Kenneth Vercammen's Law office represents persons charged with speeding more than 15 miles over the speed limit an other serious traffic violations throughout New Jersey.
It is well established that the prosecution of a defendant for a motor vehicle violation is a quasi-criminal proceeding. In such a proceeding the burden of proof is upon the state to establish all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
In every charge of a speeding violation, the complaint or summons must specify (l) the speed at which the defendant is alleged to have driven, (2) the speed which is prima facie unlawful, and (3) the time and place of the alleged violation.
A sign showing a speed limit is merely notice of the law or an ordinance or regulation prohibiting a greater speed. The sign itself does not set the speed limit. There can be no conviction for violation of the edict of a posted sign, but only for violation of the statute, ordinance, or regulation having the force of law. There are many unauthorized signs in the state which may serve as a warning but have no effect in creating an offense. Radar
Speed-measuring radar in various forms has been accepted since State v. Dantonio, l8 N.J. 570 (l955), where the N.J. Supreme Court held it is not essential that the court determine the precise speed at which the vehicle was being operated when the alleged offense occurred, and that the operator of the vehicle must be adjudged guilty if the evidence established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the drive exceeded the statutory speed limit.
It is not necessary for the trial court to make a particular finding as to the precise speed in excess of the speed limit at which the defendant was traveling at the time of the violation. State v. Bookbinder, 82 N.J. Super. l79, l83 (App. Div. l964).
However, if the defendant is found guilty, the trial court should determine the quantum of excess was so many miles per hour in exercising its discretion as to the penalty to be imposed within the statutory limitation. The precise speed a motorist was traveling thus is material only on the question as to the penalty to be imposed, not on the question of guilt or innocence.
State v. Readding, l69 N.J. Super. 238 (Law Div. l978), restated the general rule that in order for the radar speedometer reading to be admissible into evidence, it should be established that: (l) the device is scientifically reliable; (2) the particular speedometer used in the case being tried is accurate; (3) the operator is qualified; and (4) the device was operated properly in the case being tried. How Radar Operates
In State v. Wojtkowiak, l70 N.J. Super. 44 (Law Div. l979), revd on other grounds, l74 N.J. Super. 460, Judge Wells examined in detail the K-55 Radar, and his conclusions were incorporated by the Appellate Division. This case should be read and reread for a detailed explanation of Radar by a Court.
The traffic radar method speed detection measurement depends upon the Doppler effect. Simply stated a radio wave which strikes a moving object is reflected from that object at different frequency from that of the incident wave. A radar which transmits waves and receives reflected waves can determine their frequency difference and calculate the speed of the object which produced the reflective wave.
Courts have accepted as scientifically reliable MPH Industries K-55 Traffic Radar -- the primary system employed for the purpose of measuring the speed of motor vehicles in New Jersey.
In State v. Wojtkowiak, l74 N.J. Super, 460 (App. Div. l980), the appeals court held in all future cases the state should adduce evidence at the municipal court level as to (l) the specific training and extent of experience of the officer operating the radar, (2) the calibration of the machine was checked by at least two external tuning forks both singly and in combination, and (3) the calibration of the speedometer of the patrol car in cases where the K-55 is operating in the moving mode.
MPH Industries, manufacturer and distributor of the K-55, sets forth the following eight points an officer must be able to testify to:
* The officer must establish the time, place and location of the radar device at the time he made the reading. * The officer must be able to identify the vehicle. * The officer must identify the defendant as the operator of the vehicle * The officer must testify that he made a visual observation of the vehicle and that it was going at an excessive rate of speed. * At the time of the radar reading the officer must testify that the vehicle was out front, by itself, nearest to the radar. * The officer must state his qualifications and training in radar use. * The officer must establish that the radar was tested for accuracy both prior and after its use. * If used in the moving mode, that at the time of the radar reading the patrol speed indicated on the unit compared to the speedometer of the police vehicle.
While it appeared to the court in State v. Wojtkowiak, Supra that the K-55 Radar is an accurate and reliable tool for the measurement of speed, its accuracy and reliability in any case are no better than the skill of the person operating the radar. Id. at l74. The court made this emphasis as a warning to all police departments that proper courses of instruction be developed before the K-55 Radar device is employed in any municipality.
