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The Courtroom (Chapt 10.4)


Chapter 10.4
Radar Hardware Issues
Take it to Court?
Preparation for Court
Court Day
The Cosine Effect Defense
Visual Speed Judgment

CAVEAT: This document is not intended to give legal advice in any way. This section and any
other sections or references to the law or courtroom activities is based solely on the author's
personal experiences and observations.

The prosecutor or judge will probably question ANY reference materials' accuracy and reliability, especially
anything technical, presented by a defendant. Be prepared to justify the source of any reference material or

All technical information and conclusions in the POLICE TRAFFIC SPEED RADAR
HANDBOOK quantifiably described using illustrations, graphs, tables, or mathematical
formulas -- based on or derived from fundamental scientific and engineering principles,
published factory specifications, measured data, or U.S. Government documents.

Also see Additional Reading / Sources, and About the Author.


Microwave police traffic radars used in the United States are regulated by the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC). FCC Rules and Regulations, Part 15, 20, and 90 cover Radiolocation Services (police
radar) requirements. The FCC specifics technical standards such as operating frequency, bandwidth, power
density, etc. The FCC Rules do NOT cover the CALIBRATION of radar units, radar ACCURACY, or
OPERATOR capability requirements.

License Requirements
State or local government agencies (including police) that have an FCC license for a communication
system (Public Safety Radio Services) are not required to have a separate FCC license for traffic radar
under part 90 of FCC rules.
Radar units may also be used under Part 90 (other appropriate FCC radio license required) by non-public
safety entities such as professional baseball teams, tennis clubs, automobile and boat racing
organizations, private transportation firms, railroads, etc., to measure the speed of objects or vehicles.
Many public safety agencies operate unattended, low-power, transmit-only radar units under Part 15 of
FCC Rules.
Non-public safety users are required to obtain a Part 90 license.
-- Reference: FCC DA 96-2040, FCC Regulates Radar Transmitters, but not Radar Detectors -- da962040.pdf.

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SUMMARY: Police do not need an FCC license to operate traffic radar (if their radios are licensed), however
other state, local, or agency requirements may apply.

Case Law
There are several case law landmarks supporting police use of microwave traffic radar.

Some states limit or restrict laser radar use. A New Jersey Appeals Court upheld (in a 2-1 decision) a lower
court ruling (based on the LTI Marksman 20-20 lidar) that leaves in place restrictions on laser radar use. New
Jersey Troopers can only use laser radar in clear weather and for vehicles less than 1000 feet.
-- National Motorists Association NEWS, Jan/Feb 2000, vol 11, issue 1.
-- STATE OF NEW JERSEY v. EMAD A. ABESKARON, A-107-98T2F, 24 Nov 1999

NHTSA / IACP Consumer Product List (CPL)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in conjunction with the International
Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Law Enforcement Standards Laboratory of the National
Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed testing protocols and performance standards for
speed measuring devices. Radars (microwave and laser) that meet the standards are included in the NHTSA /
IACP Consumer Product List (CPL) of approved speed measuring devices.

Only single antenna (front antenna in front/aft systems) capabilities are tested (approved). Laser radars that
have a duel aperture (separate transmit and receive apertures) count as a single antenna. Time/distance
measurement features not tested and not approved. Moving radars approved for car/truck use, not
motorcycles, boats, etc.

CPL approval insures that a microwave or laser traffic radar model (at least the unit tested) meets basic
minimum standards set by the NHTSA, IACP, and NIST. Some, not all, states and/or agencies require speed
measuring devices be CPL approved.

Police know the uniform, flashing lights, siren, car markings, loaded gun(s), and the power to arrest are
intimidating factors when issuing a speeding ticket. Some officers are intentionally intimidating to help insure
tickets are not challenged. Don't let intimidation be a factor in determining whether to challenge a ticket. Do
keep in mind the odds of successfully beating a radar ticket (innocent or not) are against the defendant, but
not zero.

