Challenging the Accuracy of Radar or Laser in A Reckless Driving by Speed Case
In Virginia, it is a Class 1 Misdemeanor crime to travel over 19 mph over the speed limit or any speed greater than 80. So, going 76 on the Beltway where the speed is a 55 mph zone can be charged as Reckless. Likewise, traveling 81 in a 70 mph zone can be charged as Reckless. That’s right! In some cases, going only 11 mph above the speed limit can be a crime. That is why people often want to hire an experienced Reckless Driving Lawyer Fairfax Virginia to fight a Reckless Driving by Speed charge.
Usually, Police charge a person by using radar or a laser to measure speed. (Sometimes the Police just follow Defendants and use their own speedometer to “pace” the Defendant. Discussion of Reckless Driving by Speed done by pacing is the subject of another article on this website.)
A radar or laser function similarly. The device throws out a radar bream (in case of radar) or a light beam (in case of laser) and measures how fast the signal bounces off the chosen vehicle. By calculating the difference in times that the signals bounce back, the radar or laser device can calculate how fast the chosen car was traveling. In Court, the Police will testify as to what their radar or laser indicated the Defendant’s speed was. All they have to do is state what the machine said, and unless your attorney objects, the case is basically over. One attorney tried a case and purposefully chose NOT to object. The attorney realized that the Prosecutor had not offered evidence of the accuracy (e.g. the calibration) of the radar. The attorney waited until the end of the case to argue that the Prosecutor failed his burden of proof because he did not offer the calibrations. At the time (2016), there was no case law that said whether the Prosecutor had to offer the calibrations or not. Thus, even an experienced Reckless Driving Lawyer Fairfax Virginia in 2016 would not be sure how this approach would work out.
Unfortunately for the Defendant in 2016, it did not work out. The Court of Appeals in Wells v. Commonwealth, 65 Va. App. 722, 781 S.E.2d 362 (Va. App., 2016) decided that merely the testimony of the Police, without a calibration, is sufficient to convict if there is no other evidence countering it. In other words, the calibrations did not have to be submitted unless the Defense attorney objected to the use of the radar or laser. The Court looked at the actual statute which allows radar and laser and noted that the Virginia Code specifically says that radar should be deemed accurate unless a question arises about its accuracy. Here is the Code section the Court cited:
In any court or legal proceeding in which any question arises about the calibration or accuracy of any … radar … used to determine the speed of any motor vehicle, a certificate, or a true copy thereof, showing the calibration or accuracy of (i) the speedometer of any vehicle, (ii) any tuning fork employed in calibrating or testing the radar … or (iii) any other method employed in calibrating or testing any laser speed determination device, and when and by whom the calibration was made, shall be admissible as evidence of the facts therein stated. No calibration or testing of such device shall be valid for longer than six months. Va Code §46.2-882.
Consequently, after 2016, any experienced Reckless Driving Lawyer Fairfax Virginia will know that during a trial, he/she must object to the use of the radar or laser results UNLESS the Police or Prosecutor show that these machines are accurate by showing the device calibration sheets.
The calibration of the radar or laser is one of many things a good Reckless Driving attorney will use in defending you. Other things that may work can be the officer’s actual use of the device. I recall when I was in the General Assembly, we passed the law allowing the use of lasers. Testimony included evidence that the radar beam is a wide beam. This, under some circumstances and at some angles, could result in the Officer thinking he is getting a reading off of one vehicle, but unbeknownst to him, he is actually getting the reading of a neighboring vehicle. Laser beams are extremely narrow. Thus, it is highly unlikely that a Police Officer would be getting a reading off of a neighboring vehicle when his sites are set on the main vehicle using a laser. If your case is a very serious Reckless by Speed case and you need a win, if radar was used, your Reckless Driving Lawyer Fairfax Virginia may suggest that you hire a radar expert to testify in court regarding the width of the radar beam.