More Hawaii speeding cases overturned on laser-gun issue

Dismissals follow warning that laser-gun ruling would trigger challenges

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
Citing a controversial Hawaii Supreme Court ruling last month, a state appeals court yesterday dismissed three excessive speeding convictions on the grounds that prosecutors failed to prove the accuracy of laser-gun readings used by police to catch speeders.

The cases were reversed by the Intermediate Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court's ruling in what is called the Assaye case was assailed earlier this month by Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who predicted it would "open the floodgates" to more litigation by people cited for excessive speeding.
Abiye Assaye allegedly was driving 90 mph in a 55 mph zone on H-1 Freeway in 2007 when he was pulled over by a police officer who had used a laser gun to clock Assaye's speed. He was convicted and ordered to pay $787 and perform 36 hours of community service.
Assaye's conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court which ruled that the HPD couldn't prove its laser-gun testing practices conformed to the manufacturer's operating manual.
The speeding cases decided yesterday were filed well before last month's Supreme Court ruling but were based on the same or similar grounds cited by the high court in the Assaye ruling.
In one case decided yesterday, motorist Celeste Hokulani Wolf appealed her March 2008 conviction for excessive speeding.
In reversing that conviction, the court said it was "predicated on evidence of a laser-gun reading, which showed that Wolf was driving her vehicle at a speed of 84 miles per hour."
As in the Assaye case, Wolf's appeal included the argument that a police officer's testimony about the laser-gun reading should not have been allowed because there was no proof that the laser gun had been tested for accuracy according to procedures recommended by the manufacturer.
"The same deficiencies in establishing the foundation for the admission of the laser gun's speed reading that were identified in Assaye are present in this case," the appellate court ruled.
Similar rulings were issued in two other excessive speeding cases yesterday.
Future speeding cases should be able to avoid being thrown out based on laser-gun training, Carlisle said. Police simply will testify that their training was based on the manufacturer's recommendations and that should avoid the problem, he said.
The problem for law enforcement officials is that there may be dozens of excessive-speeding cases that are on appeal, and they could be thrown out because prosecutors failed to prove the accuracy of the laser guns when the case was first heard.
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