My question involves a speeding ticket from the State of: Georgia
Violation- Speeding 65MPH in a 35MPH zone
Determined by- Pacing
Conditions- clear road, little/no traffic, mountain road with grades greater than 7% and many blind curves.
No distance cited for pacing and a vague "description" of the location on citation.
Prepare for a long read as I am going to state the background of the situation, the actual events, the pullover, my research and what I plan on doing about it. I plan on this being an on-going thread as the case proceeds.
On a Saturday morning, about 9am, myself along with three (3) other cars were driving up a particular mountain road en route to a popular lodge for the weekend. This section of road is a known hotspot for recreational driving by motorcycles and cars. On this particular day, I was the lead car of the group. We turned onto The Road at the base of the mountain known by a particular landmark, we'll call it DOTDOT as I want to keep indentifing names, location, information to a minimum. From DOTDOT to The Summit of the road, the speed limit is 45MPH and drops to 35MPH about 2,000 feet from The Summit and between the reduced speed limit and The Summit, the county changes. The distance from DOTDOT to The Summit is about 8.7 miles, from The Summit to The Pullover is about 2.5 miles. Refer to this later. So on the way up to The Summit, the four of us were driving a spirited fashion, by this I mean driving at the speed limit around the curves and grades that would require most cars to slow down to 25mph or less. Maintaining speed isn't illegal nor is it in question here. On the two (2) downhill section, speeds of 50-55mph may have been reached while not using/riding the brakes.
Before The Summit, there is a sharp left curve followed by a short straight that has a few rental cabins, followed by a very sharp right and a uphill curve to the left that reaches The Summit. This left curve is blind and there is a parking lot, a trail shop and a heavily used trail that crosses the road. Many motorcycles, bicycles and hikers are entering/exiting and crossing the road here. As I am someone who enjoys driving this road on a fairly regular basis, I ALWAYS slow down to a maximum of 35MPH or less before the cabins until I am well past The Summit. I did this time as well. I was actually going so slow that my girlfriend riding with me asked if I was pulling into the parking lot. Once past The Summit, I opted to start coasting down the downhill where I was moving at about 40-45MPH unti l encountered another vehicle driving along at 35-40MPH. About another mile down the road I hear sirens and look back to see a Georgia State Patrol officer approaching us at a much higher rate of speed. I pulled to the shoulder to yield to the right-of-way that the officer has with lights activated. The officer stopped next to the line of four cars. The car in front of me carried on without even tapping the brakes. Here is the conversation that followed between the officer and I-
The Traffic Stop.
Officer- Driver's license please. Do you know what the speed limit is?
Me- 40 miles per hour *hands officer license*
Officer- It's 45 miles per hour.
-officer walked back to each car and asked for a license and returned to his car. About 30 minutes later he returned to my car-
Officer- Sir this is a citation for 65 in a 35 zone. *insert typical citation information, court date, etc...*
Me- If I may ask politely, can you please tell me where you were when you observed any violations?
Officer- I've been following you guys since DOTDOT and got you at 65 at The Summit (literally at the top of the mountain). I have it on camera if you care to fight it in court. I'm not at liberty to talk about this anymore as I can arrest you for racing.
Me- *nothing else said*
The other 3 drivers all had similar conversations, never asked for a speed nor admitted to any speed and were threatened to be arrested if further questions were asked. We were all told that we were "paced" up the mountain and he had video of it. One person asked what constituted racing and the officer told him "four cars speeding".
This concludes the traffic stop.
So the following Wednesday I called the Georgia Department of Public Safety (GDPS) to request a copy of the in-car video from the traffic stop. I was told that I was not allowed to obtain it without a written release from the prosecutor that was handling the case. I then called The Court to find out what I needed to do. I knew they weren't going to have the citation on file already, but asked if I could speak to the solicitor to get permission to obtain the in-car video. The clerk I spoke to didn't have a clue what I was talking about. The next day I called GDPS back to try again and spoke to a different clerk. This time I was told to mail in a written request for the video and that they would get back to me with an invoice. At the same time I called the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training council or obtain any information I could from them and was told to mail in a written request for records. I received a letter from The POST and from the GDPS. The letter from the GDPS stated a rate per page of the officers records and stated that I was not permitted to obtain the video citing O.C.G.A. 50-18.72 (4)
"(4) Records of law enforcement, prosecution, or regulatory agencies in any pending investigation or prosecution of criminal or unlawful activity, other than initial police arrest reports and initial incident reports; provided, however, that an investigation or prosecution shall no longer be deemed to be pending when all direct litigation involving said investigation and prosecution has become final or otherwise terminated;"
The POST letter contained information on the officer's training and as a bonus ended with documentation where the officer was found by the council to have used undue/excessive force and was issued 24 months probation, public reprimand and court issued anger management classes. Interesting.