A calibration check is accomplished with the use of two tuning forks and their accuracy must be the subject of the documentary proof. Use of the K-55 does not eliminate the need for such proof. State v. Wojtkowiak, l70 N.J. Super. at 50, n.l
In State v. Overton, l35 N.J. Super 443 (Cty. Ct. l975), four external tuning forks were used to test the radar unit l2 times within a period of approximately 90 minutes. The court noted there is authority to the effect that a radar unit should be checked for accuracy each time it is set up at a different location. MPH Industries argues this is not necessary with moving radar.
In State v. Readding, l60 N.J. Super. 238 (Law Div. l978), the court reiterated the decision in State v. Overton, l35 N.J. Super. 443 (Cty. Ct. l975), where the court found there are three universally accepted methods of testing the accurate operation of a radar speed measuring device:
1. By use of the internal tuning fork built into the machine itself (which the court found to be improper). 2. By running the patrol car with a calibrated speedometer through the "zone of influence" of the radar machine. 3. By use of external tuning forks calibrated at set speeds and which emit sound waves or frequencies identical to those which would come from a vehicle traveling through the Radar bearer at the same speed for which the tuning fork has been cut.
It is also important to recognize that in State v. Readding, l60 N.J. Super. 238, the court stated: the proper operation of the device must be proved, usually by detailed reference by the qualified operator to the procedures called for by the manufacturer of the device. Tuning Forks
Before a radar speed reading is admissible, the state must establish the machine was operating properly. MPH Industries test procedure uses two tuning forks: First, the lower-speed fork is struck on wood or plastic and the ringing fork is held in a fixed position two to three inches in front of the antenna with the harrow edge of the fork facing the antenna front. This will cause the Patrol Monitor Window to display the forks speed. While continuing to hold this ringing fork in place, the higher-speed fork is struck and held next to the lower-speed fork (both forks must be vibrating while being held an equal distance from the antenna. The target should then display the "speed" difference between the two forks. For example, if the forks used are 35 mph and 65 mph, then the target window will display the difference, which is 30 mph. Admissibility of Evidence
The state must establish through documentary evidence the tuning fork itself was accurate. The state must produce and be able to admit into evidence certificates as proof of the accuracy of the devices used for testing the proper operation of the machine.
In State v. Cardone, l46 N.J. Super. 23 (App. Div. l976), the court held that while certificates do not have to satisfy the normal rules of evidence, an Evidence Rule 8 hearing still must be held, at which the court can determine preliminary issues of admissibility of evidence. In such a hearing, the rules of evidence -- except for Rule 4 or a valid claim of privilege -- do not apply. Id. at 28.
The Cardone court found that the certificates of calibration and accuracy of the radar machine -- and for the tuning forks used to test the machine -- were properly admitted in evidence, even though no proof was offered to qualifying the certificates as records made in the regular course of business. The certificates were used solely as evidence of proper operating conditions or as a prerequisite to the admissibility of the radar reading, and the defendant made no effort to prove the internal calibrating device or the tuning forks were inaccurate.
Previously, in State v. Overton, l35 N.J. Super. 443 (Cty. Ct. l975), it was held the municipal court judge improperly admitted certificates issued by the manufacturer of the tuning forks and the radar unit itself. The court also held the certificates were not properly authenticated, as required by Evidence Rule 67, nor was there sufficient testimony to support their admissibility as either business records under Evidence Rule 63(l3) or as reports of finding of a public official under Evidence Rule 63(l5).
In State v. Readding, supra, the Superior Court exonerated the defendant, stating:
It is entirely possible for a particular RADAR device to function properly and record accurately a 50 m.p.h. but inaccurately at higher speeds......
Accuracy of the particular speedometer should be established by more than one test. The Pace or Clock Method
A "pace" or "clock" is performed by an officer in a patrol car with a calibrated speedometer for a duration of distance or time wherein the officer accelerated to a speed equivalent to the suspects, and then keeps a steady distance behind the suspects vehicle following that vehicle. It is essential that the patrol cars speedometer be calibrated and that the certificates of calibration both before and after, be admitted into evidence.