Several factors must be considered before deciding to fight a speeding charge. First and most important, one
must be wrongly accursed -- do not try to beat a charge if you're guilty. However, if you were not speeding as
fast as accused, you might plead for the lesser speed violation to lower the fine (if you can convince the
judge). With some insurance companies the higher the speed the more the insurance rate increases on
conviction. The court clerk should know if the fine would change for a lower speeding ticket, and your
insurance agent should know if rates change with speed.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), established by federal law in 1966, sets national
standards for every sign, signal, pavement marking, and traffic control signal device in the USA. The standard
is intended to insure signs and signals LOOK and are USED in the same manner everywhere (in the USA).
The MUTCD requires speed limits (USE of speed limit signs) are to be determined by an Engineering
Study (as defined by MUTCD 1A.13). An Engineering Study must also be done (and documented) before
any speed limit can be changed. If some government body changes a speed limit without a proper study --
the speed limit is illegal. Also see Links to Other Sites page for link to MUTCD site (listed under Federal

A lawyer should be considered if one absolutely cannot afford to lose because of previous tickets and/or the
effect on insurance rate. The defendant is outnumbered in the courtroom -- there are one or more police

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officers and the prosecuting attorney (and sometimes judge) versus you -- a lawyer can help even out the
odds. However, legal representation may be more expensive then the fine, and by no means a guarantee of

In general the more people the court serves the better chance for a fair hearing. A small city or county court is
usually the hardest to prove a case and in some situations it is virtually impossible to walk away without
paying something.

Some courts require the defendant to plead guilty or not guilty in a pre-trial hearing at which time a trial date
is set for a not guilty plea. This means two court appearances. Some courts let defendants mail in the plea so
only one court appearance is necessary.

Be prepared to document as many facts as possible. Ground

photographs and/or aerial photographs (widely available for much of
the world on the Internet) of the site could be helpful. Show
approximate distances from the map scale or actual measurements.
Note approximate locations for vehicle and radar at start and finish of
track. Be careful any maps or photographs are not outdated.

WARNING: In Wisconsin (Dec 2002) a judge was reported to have

disregarded a defendant's evidence because the evidence was not
submitted to the prosecutor at least 40 days before the trial. This
results in an additional burden on the defendant not imposed on the prosecutor or police officer, the officer
did (does) not automatically send the defendant evidence without a request. It would seem to be fair the
prosecutor should be required to request (and not an automatic process) evidence if they want it (another
example of don't confuse justice with the law). Check as soon as possible with the court or prosecutor's office
if evidence submittal is required and time constraints.

Some experts suggest a defendant should file a Discovery motion or a request for Discovery form with the
court clerk for some or all of the following items;

Table 10.4-1 -- Discovery Motion Items

FCC Public Safety Radio Services (or Radar) License
Radar documents;
-- Make, Model, Serial Number, Options, Age,
-- Manufacturer Certificate of Calibration,
-- Operator Manual and Specifications,
-- Calibration Log Sheets (date, due, lab).
Tuning Fork documents (also see Chapter 4.2 -- Tuning Forks);
-- Specifications (Band, Speed, Resonance, Resonance Tolerance) ,
-- Calibration Log Sheets (date, due, lab).
Officer Training / Qualifications;
-- Certificate of Competency,
-- Training Material,
-- Officer Ttraining Records.
All Policies Pertaining to Radar Use.
Officer Notes (your case), and log book (day of ticket).

Note: FCC license and Tuning Forks are not applicable to laser radar (lidar).

You or your lawyer must go through the court clerk to request discovery information by filling out a form, or
making a formal request in writing regarding specific information. In most, if not all, cases an additional

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processing/copy fee is required. If the officer cannot produce a reasonable request for information, the charge
may (should) be dismissed.

Some schools of thought suggest that requesting information might negate any chance of the officer not
showing up for court (in which case the charge should be dismissed). Also, if a defendant does not make
proper use of requested information the defendant's creditability could suffer.

Most officers are trained to collect certain information in the event the case is disputed. Below list typical
minimum information an officer should be prepared to present in court.

