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State v. Ali

May 11, 2004

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
NOOR MOHAMED ALI, APPELLANT.



Hennepin County District Court File No. 03023827.

Considered and decided by Peterson , Presiding Judge, Lansing , Judge, and Halbrooks , Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. When there is adequate evidence that a laser-based speed-measuring device used to support a conviction has been tested for accuracy and that officers using the device have been trained in its use, a district court does not abuse its discretion by taking judicial notice of the device's general reliability.

2. Because Minn. Stat. § 169.14, subd. 10(a), (b) (2002), complies with, rather than conflicts with, the rules of evidence, it does not violate the separation-of-powers doctrine and is, therefore, constitutional.

3. Where the record demonstrates that a police officer is trained to use a laser-based speed-measuring device and that the device is routinely tested for accuracy by reliable internal and external methods, a district court does not abuse its discretion by admitting the laser reading under Minn. Stat. § 169.14, subd. 10(a).

4. The district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the Certificate of Testing and Accuracy into evidence under the business-records exception where the record demonstrates that the certificate was reliable and was not prepared solely for litigation purposes.

5. A police officer's visual estimate of the speed of a moving vehicle is alone sufficient to support a speeding conviction where the record demonstrates that the officer received proper training in visual estimations and his observations were reasonably accurate.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Halbrooks, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

Appellant challenges his conviction of speeding, arguing that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction and the district court erroneously admitted the results of a laser-based speed-measuring device. Because we conclude that the laser evidence was properly admitted, and that the laser reading and the officer's observations are sufficient to support appellant's conviction, we affirm.

FACTS

On March 2, 2003, Officer Jerry Johnson of the Minneapolis Police Department was on duty near the intersection of Hennepin and Wilder in Minneapolis. The posted speed limit in the area is 30 mph. Officer Johnson noticed two vehicles approaching and observed that the vehicle in the center lane was overtaking the vehicle in the left lane. In order to verify his visual perception that the vehicles were speeding, Officer Johnson measured the speed of both vehicles with a Kustom Pro Laser III speed-measuring device. Officer Johnson determined that the vehicle in the left lane was traveling at 37 mph, while the vehicle in the center lane, driven by appellant Noor Mohamed Ali, was traveling 41 mph. Officer Johnson then stopped appellant and issued him a speeding ticket.

Officer Johnson was the only witness to testify at trial. In addition to explaining the events of March 2, Officer Johnson told the court that he has been employed in the traffic division of the Minneapolis Police Department for 17 years, where he routinely investigates accidents and enforces traffic laws. Officer Johnson is certified to use laser devices. In 1990, he received training in Arizona to become a laser instructor and received additional instructor's training in 1994 through a laser manufacturer. Officer Johnson has been the laser instructor for the Minneapolis Police Department since 1990.

Officer Johnson testified that the laser unit he used on March 2 is tested annually to ensure that it meets the manufacturer's specifications for output and detection and to make sure it can "clock" moving vehicles accurately. Laser testing is conducted by the police department's radio shop; once a laser passes the tests, the department issues a Certificate of Testing and Accuracy in its ordinary course of business. The laser used by Officer Johnson on March 2 was certified in May 2002, which indicated that it had passed all the necessary tests, including the Scope Alignment Test, Display and Integrity Test, Fixed Distance Test, and the Delta Distance Velocity Test. Although appellant repeatedly objected to admission of this document on the bases of hearsay, lack of foundation, and unreliability, the court admitted the certificate into evidence.

Additionally, Officer Johnson testified how he routinely tests the laser devices on the same day that they will be used. Officer Johnson explained:

First thing I do is I turn the unit on. It goes through a series of internal checks, checking both the internal computer, which converts changes and distance to speeds, and collects all the lighting dial out segments to make sure [the laser is] lighting up correctly....

And then I, we have a course set up in our garage which we've measured out with steel engineering tapes with two different distances. We go through what's called a Delta Distance Check, or Difference Test. Because the basic theory of separation for the laser is to determine speeds based on changes in distance over time, using the speed of light as a basis.

So we aim it at the first measurement, get that measurement, make sure it measures it what the steel tape measures it out. Second measurement, and make sure it gets the same measurement it was supposed to, and then we push a button, puts it in the mode which will determine the difference between those two and simulate a speed based on the doubling of that distance. If it passes that test, [we] use the [S]cope [A]lignment [T]est to make sure there's actually a red dot in the scope that you look through. It projects the dot on the vehicle, just like a rifle scope, and make sure the red dot is aligned properly with the laser beam that comes out. And one additional test that's not even required but [we] do it as a part of course, the Zero Velocity ...


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