Ohio Supreme Court Rules Cops Can “Eyeball” Speeding Motorists

06/21/2010 | Auto, Semi & Motorcycle Wrecks

In a decision with ramifications for many Kentucky drivers the Ohio Supreme Court on June 2nd handed down a ruling that “a police officer’s unaided visual estimation of a driver’s speed is sufficient” in issuing a speeding citation, as long as the officer is “sufficiently trained and experienced in estimating speeds.”

Guesstimating, an art form usually left to casual conversation and events, has entered into the legal world in Ohio.  As one CNN report put it, “Motorists in Ohio, beware: Speeding is in the eye of the beholder, especially when police are the ones guesstimating.”

The prospect of relying on law enforcement officials for verification of an offense is worrisome as it relinquishes the role of objective evidence being presented in what is a criminal matter, a fact that would be frightening in any other legal issue.

Moreover, the court’s claim that a police officer can be trained in estimating speed to the point where their citations are acceptable is doubtful.  NASA physicist Paul Greenburg said in an AOL.com news article that “the ability of a human being to estimate the speed of a moving vehicle to one mile an hour is beyond absurd.  I would say five miles an hour is probably absurd. What that exact number is on the average remains to be seen.”

With such broad ambiguities in evidence supporting a police officers’ ability to estimate vehicle speed, the court’s ruling seems highly dubious.  Allowing a police officer’s mere guess to be admitted as evidence against a defendant runs contrary to the premise of “guilty until proven innocent” in American law. 

Suddenly, an accusation of breaking the law also becomes evidence of breaking the law, which could lead to judges simply rubberstamping citations based solely off of a police officers unsubstantiated accusations. 

While public servants such as police officers merit respect, entrusting incriminating powers to a police officer’s estimates without any evidentiary proof is a mockery of the justice system. Some police subjectivity is tolerable, such as aggressive driving citations where an officer perceives danger from a motorist’s actions in relation to road conditions, but guessing somebody’s speed without any relative measurement to go off of is intolerable. 

Thankfully, a movement is being made in Columbus among lawmakers to reverse the court’s decision and require verifiable evidence such as radar and laser devices when issuing a speeding citation.  Whatever the outcome is, when in the Buckeye State for the time being, stay under the limit.