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The Accuracy of a Speed Measuring Device Must Be Proven

Posted Monday, December 5, 2016 by Andrew Charles Huff

It’s hard to be sitting in traffic court for long and not hear the case of Seattle V. Peterson referenced by either attorneys or judges. This case provides the framework for the use of speed measuring devices (radar guns) in court and essentially requires that the accuracy of these devices be proven.

On March 1, 1982, Seattle Police Officer Thomas Byers was on routine patrol when he observed a car that appeared to be speeding. Using his radar device, he determined Mr. Peterson was speeding and issued him a citation. Mr. Peterson decided to challenge the ticket and requested a Contested Hearing.

At the hearing, the only evidence of speed was Officer Byers’ testimony that, before he locked in a reading on the radar unit, it appeared to him from visual observation that Peterson’s vehicle was traveling between 40 and 45 m.p.h. The court found the infraction committed.

But on appeal, the issue was whether the particular machine (SMD) itself was proven to be reliable. The court found that if the validity of a scientific principle (the Doppler effect) is a prerequisite to its admission into evidence, then the accuracy of the actual device must also be proven before the results can be admitted into evidence.

Here, the only evidence offered regarding the radar unit was the testimony of Officer Byers, who candidly acknowledged that his information about the radar device was limited to instructions on how to calibrate and operate it. No evidence was offered relating to the design and construction of the radar unit. The only evidence on the accuracy of the radar unit was the opinion of Officer Byers that he had confidence in the accuracy of the unit.

Seattle v. Peterson, 1985

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The lights go on in your rearview mirror...now what?

Posted Friday, November 11, 2016 by Andrew Charles Huff

You are driving home one late evening and you realize that maybe you consumed one too many alcoholic drinks when suddenly those lights go on behind you signaling you to pull over. You feel your heart start to race and you feel nervous. So what do you do next?

  1. Pull over quickly and stay in your carMove to the side of the road as quickly and safely as possible while using your signal. Once you have come to a complete stop, shut your car off and put your hands on the wheel. Do not get out of your car unless specifically asked by an officer.

  2. Be politeMisbehaving, cursing at police or disobeying orders is sure to get you into trouble and raise the ire of the officer. Being pulled over for a possible DUI is scary, especially if you know you have been under the influence and will probably be caught. But what is worse is acting out against law enforcement or being unnecessarily uncooperative.

  3. Remember your 5th Amendment RightsYou can be respectful to police officers and follow directions, but this doesn’t mean that you have to incriminate yourself. The 5th Amendment is your right to remain silent on anything that might incriminate yourself.

  4. Being candid probably won’t help youPolice had a reason for pulling you over so insisting that you had “just one mixed drink” probably won’t get you very far. Telling the police the amount of alcohol you had most likely won’t help you case because they have “been around the block” and have learned not to believe you anyway. You should comply with questions, but don’t offer any unnecessary information concerning where you came from, who you were with, and how many drinks you have consumed.

  5. Stay calm if you are arrestedIf you have been drinking earlier, no matter how much, there is a chance you will be arrested. Being put into police custody, especially if you are still drunk, can be a scary experience but staying calm is a must. Respectfully request to speak with an attorney and remember anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law.

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Seattle Municipal Court: Pre-Hearing Conference v. Contested Hearing

Posted Friday, November 11, 2016 by Andrew Charles Huff

I have represented hundreds of people cited by Seattle Police for various infractions that are naturally filed in Seattle Municipal Court.

Seattle Municipal Court has a traffic hearings procedure that includes a type of hearing you should be aware of, in part because it might be a waste of your time and not lead to the results you want. The hearing I’m referring to is the “Pre-Hearing Conference.” Seattle Municipal Court will automatically schedule your case for a “Pre-Hearing Conference” even though you requested a “Contested Hearing” by checking that option on the ticket. The purpose of the “Pre-Hearing Conference” is to request a court magistrate simply lower the fine to your ticket. The ticket would still be found “committed” and therefore appear on your record but at a lower fine. I have spoken with many people over the years who decided to handle tickets on their own. They requested the court set their matter for a “Contested Hearing,” only to find themselves waiting in a crowded room for a magistrate whose only duty is to lower the fine.

However, most people want to fight their ticket so it does not appear on their record and raise insurance rates. Let me be clear this is not an option at the “Pre-Hearing Conference” and we therefore typically waive that hearing and ask that the matter be set directly for a “Contested Hearing.” And because traffic tickets are civil matters, you do not have to appear at any hearing if you have an attorney representing you.

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Officer, how can you tell my speed?

Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2016 by Andrew Charles Huff

As a traffic attorney, I am asked regularly by friends about how an officer can determine your vehicle speed by using that handheld device they have pointed at traffic.

A very brief explanation….A radar gun is a Doppler unit that may be hand-held or vehicle-mounted. This device measures the speed of an object it is pointed at by detecting the change in frequency of the returned radar signal caused by the Doppler effect. This means the frequency of the returned signal is increased in proportion to the object’s speed of approach if the object is approaching, and lowered if the object is receding. From that difference, the radar speed gun can calculate the speed of the object from which the waves have been bounced.

Police normally use the more modern LIDAR speed guns that use pulsed laser light instead of radar because of limitations associated with small radar systems.

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Officer, you still need that warrant...

Posted Monday, November 7, 2016 by Andrew Charles Huff

A police officer must have a warrant to search you or your property with a few limited exceptions. The extent of these “exceptions” were put before the Court of Appeals-Division Three recently against someone in the great outdoors.

A Fish and Wildlife officer was watching two men fishing and determined one of them illegally snagged a chinook. The officer confronted Mr. Eric Cruz on shore as he filled out his catch card. He was then arrested for the illegal snag and placed in handcuffs. Mr. Cruz was polite and cooperative and told the officer he had hunting rifles in his truck, although prohibited being a convicted felon. The officer then searched the truck and seized the guns without a warrant.

The Court of Appeals found that none of the exceptions to the warrant rule applied here, as the officer was not facing any emergency circumstances nor was the search incident to arrest. The Court found that because the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected, an officer needs to get that search warrant, even in the great outdoors.

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