I called The Court back to get to the bottom of this again. This time I spoke to a clerk who actually knew what I was looking for. She said that I could not talk to the solicitor or obtain the letter of release until I had been to arraignment and entered a plea. Clearly I will be entering a plea of "not guilty" meaning I can only request acquisition of the tape with a trial date set. I am rather confused as to why I am not allowed to see the video before arraignment as I am the one who is on the video nor is it under the rights of O.C.G.A 50-18-70. Also, the officer took exactly 21 days to turn the citations into The Court to which I was finally able to be told what the fine is for the violation.
I do plan on pleading not guilty at my arraignment hearing, as do the 3 other drivers that were behind me. I will again say, I wasn't speeding nor were the people behind me at the speed and location the officer says we were. I will accept his challenge to having that in-car video of us doing the violation.
-The driver of the car at the rear never noticed any cars behind him on the 8+ mile drive up the mountain.
-All four cars were spaced well apart and were not "racing" or following close. Given the speed and distance between the cars, the caravan was about 500ft long.
-There is no way the officer has video of use doing 65mph at all, even if he was right behind us....we simply weren't doing it. It'll be a no-question win upon going to trial. I'm not bluffing.
In my opinion there is NO way the officer was able to accurately "pace" me, the lead vehicle, on a curvy mountain road from far enough back that the rearmost car couldn't even see him. Even if he was at a proper following distance behind the last car, he couldn't properly maintain visual contact with my car for more than a few hundred feet at a time because of the curves/visibility. Not to mention I was looking back every so often to make sure the 3 other cars were still behind me. Two cars has passengers, making for a total of 6 people in the four cars, not a single person out of the 6 saw a single car behind us from DOTDOT to The Summit. If the officer was close enough to "pace" us, then he was close enough to have used radar to lock our speed in with a device that the court sees as judicial notice. A patrol car isn't considered judicial notice as a speed detection device. IMHO- I suspect the officer was sitting somewhere, hidden, and heard our cars and decided to "catch up" and write us a ticked based on his "catch up" speed not thinking that we will all make the 2+ hour drive to go to court to fight the case. The fine is exceptionally low for a 30mph over ticket, less than half of the maximum allowable under O.C.G.A. 40-6-1 "(6) By 24 or more but less than 34 miles per hour shall not exceed $500.00.". To me, that is a clear indication of "just come pay it, it's not much, we want your money". If it was in the best interest to penalize us for such excessive speed in a dangerous situation, a higher fine would remind us of our actions. Also, it's a 4-point offense against the 15-point limit in a 24 month rolling period.
As part of my research, I am requesting records of the speed limit along the road from DOTDOT to The Summit from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to see if the speed limit was once 55mph and if/when it was dropped to 45 and 35. I also requested any record of any traffic study that would have to be on record stating that a reduction in speed along the road was needed. Since it's an old road with a speed limit of 55 along most of it in the area, I wouldn't be surprised if the speed limit was illegally lowered to 45 and 35. In Georgia, a traffic engineering study MUST be present in order to change a speed limit, O.C.G.A. 40-6-182. I'm hoping to hear back from them next week. If they come back with no record of any traffic studies and different speed limits once posted along the road, then the posted speed limit is void and is a default of 55mph. Which would mean, according to the officer, we could have only been doing 10mph over. A lot of rural roads are given higher limits, like The Dragon used to have a posted limit of 55mph and was illegally lowered in an attempt to extort money from riders/drivers. This was just proven in court and can be found on the web.
Upon my arraignment and plea of not guilty, I plan on requesting a jury trial which does two things for me- 1) moves the case to the Supreme court and 2) makes them have to take time/money to fight a simple traffic ticket. I'm doing this in hopes that they would rather dismiss the citation than go on with a jury trial. Also, I plan on filing for a speedy trial so it must be done in the next two court sessions or 180 days as I've come to understand. Correct me if I am wrong. The next plan of action is to obtain the letter of release of the in-car video from GDPS, hopefully I can get this without filing for a motion of discovery.
If I file a motion of discovery, do I *have* to show before the judge?
Is there anything I can file against the prosecution or make them fork over the video without showing up at a pre-trial court date?
I know I have to draft this myself, is there any templates I can find for this?
Will the court provide me with the form for a speedy trial or do I need to come to the arraignment with one?
Should I have the motion of discovery ready to file immediately after pleading not guilty and before I leave the court?
Does the violation have to follow what is written on the ticket?
Does anyone know the DOT requirements for minimum distance for visibility of a speed limit sign? The first 35mph speed limit sign is obscured by a row of planted trees along side the road. It cannot be seen until about 40-50ft away.
Does that make the sign exempt from being enforced? (if so, the 45mph zone would actually extend past The Summit)
Opinions on the whole situation?
Opinions about what I plan on doing/materials being requested and researched?
Bottom line- I am 100% confident that the officer cannot provide a video showing all 4 cars doing 65 where he said we were. I want to damage the credibility/reputation of that officer since this area is his assigned jurisdiction and he write many tickets along this section of road and probably appears in this court a good bit.