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On a highway through a rural area, the sign says "speed limit 70 mph." But, the one cop who patrols that stretch of highway pulls over and tickets anyone who goes over 60. In the last 10 years no one has successfully appealed a ticket he's written. From the perspective of the citizen, is the speed limit 70 or 60?

Clarifications: The state code says explicitly that only the posted speed limit is enforceable. The cop writes a speed over 70 on the tickets he writes, but whether he does so because his radar gun is miscalibrated, or because he is lying, isn't clear to the citizen.

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    What jurisdiction? Some places specify that only the posted limit is enforceable Also, when the cop writes the ticket, is the actual speed recorded correctly, or does the officer falsely state a speed over 70?. Mar 11, 2021 at 17:45
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    @DavidSiegel very valid questions. Let's say it is one of those places where the code says only the posted limit is enforceable. And, the cop writes a speed over 70. Whether his radar is miscalibrated or he just lies, the citizen doesn't know.
    – user36183
    Mar 11, 2021 at 17:48
  • If this is not a hypothetical case, somebody needs a lawyer rather than a website.
    – o.m.
    Mar 11, 2021 at 18:36
  • @o.m. This is a complete hypothetical.
    – user36183
    Mar 11, 2021 at 18:38
  • @o.m. But I wholeheartedly concur that anyone facing a real legal issue should contact a lawyer rather than this site.
    – user36183
    Mar 11, 2021 at 18:44

3 Answers 3

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Courts, particularly traffic courts, tend to take a police officer's word over that of an accused person. While legally the limit is 70, the driver has very little recourse if the officer claims falsely that the actual speed was over 70. But the deterant effect of a posted limit is lost, since drivers in general have no way to know that Officer O will ticket anyone going over 60.

I suppose that driver D, or D's lawyer, could subpoena calibration records of any radar gun or other measuring devise used, and could insist on its being tested. However, unless they had reason to think there was an issue, I wonder if D and D's lawyer would go through that process.

Some speed measuring devices print a paper slip showing the date and time along with the reading. If such a device was used that record would be harder to alter.

Some cars are now equipped with devices provided by insurance companies that record speeds and other driving info in a secure way to help judge a driver's safety and allow individual rate setting. It might be that the record from such a device would be admissible to show the speed was under the posted limit.

But there is a sense in which the law is what the police and the courts enforce. If anyone who drives the road over 60 is cited and must pay, one could say the effective limit there is 60.

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  • Great answer. I'm always interested to read your thoughts.
    – user36183
    Mar 11, 2021 at 18:36
  • " However, unless they had reason to think there was an issue, I wonder if D and D's lawyer would go through that process." This is pretty much standard practice in the UK, and hence the police tend to preempt the process by supplying the relevant information to the court without being asked for it. There are law firms that specialize in finding technical irregularities which nullify the prosecution's case.
    – alephzero
    Mar 12, 2021 at 2:19
  • ... but (from anecdotal evidence) the situation is rather different in the USA where local rural police forces regard "giving speeding tickets to non-locals" as a standard method of raising money.
    – alephzero
    Mar 12, 2021 at 2:22
  • I used to live in the UK alongside a stretch of road which was regularly used for "random" speed checks. It was absolutely standard for the police to check their radar guns against a police vehicle driving on the road, both before and after their law enforcement session.
    – alephzero
    Mar 12, 2021 at 2:26
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From the perspective of the citizen, the legal speed limit is 70 mph and the temporary safe travel speed on this stretch of highway is 60 mph. The legal speed limit is usually setting an upper bound on the speed one is supposed to travel, not a lower bound. The law does not change because it is (temporarily) inadvisable to travel that fast.

Imagine there is not a rogue lawman but a nasty pothole on that road. All citizens in the area know about it and know that their car will have to go to the shop if they hit the pothole at 70 mph. Do you think any of the locals will get much pity if he or she insists on taking the pothole at 70 mph, just because there is no lower limit posted?

The fact that it is a law-breaking (or just incompetent) cop and not a natural hazard will affect how the citizen should go about resolving the situation. With a pothole, they write to the state or county maintenance authorities and demand a road crew. When a cop makes "mistakes" for that long, one wonders what his or her superior has to say about it -- if the superior backs the cop, is he or she in on the scheme or just not interested? Who is the boss of that superior? Where is the elected official who should be responsible for all of them?

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  • Great answer. I really like the pothole analogy. Testing the limits of it, how do you respond to the argument that the bad cop is distinguishable from the pothole because he brings consequences by leveraging the force of the state, whereas the pothole brings consequences through natural forces?
    – user36183
    Mar 11, 2021 at 20:33
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    @ColinLosey, with the last paragraph. If the cop could run the ticket scam for 10 years, and everybody knows it, the country is rotten. What are the citizens doing about it?
    – o.m.
    Mar 12, 2021 at 14:45
  • I honestly hadn't thought it through that much. Hopefully something!
    – user36183
    Mar 13, 2021 at 1:10
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    @ColinLosey, after 10 years both a dirty cop and an unmarked pothole on the highway raise questions about those in charge. Can't they fix it or do they refuse to? But corruption doesn't change the law.
    – o.m.
    Mar 13, 2021 at 5:16
  • I like it a lot.
    – user36183
    Mar 13, 2021 at 16:26
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From the perspective of the citizen, is the speed limit 70 or 60?

The speed limit is 70 and the cop is a criminal who is also violating their constitutional rights.

It is unwise to intentionally try to function in places where police corruption is so deep rooted and tolerated.

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  • I'm curious which constitutional rights specifically you have in mind here. I'm not saying you're wrong, it's just not obvious to me which you're referring to. My best guess is the 4th or 8th amendments, though if you had something else in mind I'd be interested in hearing it.
    – Alex C
    Mar 12, 2021 at 15:50
  • When a police officer intentionally or with reckless disregard offers false testimony in court that's a due process violation. If the DA has reason to know what is going on, it is a Brady violation. Bringing charges without probable cause is probably a 5th Amendment violation as well.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 12, 2021 at 19:15

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