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Officer’s Unaided Visual Estimation of a Vehicle’s Speed Sufficient if Based on Training, Certification, Experience

2009-1069.  Barberton v. Jenney, Slip Opinion No. 2010-Ohio-2420.
Summit App. No. 24423, 2009-Ohio-1985.  Judgment of the court of appeals affirmed.
Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor, Lanzinger, and Cupp, JJ., concur.
O'Donnell, J., dissents.
Brown, C.J., not participating.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2010/2010-Ohio-2420.pdf

Video clip View oral argument video of this case.

(June 2, 2010) The Supreme Court of Ohio today ruled 5-1 that a police officer’s unaided visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed is sufficient to support a speeding conviction without independent verification of the vehicle’s speed if the officer is trained, certified by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy or a similar organization, and experienced in visually estimating vehicle speed.

In 2008 motorist Mark Jenney was convicted of speeding based on testimony by Copley police officer Christopher Santimarino that he observed Jenney’s SUV driving in the left lane “at a high rate of speed” which he visually estimated to be about 70 mph.

The 9th District Court of Appeals affirmed Jenney’s conviction on the basis of Santimarino’s visual estimate of his speed. Jenney sought and was granted Supreme Court review of the 9th District’s decision.

In an opinion authored by Justice Maureen O’Connor, she noted that a majority of the appellate districts that have considered the issue have held that an officer’s unaided visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed is sufficient to sustain a conviction for speeding.

“The Eighth District stands alone in holding that an officer’s visual estimation of the speed of a vehicle is insufficient to support a finding of guilt, and we agree with the courts that have found the opposite,” Justice O’Connor wrote. “Rational triers of fact could find a police officer’s testimony regarding his unaided visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed, when supported by evidence that the officer is trained, certified by OPOTA or a similar organization, and experienced in making such estimations, sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant’s speed. Independent verification of the vehicle’s speed is not necessary to support a conviction for speeding. The officer’s credibility remains an issue for the trier of fact.”

The Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court judgment and upheld Jenney’s conviction and fine.

Justice O’Connor’s opinion was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Judith Ann Lanzinger and Robert R. Cupp.

In his dissent, Justice Terrence O’Donnell wrote that a police officer’s credibility – just like that of any other witness – is to be determined by the jury or other fact-finder, which can believe all, part, or none of the testimony. “Thus, I would assert that a broad standard as postulated by the majority that a trained, certified, and experienced officer’s estimate of speed is sufficient evidence to support a conviction for speeding eclipses the role of the fact-finder to reject such testimony and thus such testimony, if found not be credible, could, in some instances, be insufficient to support a conviction.”

Chief Justice Eric Brown did not participate in the Court’s deliberations or decision in the case.

John Kim, 330.434.2000, for Mark Jenney.

Michelle Banbury, 330.472.1511, for the Barberton city prosecutor.

Benjamin C. Mizer, 614.466.8980, for Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.

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