alcohol machine. The primary machine now used in our state is the AlcoTest 9510. First, any results from this device can be used against you to prove impairment and /or whether you were over the legal limit of .08. Second, if you refuse this test, the officer will notify the Department of Licensing of your refusal and you will face a potential revocation of a year or more. Third, the officer has the authority to obtain a search warrant authorizing your blood withdrawal for testing and transport you to the nearest hospital for this mandatory blood draw. In other words, you could face a license revocation for refusing the breath test but still have your blood tested for alcohol by blood draw.

Additionally, any evidence of “refusing” a breath test can result in additional consequences in your case such as increased fines and additional jail time.

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Can police ask a lawfully seized passenger to search her purse?

Posted Monday, February 25, 2019 by Andrew Charles Huff

If police conduct a lawful traffic stop of the car’s driver, can they also ask a passenger for consent to search a purse left inside the car after the owner mentioned her prior drug conviction?

This issue was recently before the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division I when officers conducted a traffic stop and arrest of the driver for a suspended license. The passenger Ms Carmen Rose Lee was asked to exit the vehicle so police could search it. Ms Lee left her purse in the car after exiting.

After arresting the driver, officers Ms Lee’s identification to determine if she had a driver’s license so she could the car so not to be impounded. When officers ran this background check, they discovered Ms Lee had a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, which she also mentioned to officers. This statement led to a request to search her purse after advising her she did not have to consent. However, Lee consented to the search of her purse where officers found drugs.

On appeal, Ms Lee argues that police exceeded the reasonable scope and duration limitations by asking a lawfully seized passenger for consent to search her purse left inside the car after mentioning a prior drug conviction. She further argues that her consent to search was not actually valid because officers unlawfully seized her.

The Court held that Ms Lee was properly seized as a passenger in the traffic stop and remainedreasonably seized for the duration of the stop. Under the totality of the circumstances, the police did not exceed the reasonable scope and duration limitations by asking Lee for consent to search her purse left inside the car and mentioning her prior drug conviction. Therefore, Lee’s voluntary consent to search her purse was valid.

State of Washington v. Carmen Rose Lee, Division I, 77038-1-1

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Can police “stop and search” you?

Posted Tuesday, February 19, 2019 by Andrew Charles Huff

Washington state police cannot search a car without a search warrant. To search a car, police must instead petition a judge for a warrant and then carry out the search within a specific time frame. This ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court held that police must obtain a search warrant in order to search a vehicle even if there is reason to suspect that a vehicle contains evidence of a crime. The Washington Supreme Court found in State v. Snapp that searching a car for evidence of a crime when the driver has already been arrested is illegal under Article I, Section 7 of the state constitution.

An officer who has probable cause must still obtain a warrant to search. Washington law defines probable cause as “having more evidence for than against; a reasonable belief that a crime has or is being committed.” An officer without a warrant cannot search your car without your permission. In this situation, you may decline to have your car or person searched.

Exceptions to the warrant requirement

There are certain exceptions under which police may search a car without a warrant. These exceptions include if immediate action is required to protect someone or prevent evidence from being destroyed. These are known as “exigent circumstances.”

What to do when stopped

If you are stopped by police, you should remain in your vehicle and maintain a calm, respectful attitude. Actions like getting out of your car without being asked or reaching underneath your seat can be construed as threatening. Turn on the interior light if it’s dark outside, and keep your hands on the steering wheel in plain sight.If the officer asks to see your license, registration, or proof of insurance, the law requires you to comply. Do not argue with the officer, and restrain the urge to complain or resist. If you feel you have been treated unfairly, you should take your complaint to traffic court rather than argue with the police at the scene. Remember that anything you say can be used against you.

While you must show your license and registration if asked, you don’t have to answer any questions. If the police ask to search your car, and do not show you a warrant, you can refuse. If the officer says he or she has a search warrant, you should ask to see the warrant before letting him or her search your car. Be polite, but make it clear that you do not consent to a search.

If the police give you a ticket, you should sign it to avoid arrest. Then, if you feel the ticket is unfair, you can argue it later in traffic court.

If you are arrested, you should ask why and ask to speak with an attorney immediately. You have the right to know the reason for your arrest, and you have the right to a lawyer’s counsel.

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