If you drive anywhere in Florida, you have likely seen the signs warning that vehicle speed is monitored by aircraft. When many read these signs, it would be reasonable to assume that the plane has high tech radars that can zero in on a vehicle to determine their speed. Although this may be a common thought, in many cases, this is not a reality.
A recent article published in the Florida Highway Patrol newsletter sheds some much-needed light on how aircraft determine a vehicle’s speed, which is a far cry from a sophisticated radar. Instead, the aircraft operator uses a pre-marked grid and a stopwatch. This relatively primitive technique is reliable enough for law enforcement to issue a speeding ticket, but just how accurate is it? In defending a Florida speeding ticket issued by airplane, here are some useful challenges that may significantly impact the result of your case.
Yes, an airplane operator can testify that they started and stopped a stopwatch at a particular time, but exactly how reliable is this testimony in satisfying their burden of proof? How do citizens know that: 1) the stopwatch was operating correctly at the time of its use and 2) if the stopwatch was started and stopped at the exact time the officer states? In speeding ticket cases, a mere second or two can make a massive difference in the strength of the officer’s evidence. If they cannot point to specific and reliable facts supporting their testimony, their entire case may crumble.
Florida roads are busy. During an observation period, numerous cars with similar colors make and models can be observed by aircraft. With this issue in mind, it is vital to question the process in which the officer was able to positively identify the vehicle they allege was speeding. Officers cannot rely on educated guesses or a process of elimination. They must show specific indicators that the car monitored was the vehicle that was issued the ticket, as, without this evidence, their case is dead on arrival.
The highway patrol article cites Captain Matt Walker, who states that the pilots use the stopwatch and quarter-mile zones marked on the interstate to estimate speed while operating the aircraft simultaneously. This process raises serious credibility issues as to how proficient an airplane operator can be at both calculating speeds and safely maneuvering their plane. In situations where the weather is an issue, this can raise further doubts as to the validity of the speed estimation, especially in cases where visibility is a question due to high winds and heavy rain.
Pilots are required to not only record the time it takes for a car to travel in quarter-mile increments, but they must also calculate how these readings equate to miles-per-hour. Just because an officer states that they completed the calculation correctly does not necessarily make their calculations accurate. It is essential to nail down how they calculated their math and what data they used in this calculation. Any error in the calculation, no matter how minor, could be grounds to challenge the validity of the entire case.
Aircraft operators do not initiate stops of motor vehicles themselves; instead, they relay their information to a police cruiser on the ground to begin the stop. An effective defense may involve challenging the information the ground officer was relying on and whether it supported their seizing of the suspect vehicle. If there were misrepresentations made from the air that was then relied on by the officer on the ground, a judge may determine that the officer did not have sufficient grounds to pull the vehicle over, which could result in a dismissal of the case.
Speeding tickets can bring significant financial penalties and can place your right to operate in serious jeopardy. It is crucial to never assume that an airplane reading of speed in Florida is accurate enough to sustain a guilty finding on a speeding ticket. By going through the evidence and understanding how airplanes reach their calculations, you may be able to expose a wide gap between allegation and supportable fact. If this is the case, utilizing this in court can ultimately lead to permanently erasing the Florida speeding ticket from your record.
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