A dispute over a 2007 traffic ticket that has cost Petaluma police more than $15,000 to defend is now in the hands of a court commissioner, whose ruling could set a precedent for using GPS data to challenge police radar.
The case, which has drawn national attention, stems from a speeding ticket Windsor?s Shaun Malone, then 17, received 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.
Malone?s family contends a GPS system they installed in his car to monitor his driving proves he was driving 45 mph at virtually the same time and place Officer Steve Johnson said Malone was speeding.
Malone was found guilty and fined $194. His appeal of that decision has involved several court hearings, the testimony of an expert in satellite technology and re-creations of the events of the morning in question.
It?s also meant a significant cost to police, who spent $15,000 alone for the expert?s three court appearances ? one that had to be postponed when Andrew Martinez, the attorney retained by Malone?s family, asked for a continuance.
Police Lt. Mike Cook defended the expense, saying the ticket was based on Johnson?s accurate observations of Malone?s car and subsequent radar reading.
He said the Police Department also is worried about a precedent being set that casts doubt on the accuracy of police radar.
?We can?t back away from a ticket we feel is justified and necessary for traffic safety due to the cost of appeals and prosecuting it,? he said.
All GPS systems in vehicles calculate speed and location, but the tracking device Malone?s parents installed in his Celica downloaded the information to their computer. The system sent out a data signal every 30 seconds that reported the car?s speed, location and direction. If Malone ever hit 70 mph, his parents received an e-mail alert.
On July 4, 2007, Malone was on his way to Infineon Raceway when Johnson said he clocked Malone?s car going 62 mph about 400 feet west of South McDowell Boulevard.
The teen?s GPS, however, pegged the car at 45 mph in virtually the same location.
At issue is the distance from the stoplight at Freitas Road ? site of the first GPS ?ping? that showed Malone stopped ? to the second ping 30 seconds later, when he was going 45 mph.
Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney Michael Li wrote in his closing arguments that given the distance, which he pegged at 1,980 feet, and time between pings, Malone would have had to have been traveling at an average speed faster than 45 mph, thus supporting the officer?s observations and the radar.
But Martinez, in his written statement, said the distance was 1,950 to 2,010 feet, making it possible for Malone to travel the two points without speeding.
He said Roger Rude, Malone?s stepfather and a retired Sonoma County sheriff?s lieutenant, was able to replicate the 45-mph scenario a dozen times. Video of the experiment was introduced as evidence, as was video of police conducting their own re-creation of events.
The defense also attacked the accuracy of radar, saying Johnson?s readings could have been affected by everything from reflections off street signs to him erroneously locking on the wrong vehicle.