Speeding tickets: Use of laser guns in Chicago to catch speeders is questioned -- chicagotribune.com
Speeding tickets: Use of laser guns in Chicago to catch speeders is questioned
Many tickets are thrown out if use of lidar is challenged
Many motorists nabbed for speeding by a laser gun, instead of radar, are seeing their tickets thrown out at Chicago's traffic court because of a legal issue that the city's law department has been unable to overcome.
Within the past year judges in Cook County Traffic Court in Chicago determined that speeds captured by lidar were not admissible because the devices had not been proven scientifically reliable in an Illinois court, said Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the law department, which prosecutes most speeding tickets in the city.
The judges brushed aside the office's position that such a legal hearing was unnecessary because lidar devices, which use a light beam instead of radio waves, have been used by police departments across the country with no problems for a long time and because some courts outside Illinois already had found them to be scientifically sound.
The devices, widely used by police departments across the state, are the primary speed detectors used by the Chicago Police Department, Hoyle said.
As a result, many drivers ticketed for speeding in the city have been able to skate out of traffic court without having to pay the fine.
"Judges don't share our view that the technology is valid in court," Hoyle said.
The judges's findings do not benefit motorists who plead guilty and pay their fine by mail, Hoyle said. The city has continued to cash those checks.
Judges in traffic courts outside Chicago have not taken a uniform position, said Steve Fagan, a defense attorney who represents traffic violators in Cook, DuPage and Lake counties.
Some judges dismiss tickets that involve lidar, while others view it as legally sound, Fagan said.
The legal procedure required to prove a technology is scientifically reliable -- a Frye hearing, as it is known in Illinois -- is laborious and expensive, experts said. The hearing requires witnesses and can stretch for days.
That's the reason the city law department was reluctant to initiate one against a defendant, Hoyle said.
Since last month the department has begun seeking such a hearing in the small percent of speeding cases in which the defendant has a defense attorney, she said. But each time the defendant has chosen to pay the fine rather than participate.
The department hopes the Cook County state's attorney's office will secure a Frye hearing because that office handles the most serious speeding cases in which the defendant has more invested.
If they fail, Hoyle said, the prosecutors will seek a state law that explicitly recognizes lidar as scientifically reliable.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Police Department plans to continue using the device, said Roderick Drew, a spokesman for the department. "We believe it to be reliable and accurate," Drew said.