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Carlisle’s Complaint: Hawaii Supreme Court Ruling Makes It Tougher to Ticket Speeding Drivers

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I hope you like the catchy title. I could have used Portnoy’s Complaint _ and for Honolulu insiders _ you know that we do have a "Portnoy" who is an attorney like Carlisle and me, "complains" a lot, and who was the President-Elect of the Hawaii State Bar Association the year I was President. But this has nothing to do with Jeff Portnoy and everything to do with the Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle.

The Honolulu Star Bulletin reported a recent Hawaii Supreme Court decision will make it harder (and I am sure, more expensive) for the police to ticket speeding drivers.


Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle says a state Supreme Court ruling overturning a man’s conviction for excessive speeding "will open up a whole new can of worms."

We all have heard the slogan that speed kills and we all know that Island roads and highways are crowded and filled with ever more futless motorists. Recently I went to look for statistics about speeding and deaths and injury in Hawaii.

Death and Injury On Interstate Highways Increase With Higher Speed Limits

The point of that article was that state lawmakers should know that when speed limits are raised, the death toll climbs. Its a fact. The evidence is clear. So when I read the report about our Prosecuting attorney being upset about speeding motor vehicles I decided to look at this case. The decision says that:

…..it is not enough for a police officer to testify that he conducted test procedures of a laser speed-measuring device before using it to issue tickets. The state also has to provide evidence that the manufacturer recommended those procedures to verify that the device is operating properly.

The issue is calibration of the laser gun. Carlisle calls it the "Law of Rules" and complains that there are too many hoops to jump through, for the police.

The laser guns have manuals that explain how to calibrate the devices. HPD assigned an officer to read the manual, make certain that calibration is done appropriately and then train to properly operate and test the device. So what’s the problem with this case?

First, Carlisle fears the added step will invite calls for even more procedures to verify the accuracy of speeds recorded by police officers.

HPD has been using the laser devices since 1996 in thousands of cases and getting convictions.

So what are the facts of this case?

The citation was for traveling 90 mph on the H-1 freeway on 5 September 2007, near the Radford pedestrian overpass. The speed limit on that portion of the freeway is 55 mph.

In the trial the driver’s attorney challenged the calibration procedure for the laser gun. A Honolulu district judge ruled "guilty" of excessive speeding, ordered the driver to pay a $650 fine and $137 in fees and to perform 36 hours of community service, and suspended the man’s driver’s license for 30 days.

A person commits the offense of excessive speeding by operating a vehicle at least 30 mph over the posted speed limit or 80 mph regardless of the speed limit.

I am trying to think about places on Oahu where there is enough straight away to get to 90 mph. Was this guy driving a Porsche?!

Luckily there were no death or injury in this case. So let’s look at what appellate do.

Mr. 90 MPH had a trial and lost. The police testified. I am 99.99% certain that Mr. 90 MPH did not testify. His attorney may have told him that the laser gun had him going 90 MPH in a 55 MPH zone and that his only chance was to attack the machine.

When the Hawaii Supreme Court gets an appeal they only ask whether or not the defendant got a fair trial. That means, in this case, did the trial judge make a mistake by hearing the laser gun evidence.

What are the rules?

If an attorney wants to put in evidence of some scientific fact, like "I pointed my calibrated laser gun at Mr. 90 MPH’s car and the electronic display said 90 MPH" she would have to prove that the laser gun was working properly. Ww all demand that in our everyday lives. Not with DUI laser guns but with all aspects of our ever-increasingly complex lives.

What do you think?