An officer may also sometimes admit he was unable to get a good "clock" but may say that his vehicle was going 70 mph, for example, and he was still losing ground to the offender. The obvious shortcoming to "clocking" as vehicle is that the officers objective judgment may be brought into question, the interference by other traffic, or other non-reasonable factors. It is for these reasons that the "clock" method is used less frequently than radar. Conclusion
It is no defense to argue unlawful arrest, selective enforcement, custom and usage, non-ownership of car driven, ignorance or mistake of law, lack of precise speed proved, defective speedometer or cruise control. Obey the law, follow speed limits and you will have no need to know about Radar.
About the Author
Kenneth A. Vercammen is a trial attorney in Metuchen, Middlesex County, New Jersey. He has lectured on traffic and criminal law for the New Jersey State Bar Association, New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education and Middlesex County College. He often lectures for the New Jersey State Bar Association on personal injury, criminal / municipal court law and drunk driving. He has published 55 articles in national and New Jersey publications on municipal court and litigation topics. He has served as a Special Acting Prosecutor in seven different cities and towns in New Jersey and also successfully defended hundreds of individuals facing Municipal Court and Criminal Court charges.
In his private practice, he has devoted a substantial portion of his professional time to the preparation and trial of litigated matters. He has appeared in Courts throughout New Jersey several times each week on many personal injury matters, Municipal Court trials, matrimonial hearings and contested administrative law hearings.
Since 1985, his primary concentration has been on litigation matters. Mr. Vercammen gained other legal experiences as the Confidential Law Clerk to the Court of Appeals of Maryland (Supreme Court),with the Delaware County, PA District Attorney Office handling Probable Cause Hearings, Middlesex County Probation Dept as a Probation Officer, and an Executive Assistant to Scranton District Magistrate, Thomas Hart, in Scranton, PA.
Speeding penalties as of 2003
39:4-98. Rates of speed 39:4-98. Rates of speed. Subject to the provisions of R.S.39:4-96 and R.S.39:4-97 and except in those instances where a lower speed is specified in this chapter, it shall be prima facie lawful for the driver of a vehicle to drive it at a speed not exceeding the following:
a.Twenty-five miles per hour, when passing through a school zone during recess, when the presence of children is clearly visible from the roadway, or while children are going to or leaving school, during opening or closing hours;
b. (1) Twenty-five miles per hour in any business or residential district;
(2) Thirty-five miles per hour in any suburban business or residential district;
c.Fifty miles per hour in all other locations, except as otherwise provided in the "Sixty-Five MPH Speed Limit Implementation Act," pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1997, c.415 (C.39:4-98.3 et al.).
Whenever it shall be determined upon the basis of an engineering and traffic investigation that any speed hereinbefore set forth is greater or less than is reasonable or safe under the conditions found to exist at any intersection or other place or upon any part of a highway, the Commissioner of Transportation, with reference to State highways, may by regulation and municipal or county authorities, with reference to highways under their jurisdiction, may by ordinance, in the case of municipal authorities, or by ordinance or resolution, in the case of county authorities, subject to the approval of the Commissioner of Transportation, except as otherwise provided in R.S.39:4-8, designate a reasonable and safe speed limit thereat which, subject to the provisions of R.S.39:4-96 and R.S.39:4-97, shall be prima facie lawful at all times or at such times as may be determined, when appropriate signs giving notice thereof are erected at such intersection, or other place or part of the highway. Appropriate signs giving notice of the speed limits authorized under the provisions of paragraph (1) of subsection b. and subsection c. of this section may be erected if the commissioner or the municipal or county authorities, as the case may be, so determine they are necessary. Appropriate signs giving notice of the speed limits authorized under the provisions of subsection a. and paragraph (2) of subsection b. of this section shall be erected by the commissioner or the municipal or county authorities, as appropriate.
The driver of every vehicle shall, consistent with the requirements of this section, drive at an appropriate reduced speed when approaching and crossing an intersection or railway grade crossing, when approaching and going around a curve, when approaching a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway, and when special hazard exists with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.
