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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 11, 2010

More Hawaii speeding cases likely to be thrown out on appeal

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

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Upward of 10 excessive- speeding convictions are expected to be thrown out on appeal following a Hawai'i Supreme Court ruling last week that raised issue with police and prosecution methods in speeding cases.

And other cases could be in jeopardy.

The city prosecutor's office says it's trying to address the concerns included in the state Supreme Court ruling, which dismissed the conviction of a motorcyclist clocked by a police cruiser going 70 mph in a 35 mph zone.

The court said there wasn't enough evidence to prove that the speedometer in the Honolulu police cruiser used to gauge the motorcyclist's speed was calibrated, and said police need more information or testimony on record to authenticate the accuracy of a police patrol car's speedometer.

The prosecutor's office said it's working to meet those requirements.

However, officials couldn't estimate how long that would take.

In the meantime, the office is asking for continuances in excessive-speeding cases and is not challenging appeals made on the grounds the state Supreme Court raised. The state public defender's office estimated it has about 10 to 15 excessive-speeding cases that likely will be dismissed.

That's not counting the cases on appeal handled by private attorneys.

Excessive speeding is defined as going 30 mph or more over the speed limit or traveling at 80 mph or more, regardless of the limit. The law imposes a mandatory license suspension, hefty fine and drivers can also face jail time.


The city prosecutor's office handled almost 2,000 excessive-speeding cases last year, and more than 1,600 in 2008. Statewide last year, 2,635 excessive-speeding tickets were issued, compared with 3,130 the year before.

So far this year, 611 such tickets have been issued.

The Supreme Court ruling comes as lawmakers are considering a measure, SB 2614, that would authorize judges to order repeat excessive-speeding offenders to forfeit their cars. State Sen. Michelle Kidani, D-17th (Mililani, Waipi'o), said the bill is meant to add an extra speeding deterrent.

"If they don't have a car, they can't speed," she said.

Kidani added that the challenges to the excessive-speeding law, which went into effect in 2007, don't mean the law needs to be thrown out but that a few minor procedural changes need to be made to make sure convictions stick.

Renee Sonobe Hong, deputy prosecuting attorney, said she's working quickly to resolve the questions raised by the high court. She added that the court didn't question the accuracy of the speedometers in police cruisers, but required that "we ... lay the foundation" to support their accuracy.

While the Hawai'i Supreme Court dismissed the excessive-speeding conviction of motorcyclist Zachariah Fitzwater, the court did rule that other evidence in the 2007 case was sufficient to uphold a conviction for simple speeding.


Last week's excessive-speeding ruling comes on the heels of a separate Hawai'i Supreme Court opinion in October, which dismissed an excessive-speeding case involving a driver clocked with a police laser gun going 90 mph in a 55 mph zone.

In the wake of the ruling, police and prosecutors had to produce additional verification to the court on the accuracy of the laser guns.

Hong said those issues have been resolved.

But James Tabe, the appellate section supervisor at the state public defender's office, said there are continuing concerns about the laser guns used in excessive-speeding cases, including about the training officers get on how to use them.

"I think there are still going to be legal challenges," he said.

He also said though the state Supreme Court did not question the accuracy of speedometers in police cruisers, "we do have questions about the reliability" of the tests used to check that speedometers are calibrated.

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