Criminal Speeding and Photo Radar

In Arizona, speeding, like most traffic infractions, is generally a civil matter — but “excessive” speeding, defined as above 20mph (and actually above 85mph on the highway) over the posted limit, is a class 3 (minor) criminal misdemeanor; it carries a theoretical maximum punishment of $500 fine and 30 days in jail. See §28-701.02.

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas has quietly recanted all or most of the loony things that he said back in February. I say quietly because according to the Arizona Republic, the prosecutor’s office issued guidelines in a memo to DPS back in April on how to prosecute such cases; and apparently nobody else knew about it until now.

The loony things said back in April were that cameras were unconstitutional (Thomas: “you can’t cross-examine a camera”), or that there is no statutory basis for any criminal speeding charge based on photo evidence. For more about the February statement see here, and scroll down to “Thomas Says No to Criminal Speeding”.

As the article Speed-camera evidence OK in criminal cases, The Arizona Republic, Dec 07, 2009 points out, most or all of the evidence comes out of the camera, the additional requirements can be fulfilled after the alleged incident:

The memo notes that “no list is exhaustive” when it comes to evidence necessary for criminal prosecutions but states that:

• The police report must establish the time, place and manner of the alleged criminal speed violation. (Such information is recorded by a photo-enforcement camera.)

• The police must establish the identity of the driver to be charged with the misdemeanor. (DPS is supposed to verify the driver before sending out a violation notice.)

• Every driver should be contacted and interviewed. (There are DPS officers who target frequent photo-enforcement violators and those caught traveling at criminal speeds.)

• If photographic evidence exists, police have to provide a witness who can testify to the veracity of the photo-enforcement system. (As with radar guns and Breathalyzer equipment, DPS has officers qualified to testify about the photo-enforcement system.)

The story mentions that about half of the 4,500 criminal complaints have been dismissed on procedural grounds (perhaps that will change now with the “memo” guidelines?). In any event, of the other half it says about 300 have plead guilty, and doesn’t say what happened in the other almost 2,000 criminal cases. Maybe nobody knows? there is a large backlog in justice courts.