What started out as a simple disputed speeding ticket has blossomed into a full-scale trial in Sonoma County Superior Court, costing both sides thousands of dollars.
A year ago July 4, Windsor teenager Shaun Malone, now 18, received a ticket on Lakeville Highway after a Petaluma police officer using radar said he clocked the teen's 2000 Toyota Celica GTS going 62 mph in a 45 mph zone.
But Malone's family contends that a GPS system they installed in his car to monitor his driving habits proves he was driving 45 mph at virtually the same time and place the officer said he clocked him speeding.
A trial began with testimony in Traffic Court on Friday morning before Commissioner Carla Bonilla.
Malone is appealing a ruling by another commissioner that he was guilty of speeding, a trial that was conducted all on paper.
The unprecedented GPS challenge to radar could change the way Sonoma County authorities enforce speed laws. The case also has attracted national attention for its potential to set a precedent for challenges relying on GPS, which is becoming common in vehicles as a mapping or tracking device.
The nonjury trial that began Friday has elevated the dispute to another level -- legally and financially -- for both Malone's family and the city of Petaluma.
A GPS expert the city retained has been called to testify twice, at $5,000 per appearance, and is scheduled to return Oct. 3 when the trial resumes.
The city also is paying for the time of a police sergeant and three other officers who attended the trial's opening day Friday. In addition, the city traffic engineer and computer mapping expert both testified Friday.
For the trial, the city has prepared an audio-video experiment to show the road in question and how the officer used his radar gun to determine Malone's speed.
City officials said the costs to prevail may prevent future expenses to fight similar battles.
As for Malone, his family has hired a well-known criminal defense attorney, Andy Martinez, to argue the case. And they have their own GPS expert to back up their accounts of its accuracy.
For them the issue has become far bigger than the $190 ticket and any insurance increase Malone would incur as a result of the infraction.
"There are definite principles involved here," said his stepfather, Roger Rude, a retired Sonoma County sheriff's lieutenant. "The big issue is Shaun wasn't speeding." Legally, the case is a juvenile matter, but Malone has allowed his parents to comment publicly.
Rude has used the issue to encourage more parents to closely monitor their teenagers while they're inexperienced drivers and most at risk of being in collisions. He and his wife, Karen Kahn, installed the GPS in Malone's car to be kept abreast of his driving behavior and encourage him to drive safely.
According to court testimony Friday, Malone's GPS system sends out a data signal every 30 seconds that reports the car's speed, location and the time. It is designed to send an e-mail alert to Malone's parents if he ever hits 70 mph.
Another subject surfaced Friday that may become an issue at trial this fall. Rude contends that the stretch of Lakeville Highway on which Malone received the ticket is an illegal speed trap, which would invalidate any ticket.