Bare Visual Speed Estimate: Oral Argument Submitted
Oral argument was submitted today in the Los Angeles superior court’s Appellate Division in a case that asked an important Fourth Amendment question for SoCal residents: is a CHP Officer’s bare visual estimation of your vehicle’s speed sufficient to conduct a traffic stop?
More specifically, in our case, the question was whether a rookie CHP officer (4 months experience), who admitted his bumper-pace was improper (despite his written report implying something different), had reasonable cause to stop someone who retained The Law Office of Patrick Santos. The Officer’s estimate was 80 mph in a 55 mph zone, around the Barham & Hollywood exists off the 101 South.
But the officer’s estimate was based upon a reading of his own speedometer as he “floored” the marked CHP patrol car’s gas pedal to “catch up” to the “speeding” vehicle. His estimate was also based on a bare visual estimate, but to be fair, he did have the standard CHP training, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Experienced CHP officers calibrate their speedometers with their breakfast, but no calibration of this patrol car’s speedometer was provided. And we did ask, as we had a subpoena for the calibration in court ready to go. No calibration, just a rookie’s speedometer reading of the “floored” gas-pedal.
Experienced CHP officers can have some pretty gnarly training, so up against some officers, we would be mincemeat. Depending on the officer, we agree that a bare visual estimate may be sufficient to comport with the Fourth Amendment’s call for freedom from unreasonable seizures. Seriously, I have had some CHP officers testify to estimating thousands of vehicles’ speed within 2 mph standard deviation.
But not the rookie. Or at least that was the basket we placed our oral argument eggs in this morning. Maybe in a couple years with some more training. Absent that, use a radar, conduct a proper bumper-pace, use mile-markers from an airplane with special CHP watches, deploy LIDAR, take your pick. If not, every officer can stop any vehicle, at any time, and later come to court and say “well … she looked like she was speeding…”
The Los Angeles Superior Court’s Appellate Division is not known for publishing cases unless absolutely necessary. We urged them to put this one on the books, and if nothing else, to remind law enforcement that Southern California residents are free from unwarranted interferences from those out fishing for DUI arrestees. There are ten million of us living in this relatively tiny California county, so drawing an analogy to fish is statistically apt.
And before you disagree, imagine it was you; seriously, close your eyes ... and imagine. I put my left leg on the bet you would be outraged after sitting in jail and meeting some lovely new friends, then watching as insurance companies eat your dollars like a school of starving red-bellied piranhas.
Patrick Santos is an attorney that loves search and seizure cases. He's kind of obsessed. If you think you were illegally stopped, do not enter any plea until you get a free consult.