Car Sounded Like It Was Speeding, Officer Testifies

LTB logo

In 2007, Daniel Freitag got a speeding ticket in West Salem, Ohio.  Patrolman Ken Roth said he had measured Freitag's speed with a radar gun, but that evidence was thrown out on appeal because the state had failed to provide details about the radar.  But the case was remanded rather than dismissed because Roth had also testified to another basis for the ticket: he could tell the car was speeding because it sounded too fast.

42 MPH, Captain, and One of His Lug Nuts Is Loose"As it approached," he testified, "I could hear the vehicle on the roadway, which based on my training and experience it is [sic] consistent with a vehicle that was in excess of the posted speed limit."  Roth said he had learned to "audibly determine if a vehicle was speeding" as part of his field training several years before, although he did not identify the sensei who taught him this skill or how, exactly, he was trained to do it.  Roth also claimed he had visually determined that Freitag was speeding by viewing the car's headlights in his mirrors, but again gave no details, such as whether he had timed the headlights in relation to landmarks or done anything else apart from just look at the car.

Remarkably, the trial court accepted this testimony, and found Freitag guilty.  He appealed (again), and this time the court of appeal ruled in his favor, finding Roth's testimony "incredible":

The weight of the evidence does not support the conclusion that Freitag was exceeding the posted speed limit, specifically because Patrolman Roth's testimony that he audibly and visibly determined that Freitag was speeding is not credible. . . . It is simply incredible, in the absence of reliable scientific, technical, or other specialized information, to believe that one could hear an unidentified vehicle 'speeding' . . . . In addition, although he admitted that there was another vehicle on the roadway and traveling the same direction as Freitag's at the time, the officer did not explain why he could hear and distinguish Freitag's vehicle, while he could not even hear the other traffic. . . . A thorough review of the record compels this Court to conclude that the trier of fact lost its way and committed a manifest miscarriage of justice in convicting Freitag of speeding.

It is also worth noting that, for his part, Freitag had testified that it was "completely impossible" for him to have been speeding because he is "aware that the police constantly patrol U.S. 42."  His wife, who was also in the car, supported him by testifying that he had been driving "normally" and could not possibly have been speeding because he "never exceeds the speed limit in West Salem or anywhere else."  Here we see one of the most important principles of the American legal system at work: a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, even if he, too, is obviously full of crap.

Link: Ohio v. Freitag, No. 09CA0030 (Ohio Ct. App. Dec. 7, 2009) (PDF).
Link: The