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State v. Olson

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 5, 2016

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Shane Lee Olson, Appellant.

         Sherburne County District Court File No. 71-VB-15-3373

         Affirmed.

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Derek T. Archambault, Hawkins & Baumgartner, P.A., Anoka, Minnesota (for respondent).

          John D. Ellenbecker, St. Cloud, Minnesota (for appellant).

          Considered and decided by Cleary, Chief Judge; Worke, Judge; and Ross, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         A police officer's controlled testing of a handheld laser speed-measuring device to establish that it is accurately measuring distance to a stationary object satisfies the foundational external-test requirement of Minnesota Statutes section 169.14, subdivision 10(a) (2014), allowing the district court to admit into evidence the officer's testimony of the device's speed readings.

          OPINION

          ROSS, Judge.

         A police officer used a handheld laser device and clocked Shane Olson's car at 70 miles per hour in a 55-mile-per-hour zone. Olson challenged the ticket in court and objected to the admission of the officer's testimony of his speed. He argued that the officer's external testing of the laser unit failed to verify its reliability because the officer's testing proved only that the unit accurately measures distance, and speed depends on an accurate measure of both time and distance. The district court overruled the objection and found Olson guilty. Because the officer's external test verified not only that the laser unit was measuring distance accurately but also implicitly verified that it was measuring time accurately, the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the officer's testimony of the speed-device evidence, and we affirm.

         FACTS

         Elk River police officer Andrew Zabee ticketed Shane Olson for speeding in July 2015. Officer Zabee testified at Olson's bench trial that Olson's car was traveling in a 55-mile-per-hour zone when the officer's handheld laser device indicated that Olson was moving at 70 miles per hour. Olson objected to the officer's testimony, contending that it lacked a proper evidentiary foundation, and the district court sustained the objection. The prosecutor questioned Officer Zabee further, and the officer testified that he was trained to use the laser device, that his car was stationary when he encountered Olson's car, that he pointed the laser device out his open window to avoid any distortion, and that the weather conditions were suitable for interference-free measurements by the device.

         Olson again objected for lack of foundation, arguing that the officer's testimony failed to satisfy the external-test requirements of Minnesota Statutes section 169.14, subdivision 10(a)(4), which allows an officer to testify to a reading from a speed-testing device only if the officer first establishes that he performed an external test to verify that the device was functioning reliably. The district court asked Officer Zabee, "Are there any external tests done on this laser that you're aware of?" The officer answered, "No." The district court implicitly agreed with Olson that the state had not laid the proper testimonial foundation.

         The prosecutor questioned Officer Zabee again. The officer testified that the device ran its own internal test when he activated it. He then performed an external "distance check." He explained that he successfully performed the distance check by targeting an object at a known distance from the unit, triggering the unit, and verifying that the distance displayed on the unit accurately matched the known distance. The district court then accepted the officer's testimony that the laser unit calculated Olson's speed at 70 miles per hour.

         Olson cross-examined Officer Zabee. The officer admitted that he performed no separate test to establish that the device accurately measures speed. Olson again raised his foundational challenge and argued that the officer's testimony did not satisfy the statute because speed is calculated based on distance and time, not just distance. The prosecutor argued that the state has "never been required to prove up some sort ...


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