It seems like there are fewer and fewer things that people can agree on these days. Here’s a hint: it’s definitely not presidential policy. Too vague? Well, I just figured that during these troubled times of ours, the dearth of common ground found amongst the populace should make the few mutual points of agreement stick out like sore thumbs. Or maybe I’m just too much of a bipartisan fool to think that new ways to give out even more traffic tickets will still tick everyone off equally regardless of whether they’re in the 99 or 1 percent.
Hopefully hearing me mention this new strike against your speeding-down-the-highway-loving ways roused you guys from your respective angry stupors. Because in case you didn’t catch it in my intro paragraph, a photo radar technology company is coming out with a new piece of hardware to catch everyone in the act of speeding. The device is named Cordon and is being developed by Simicon, AKA everyone’s new public enemy number one.
Cordon is essentially an advance photo radar system and is set to be released in 2012. It works similarly to the automated speed surveillance systems in place in some cities today. The only difference is that those systems can only track one car at a time. Cordon puts them to shame by being able to monitor up to 32 vehicles at once across four lanes of traffic. But that’s not all; Cordon is also able to simultaneously identify each car’s license plate number, snap and upload pictures of the car and its plate to a secured government server while measuring the car’s speed and location, and the device itself is small enough to be mounted on a road sign. Talk about hellish. Click here to see Cordon in action.
As mentioned earlier, automated speed surveillance isn’t necessarily a new idea. But Cordon and systems like it raise a number of interesting ethical, privacy, and, most importantly, legal issues. Aside from the fact that the whole thing is quite creepy and big brother-ish, dishing out speeding tickets based on the photo evidence provided by Cordon might very well be unconstitutional. Specifically, it could be in violation of the confrontation clause in the Sixth Amendment.
In short, the confrontation clause assures citizens that should they ever be prosecuted for criminal charges, these citizens have a right to confront the witnesses being called against them. It’s an important constitutional right because it ensures fairness in that it prevents the government from going around building wild cases against people using witness testimony that the defendant can’t rebuff.
But how does the confrontation clause apply to Cordon and its ilk? Well, we can all thank a little case call Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. The US Supreme Court held in that case that when forensic reports sworn to be true by the signing expert are used against a defendant, the defendant is entitled to cross-examine the expert. Extrapolating this further, the case could theoretically apply to all case where an expert swears by electronically produced data, such as the photos and speed readings given off by machines like Cordon. When a defendant is given a speeding ticket based off of this type of automated photo evidence, he or she should have the right to examine the expert who processed it. The government always has the burden of proof and as such should be required to have to show each time that the evidence they’re using against any defendant is true and accurate.
The evidence produced by Cordon and similar systems also creates another problem in that the technology is still unable to identify the drivers inside the car at the time that the speeding violation is recorded. Most states have laws in place that don’t allow cars to be given tickets, but rather the person inside the car must be ticketed instead. So if it can’t be proven that you were actually the one behind the wheel at the time your car was going 100 mph in a 40 mph zone, then is it fair that you should really have to pay the ticket? What if your car was stolen or being driven by a desperate friend at the time? The exclusionary rule tells us that evidence gathered in violation of the constitution should be kept out of a defendant’s case. I would think that automated speed surveillance records sworn to be true by an analyzing expert would be no exception to this rule.
But what do you guys think about all of this? Do you think it’s fair for the government to use systems like Cordon to hand out speeding tickets? As always, sound off in the comment section.