In order to establish speeding beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor must prove that:
(1) the laser device is in good condition for accurate readings,
(2) the officer is qualified to administer the laser device, and
(3) the specific laser or other speed measuring device is scientifically reliable.
In one recent Ohio case – East Liverpool v. Lawson, 2014-Ohio-5858 – the state neither presented expert testimony regarding the scientific reliability of the specific laser gun used in the case nor did the court take judicial notice of its reliability.
As a result, the state failed to prove its case and the speeding conviction was vacated by the trial court.
Officer Measured Speed with TruSpeed Laser Gun
In this case, an officer stopped a vehicle for speeding. The officer stated that he clocked the vehicle using a LTI 20/20 TruSpeed Laser Gun traveling 66 mph in a 50 mph zone. He filed a not guilty plea and held a bench trial.
At trial, the officer that pulled him over was the only witness to testify. He stated that he was using a laser gun for speed detection purposes. Specifically, an LTI 20/20 TruSpeed Laser Gun, is a long range unit.
The officer stated that he had been trained to operate the LTI 20/20 and that his certification of training was admitted into evidence. He further testified that the device was working properly and that he performed a Delta Distance laser calibration prior to putting it into service that evening.
On appeal, the defense argued that the trial court erred in finding the defendant guilty of speeding after it failed to take judicial notice of the scientific reliability of the speed detection device. Conversely, the city argued that the trial court properly took judicial notice of the accuracy of the laser device.
In this case, the city chose to attempt to meet its burden of proving the defendant guilty of speeding beyond a reasonable doubt by introducing evidence generated by a laser gun. In order to be convicted of speeding based on laser-device evidence, “evidence must be introduced that the laser device is scientifically reliable.” See East Cleveland v. Ferell, 168 Ohio St. 298, 301, 154 N.E.2d 630 (1958).
Judicial Notice of Scientific Reliability of a Laser Gun
“Where there is no testimony as to the construction and method of operation of a speed measuring device not the subject of judicial notice, the testimony of the user standing alone, is insufficient to sustain a conviction of speeding.” New Middletown v. Yeager, 7th Dist. No. 03-MA-104, 2004-Ohio-1549, ¶ 9.
This doesn’t mean that in every case there has to be scientific testimony regarding the accuracy of the laser or radar gun. In lieu of expert testimony, the trial court can take judicial notice of a laser gun’s the scientific reliability.
In order to take judicial notice of a fact, it must not be subject to reasonable dispute in that it is either (1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned. Evid.R. 201(B).
In other words, if the device’s reliability has already in established in another case, the court can take judicial notice of its reliability in this case. “However, the fact that a court in one jurisdiction has taken judicial notice of a device’s accuracy cannot serve as the basis for a court in another jurisdiction to take judicial notice.” Columbus v. Bell, 10th Dist. No. 09AP- 1012, 2010-Ohio-2908, ¶ 14;
Although laser technology may be similar from one device to another, judicial notice as to the reliability of the laser gun or other speed measuring device is device-specific.
Trial Court Failed to Take Judicial Notice of Scientific Reliability of TruSpeed Laser Device
Here, the state did present evidence that (1) the laser device was in good working order and (2) that the officer was certified to use this speed-measuring device.
However, as for the scientific reliability of the laser device in question, the only reference to that in the trial transcript happened right before the trial court found him guilty:
THE COURT: * * * “I’m not aware of any factory calibration in the last year, requirement for a laser unit as well. For those reasons, I find that the machine was accurately being used on the occasion, and the Delta test had been satisfactorily performed in regards to this matter. And laser technology is obviously state-of-the-art and an accepted scientific technology for many reasons.”
Here, the city failed to introduce evidence that this particular laser device, the LTI 20/20 True Speed Laser Gun, is scientifically reliable. Although the trial court stated that laser technology in general is “state-of-the-art” and “accepted scientific technology for many reasons,” it did not go on to state those reasons on the record. It did not reference any previous reported decisions where the scientific reliability of this specific device had been established.
As such, the city did not present sufficient evidence, particularly in regard to the scientific reliability of the device, to convict appellant of speeding. Thus, the conviction was vacated and the charges dismissed.