NY vs. PA – Police Officer’s Testimony About Speed

Written by Gregory Monte.

I wrote a post back in April called Police Officer’s Opinion About Your Speed – Not Enough to Convict.  As the title suggests, I discussed why a Pennsylvania driver could not be convicted of a speeding violation just based on a police officer’s opinion about how fast he was travelling.  Today I want to contrast Pennsylvania’s approach with New York’s.

The Pennsylvania Approach

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Com. v. Martorano, 563 A. 2d 1229 (1989) said the following:

“We are faced with deciding the issue, previously not addressed in appellate courts of this Commonwealth, of whether a police officer’s opinion testimony is sufficient grounds upon which to base a speeding violation …”

Although it was not a unanimous decision (three justices dissented), the Supreme Court came down firmly on this issue:

 “As a consequence, we also hold that a police officer’s uncorroborated testimony as to speed is insufficient to support a conviction for violating Section 3362 [the statute about maximum speed limits]”

The New York Approach

It turns out that the New York courts do not see the situation the same way.  Consider the following case from the New York Court of Appeals (1968):

People v. Olsen, 22 NY 2d 230

“The question presented by this appeal — one of first impression — is whether the opinion evidence of police officers, properly qualified to testify as experts, is sufficient to sustain a conviction for speeding … The rule is well settled in this State that opinion evidence with regard to the speed of moving vehicles is admissible provided that the witness who testifies first shows some experience in observing the rate of speed of moving objects …”

The only caveat is that the observed speed has to be substantially above the limit.  In other words, if a police officer testifies that you were going 36 mph in a 35 zone, this probably wouldn’t be accepted as evidence that a driver was speeding.

“A police officer’s estimate that a defendant was traveling at 50 to 55 miles per hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone should be sufficient to sustain a conviction for speeding. On the other hand, his testimony, absent mechanical corroboration, that a vehicle was proceeding at 35 or 40 miles per hour in the same zone might for obvious reason be insufficient …”

If you think that this old case might no longer be relevant, you would be mistaken, because judges still rule accordingly:

People v. Lampman, 55 Misc. 3d 628 – NY: City Court 2017

A trained officer’s visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed is sufficient, either standing alone or in conjunction with other evidence, to sustain a speeding conviction …

People v. Saleh, 2018 NY Slip Op 50473 – NY: Appellate Term, 2nd Dept. 2018

“Moreover, the testimony by a trooper qualified to visually estimate the speed of moving vehicles is, standing alone, sufficient to support a speeding conviction …”

As I have written about on several occasions, Pennsylvania really does protect its citizens against the potential abuses of speeding tickets.  This is just another example of that.  If you are interested in other ways that Pennsylvania is more reasonable than other states, check out my post from yesterday: Automated Speed Enforcement – It still sucks, but at least it is not arbitrary.


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