By Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC posted in Traffic Tickets on Monday, March 11, 2013
Cameras used to detect speeding in Pennsylvania are not likely legal unless used by the Pennsylvania State Police. Even then, problems abound.
By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Traffic Attorney, Harrisburg, PA
I recently had a former client provide me with an article from an Ohio newspaper. The article discussed how the use of a video camera to detect speeders at an intersection was not lawful in Ohio. The Judge in Elmwood, Ohio called it "a scam that motorists can't win." The legal argument that undermines the use of such devices is that the operator (a robot) cannot be cross-examined. The device merely detects an object moving through the intersection at a higher rate of speed than is permitted and issues a ticket based upon the license number. This is a violation of the Confrontation clause of the Constitution, which permits an accused to confront or cross-examine his accuser. Without proper cross-examination, one cannot accurately defend one's case or test the veracity of the accuser's statements.
In Commonwealth v. De Pasquale, 509 Pa. 183, 501 A.2d 626, 1985 Pa. LEXIS 440 (Pa. 1985), the PA Supreme Court ruled that an ESP device (excessive speed preventer) was not permitted to be used by township police. This is because it is a mechanical or an electronic device statutorily only permitted to be used by a Commonwealth police officer (PA State Police or "PSP"). However, not all types of electronic devices are prohibited to be used by non-PSP officials. The relevant section of the statute states as follows:
(2) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (3), electronic devices such as radio-microwave devices (commonly referred to as electronic speed meters or radar) may be used only by members of the Pennsylvania State Police.
(3) Electronic devices which calculate speed by measuring elapsed time between measured road surface points by using two sensors and devices which measure and calculate the average speed of a vehicle between any two points may be used by any police officer.
Not only would there be concerns that the device used in PA on a traffic camera was not permitted to be used by town, city, borough or township police officials, but a similar problem would likewise arise with the Confrontation Clause.