COLUMBUS — The Sharon Township attorney who argued a speeding case before the Ohio Supreme Court said the decision that allows police to give tickets based on their visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed “opened up a Pandora’s box.”
John Kim, who took the case pro bono for his client and friend, Mark Jenney, 27, of Fairlawn, fought Jenney’s 2008 speeding ticket in Barberton Municipal Court through the appeals process to the high court.
Kim, who owns an Akron-based investment firm, said the Supreme Court has “given broad police powers” that potentially will allow officers to give motorists tickets without firm evidence or cause.
“I really do feel very humbled obviously,” he said about taking the case to the Supreme Court, “but now the substantive repercussions of the court’s ruling has truly overweighed any feelings of pride because… this ruling is unbelievable to me.”
In a 5-1 ruling, Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote the court’s majority opinion that states “a police officer’s unaided visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed is sufficient evidence to support a conviction for speeding … without independent verification of the vehicle’s speed if the officer is trained, is certified by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy or a similar organization that develops and implements training programs to meet the needs of law-enforcement professionals, … and is experienced in visually estimating vehicle speed.”
The ruling is the result of a Summit County traffic case in which Copley officer Christopher R. Santimarino issued Jen¬ney a speeding ticket for driving 79 mph in a 60 mph zone on state Route 21.
Santimarino, a 13-year veteran with the Copley Police Department, testified he pulled Jenney over after visually estimating Jenney’s vehicle traveling at 70 mph, and said his radar device clocked Jenney traveling at 83 mph.
Santimarino wrote Jenney a ticket for driving 79 mph in a 60 mph zone to “give him a break” from having to appear in court, according to Santimarino’s testimony.
The municipal court judge lowered Jenny’s ticket to 70 mph in a 60 mph zone, and ordered him to pay a $50 fine plus court costs.
Jenney fought the conviction, and when Santimarino could not produce a copy of his radar-training certification, the radar evidence was dismissed by the 9th District Court of Appeals.
However, the appeals court upheld Santimarino’s visual estimation as valid evidence and Jenney’s conviction.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell, in his dissenting opinion, wrote: “While a police officer who is trained, certified by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, and experienced in estimating a vehicle’s speed may, as any other expert witness, offer an opinion of the speed of a moving vehicle during testimony in a court proceeding, I do not agree that such testimony per se is sufficient evidence to support a conviction for speeding.”
Like any other witness, a police officer’s credibility is to be determined by the jury or other factfinder.
Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Robert Cupp and Paul Pfeifer joined O’Connor in the majority opinion. Chief Justice Eric Brown did not participate in Barberton v. Jenney.
Kim argued the ruling has made speeding tickets indefensible against the word of a law enforcement officer, and said a larger issue may have influenced the court’s ruling.
“In the state of Ohio, somehow, somewhere, we have lost our way and speeding enforcement has stopped becoming a matter of public safety and become a way of revenue generation,” Kim said. “The Supreme Court has been so shortsighted because they’re just talking about speed.”
It remains unclear what effect, if any, the court’s ruling will have on how law enforcement officials conduct traffic stops for speeding.
“I’ve never seen anyone pulled over based simply on a visual estimation,” said Michael Adams, a spokesman with the Medina post of the Ohio Highway Patrol.
Adams said troopers previously were not allowed to use visual estimation alone as a reason to make a traffic stop and had to confirm speeding with a radar or laser device.
“Every trooper I’ve talked to said they’re going to stick with what they know, which is radar or laser (readings),” Adams said. He added all troopers are radar-certified and there are radar certifications they have to maintain.
However, he said, that may not prevent all troopers from using visual estimation.
“I can’t guarantee that,” Adams said. “There are 1,500 (troopers) out there.”
Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at (330) 721-4050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.