Lawyers tend to have lead feet when it comes to driving. That comes as no surprise.
Why do we speed?
For one thing, our hectic schedules always seem to have us running five minutes late.
Then there’s that natural arrogance that our time is more valuable than the time of ordinary mortals.
Laying in wait on the side of the road – more than ready to disabuse us of such exalted notions – is a familiar nemesis: the traffic cop.
Now, global positioning systems provide lawyers and their clients with a new weapon to challenge the speeding ticket.
But a recent decision illustrates the current limitations on GPS evidence in rebutting a police officer’s determination of a driver’s speed.
At 2:52 pm on March 17, 2009, a trooper pilot for the Ohio State Highway Patrol clocked Jason Barnes travelling 84 miles per hour in a 65 mph zone while conducting aerial speed enforcement over I-75 in Auglaize County.
The trooper pilot communicated that information to a trooper on the ground who pulled Barnes over and issued a speeding ticket.
Barnes thought he had a good basis for challenging the trooper pilot’s determination of his speed.
You see, Barnes works for a company that, like an increasing number of employers, uses a global positioning system that allows it to track its employees’ movements during the work day.
The company that Barnes works for has Verizon Wireless cellular phone service. The Verizon GPS records his location and his speeds while traveling for his employer. The employer receives an alert if Barnes drives in excess of the posted speed limit.
When Barnes challenged his ticket at trial, he produced records from his employer’s GPS provider which purported to show that his rate of speed was not in excess of the posted speed limit as testified to by the trooper pilot.
The GPS documents show his speeds for the date in question as follows: 2:46 p.m. – 57 mph; 2:48 p.m. – 50 mph; 2:50 p.m. – 44 mph; and 2:52 p.m. (the time of the trooper’s reading) – 50 mph.
On the surface, this appeared to be pretty convincing evidence rebutting the state’s evidence that Barnes was speeding.
But the trial court didn’t see it that way and ordered Barnes to pay a fine of $35 and assessed two points on his driver’s license.
Last month the Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the traffic penalty in a decision that illustrates just how problematic GPS evidence can be.
First, the court questioned whether the GPS data was sufficiently precise to rebut a trooper’s speed reading at a particular moment in time.
“Barnes testified that the GPS provided the average of his speed over a two-minute time frame,” the court said. “In other words, the GPS did not give his specific speed at a specific time, but an average speed over two minutes.”
And because Barnes had primarily used documents downloaded from the Internet to make his case, the court questioned the reliability of that evidence.
The court observed that “Barnes presented no evidence from a person with personal knowledge regarding how the GPS calculates speed, whether there is any type of calibration of the equipment used to detect speed, whether the methods employed by his particular company to detect speed are scientifically reliable, or the accuracy of the GPS’ speed detection.”
So Barnes’ high hopes that his GPS evidence would get his speeding conviction overturned ultimately amounted to naught.
“Given all of the evidence, we find that the credible evidence clearly supports the trial court’s judgment that Barnes was traveling in excess of sixty-five miles per hour on Interstate 75, a freeway, on March 17, 2009, in Auglaize County, Ohio,” the court concluded. (Ohio v. Barnes)
– Pat Murphy