Thursday, October 25, 2007

Teen Speed, GPS and Police Radar

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is yet another modern technology that is finding its way into the Courts to challenge conventional evidentiary wisdom.

AP has this interesting story on a contested speeding ticket in Colorado:

A retired sheriff's deputy nevertheless hopes to beat the long odds of the law by setting the performance of a police officer's radar gun against the accuracy of the GPS tracking device he installed in his teenage stepson's car.

...Rude encouraged him to fight the ticket after the log he downloaded using software provided by the GPS unit's Colorado-based supplier showed Shaun was going the speed limit within 100 feet of where a Petaluma officer clocked him speeding.

"I'm not trying to get a guilty kid off," Rude said. "I've always had faith in our justice system. I would like to see the truth prevail and I would like Shaun to see that the system works."

... While winning a case this way is far from a sure thing, GPS-generated evidence could at least inject an element of doubt into typically one-sided proceedings, said Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association.

A Sonoma County traffic commissioner is expected to rule within the next two weeks whether to dismiss Shaun's ticket based on Rude's written argument that the motorcycle officer's radar gun was either improperly calibrated or thrown off by another speeding car.

"Radar is a pretty good tool, but it's not an infallible tool," said Rude, who spent 31 years in law enforcement. "With the GPS tracker, there is no doubt about it. There is no human interference."

The device in Shaun's car, originally designed for trucking companies, rental car agencies and other businesses with fleets, sends a signal every 30 seconds that records his whereabouts and travel speed.

His parents signed up to be automatically notified by e-mail whenever he exceeded 70 mph, and the one time he did he lost his driving privileges for 10 days.

While it's hardly on the scale of DNA evidence superseding blood-type testing, this case does illustrate again that technical evidence, whether police-generated, medical or other, is only as good as the science behind it.

As the science improves, the fallibilities of old systems and assumptions emerge rather quickly.

That is called progress, I believe.

Subject to the usual, rigourous tests of reliability and relevance, Courts should embrace these new tools.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

Visit our Toronto Law Firm website: www.wiselaw.net

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