The Commissioner of Transportation shall cause the erection and maintenance of signs at such points of entrance to the State as are deemed advisable, setting forth the lawful rates of speed, the wording of which shall be within his discretion.
Amended 1939, c.211; 1942, c.325,(1942, c.325 repealed 1946, c.8); 1951, c.23, s.55; 1983, c.227, s.2; 1993, c.315, s.2; 1997, c.415, s.1.
39:4-98.1. Designation of lower maximum speed limits for trucks of registered gross weight of 10,000 pounds and over In accordance with the provisions of section 39:4-98 of the Revised Statutes, the State Highway Commissioner may, by regulation and identification by appropriate signs, designate lower maximum speed limits for trucks of a registered gross weight of 10,000 pounds and over, at a differential of 5 miles per hour, on State highways, or appropriate portions thereof, having 4 or more traffic lanes, where the legal speed limit is 50 miles per hour or greater.
L.1960, c. 100, p. 588, s. 1.
39:4-98.2. Counties or municipalities; reduction of regular speed limit for 72 hours for maintenance or repairs; notice to commissioner Any county or municipal governing body may adopt an ordinance or resolution, as appropriate, designating a county or municipal official who may order a reduction of a regular speed limit for periods not to exceed 72 hours on segments of highways under its jurisdiction for the purpose of maintenance or repairs. Any resolution or ordinance adopted pursuant to this act shall specify the circumstance under which a speed limit may be reduced.
An order reducing the speed limit pursuant to this act shall not require the approval of the Commissioner of Transportation; provided, however, that it shall be the duty of the designated county or municipal official to notify the commissioner of the affected segment of highway no less than 7 days before any reduced speed limit takes effect; except that in cases of emergency situations the notification period may be waived by the commissioner. It shall be the duty of the designated county or municipal official to place one or more signs indicating the reduced speed limit along the affected highway.
Any speed limit established pursuant to this act shall be prima facie lawful and subject to the provisions of R.S. 39:4-96 and 39:4-97 when appropriate signs giving notice thereof are erected.
L.1981, c. 237, s. 1, eff. July 27, 1981. 39:4-98.3. Short title 2.This act may be known and shall be cited as the "Sixty-Five MPH Speed Limit Implementation Act."
39:4-98.4. Definitions relative to 65mph speed limit 3.As used in this act:
"Authorities" means the New Jersey Highway Authority, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
"Commissioner" means the Commissioner of Transportation.
"Eligible public highways" means public highways as defined in section 3 of P.L. 1984, c. 73 (C.27:1B-3) of which portions have been determined by the commissioner to be appropriate for a 65 miles per hour speed limit based on such criteria as determined by the commissioner. Public highways under the jurisdiction of counties and municipalities shall not be eligible public highways.
39:4-98.5. Speed limit of 65mph established, certain highways 4. a. Within four months following the effective date of this act, the commissioner, in consultation with the Attorney General and the authorities, shall establish by written order speed limits of 65 miles per hour on approximately 400 miles of eligible public highways. The commissioner, pursuant to section 7 of this act, may increase or decrease the number of miles of eligible public highways on which a 65 miles per hour speed limit has been established.
b.An order to be issued pursuant to subsection a. of this section shall cite the eligible public highways to which it is to be applicable and contain a description in plain language of the orders contents, the effective date of the order and any other information the commissioner deems necessary.
c.The commissioner shall cause a general public notice of the proposed order, including a summary of the provisions of the proposed order, to be published in a newspaper or newspapers having general circulation in the municipality or municipalities affected by the order. The notice shall include a telephone number or address which a member of the public may use to receive a copy of the complete text of the proposed order and shall provide for a 30-day period from the date of publication for public comment. The order shall be final on the 31st day after publication of the notice or on a later date if the commissioner so determines. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as prohibiting the commissioner from extending the comment period or from modifying or withdrawing the proposed order as a result of the review of public comment.
d.A final order shall be effective and enforceable upon compliance with the requirement for the posting of signs providing notice of the speed limit, as provided under the applicable provisions of R.S.39:4-98 and R.S.39:4-198.
e.Any official traffic control device established pursuant to this section shall conform to the "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices."
f.Any order issued pursuant to this section shall be binding and enforceable under the provisions of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes and all other applicable laws, in any court of competent jurisdiction, until superseded by order of the commissioner pursuant to this act.
L.1997,c.415, s.4. 39:4-98.6. Certain fines doubled where speed limit is 65mph 5. a. The fine for a motor vehicle offense embodied in the following sections of statutory law, when committed in an area which has been designated as having a speed limit of 65 miles per hour, shall be double the amount specified by law:
R.S. 39:4-98, when guilty of driving at a speed that is 10 miles per hour or more over the established speed limit;
P.L. 1955, c.217 (C.39:5C-1);
Section 41 of P.L. 1951, c.23 (C.39:4-82.1);
Section 51 of P.L. 1951, c.23 (C.39:4-90.1);
Section 5 of P.L. 1951, c.264 (C.27:23-29);
Section 18 of P.L. 1952, c.16 (C.27:12B-18); and
Section 21 of P.L. 1991, c.252 (C.27:25A-21).
b. (1) Signs designed in compliance with the specifications of the Department of Transportation or, if appropriate, the authority having jurisdiction over the appropriate highway, shall be appropriately placed, by order of the commissioner or the affected authority, as the case may be, to notify drivers approaching areas designated as having a speed limit of 65 miles per hour that the fines are doubled for motor vehicle offenses in those areas.
(2) In addition, all traffic control signs and devices erected or displayed by the State Department of Transportation or an authority within an area designated as having a speed limit of 65 miles per hour shall conform to the uniform system specified in the most current "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, " prepared by the Federal Highway Administration in the United States Department of Transportation.
c.It shall not be a defense to the imposition of the fines authorized under the provisions of this act that a sign notifying drivers that fines are doubled was not posted, improperly posted, wrongfully removed or stolen, or that signs or devices were not placed in compliance with the most current "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways."
d.The Director of Motor Vehicles in the Department of Transportation shall include information concerning the penalties imposed pursuant to this section in any subsequent revision of the New Jersey Driver Manual and the New Jersey Motorist Guide.
39:4-98.7. Speeding 20mph or more over limit; fines, certain; doubled 6.The fine for a motor vehicle offense shall be double the amount specified by law when traveling 20 miles per hour or more over the designated speed limit as set forth in R.S.39:4-98, except as provided in subsection b. of section 1 of P.L.1993, c.332 (C.39:4-203.5) and subsection a. of section 5 of P.L.1997, c.415 (C.39:4-98.6).
39:4-98.8. Study to determine effect of 65mph speed limit; report; implementation 7. a. During the first 18 months following the establishment of 65 miles per hour speed limits on eligible public highways pursuant to section 4 of this act, the commissioner, in consultation with the Attorney General and the authorities, shall conduct a study to determine the overall impact of this act. The study shall consider public safety, environmental and cost issues, including, but not limited to speed, accident rates, fatalities, enforcement, air quality and such other issues as the commissioner deems appropriate to evaluate fully the effect of the 65 miles per hour speed limit on the State.
b.A report of the studys findings and recommendations, including a recommendation as to whether the number of miles of eligible public highways should increase, decrease or remain the same, shall be submitted to the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the General Assembly no later than 21 months after the establishment of 65 miles per hour speed limits on eligible public highways pursuant to section 4 of this act.
c.The commissioner shall implement the recommendations contained in the report 60 days following the reports submission to the Governor and Legislature unless the recommendations, either all or in part, are disapproved each by the Senate and the General Assembly by passage of a concurrent resolution stating, in substance, that the Legislature does not favor the recommendations. If the recommendations are disapproved in part by concurrent resolution, the commissioner shall implement those recommendations that are not disapproved.
39:4-99. Exceeding speed limitations; speed specified in charge It shall be prima facie unlawful for a person to exceed any of the foregoing speed limitations or any speed limitation in effect as established by authority of section 39:4-98 of this Title.
In every charge of violation of section 39:4-98 of this Title, the complaint and the summons or notice to appear, shall specify the speed at which the defendant is alleged to have driven and the speed which this article declares shall be prima facie lawful at the time and place of the alleged violation.
Amended by L.1951, c. 23, p. 88, s. 56.