Table 10.4-2 -- Police Officer Typical Presentation

Establish time, place, location of radar.
Establish location of offending vehicle.
Identify (able to) the offending vehicle.
Establish and identify the vehicle operator.
Visually observed apparent excessive speed.
Observed vehicle was alone out front(1), (not Fastest mode).
Established steady stable track history.(2)
Insured minimum interference from external sources.(3)
Establish RADAR tested before (and/or after) use;
-- self-test run(4,5),
-- tested with tuning fork(4) (not laser radar),
-- tested for Range Accuracy (laser radar)(5),
-- Scope / Beam alignment tested (laser radar)(5),
-- and/or tested against test vehicle (with calibrated speedometer).(4,5)
State (document) qualifications and training.

(1) Chapter 5.2 -- Vehicle Reflectivity / Multiple Vehicles

(2) Chapter 5.1 -- Operational Problems / Tracking Time
(3) Chapter 5.4 -- Interference
(4) Chapter 4.2 -- Test and Calibration
(5) Chapter 8.2 -- Lidar Test and Calibration

When disputing a speeding charge one should already know the answers to most of the questions listed below
(also see above and Chapter 10.1 -- Motoring Tips / Traffic-Stop Tips). If for any reason some or all of the pertinent
information is not known in advance, ask the officer in court under oath. Do not ask questions the officer has
already addressed unless disputed. The judge will side with the officer on most disagreements (such as exact
location, vehicle placements, distances, etc.) unless one has hard proof.

-- Potential Questions for the Officer

Table 10.4-3
Radar Accuracy Verification
Radar Documentation Radar Test
Is the radar certified? What are testing guidelines?
Who established guidelines for certification? Who established test guidelines?
What are policies for radar operation? Site pre-tested with test vehicle?
Many agencies require min track time -- Speeds, max/min ranges, Cosine Effects
3 sec stationary, 5 sec moving mode Self-Test run? When?
Who established operation policies? Tuning Fork(s) Test? When?
Is the radar CPL listed? -- 2 forks required for moving mode
-- forks do not work for lidar
Lab/Shop Calibration Test
Radar latest calibration test? Additional Test for Lidar
Calibration Period (how often tested)? Range Accuracy test?

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Who established calibration test? Ranges/Results?

Who calibrates units? Alignment test?
Calibration Log Sheets available? Horizontal and Vertical?
-- Dates, Due, Results/Data, Repairs
Tuning Fork(s) Test data available?
-- Dates, Band, Due, Resonance

Radar/Lidar Details
Radar Hardward Radar Modes
Make, Model, Date Manufactured? Stationary and Moving Mode?
Year purchased (new or used)? Fastest/Strongest mode option?
If used, factory refurbished? Traffic Direction?
Band (X, K, Ka)? IF Ka, Frequency? -- On-coming, Going, Same-lane?
Configuration -- Handheld? -- Traffic direction displayed?
-- Fixed Antenna Front, Aft, Front & Aft? Range Control?
-- Antenna mounting locations? -- Number of Settings?
Minimum Time for (1) Speed Reading? RFI Indicator?
Beamwith (Horizontal and Vertical)?
Operating Ranges
Max/min ranges for small/Large Vehicles
Speed Measuring Range
Traffic? Patrol vehicle?

Alleged Violation
Events Radar Settings
Radar/Patrol location? Mode
Your vehicle location? -- Stationary, Moving Same-lane mode?
Color of your vehicle? -- Active antenna (front, aft, both)?
-- Strongest (std) or Fastest mode?
Distance from radar to traffic lane?
Antenna angle to traffic?
What was radar track ranges?
Alignment to Patrol (moving mode)
-- Start/End Ranges?
-- Total track time and distance? Moving mode --
Radar patrol speed match speedometer?
Other traffic? Location(s)?
Any Cosine Effects during track? Range Control Setting?
-- MAX / Mid / min?
Any potential inferference sources?
-- Traffic range?
-- Patrol vehicle transmitters?
-- Any nearby transmitters?
Photo/Video Evidence
Lanes covered by radar beam?
Verified chain of control?
Driver clearly visible?
Tag # and state legible?

Other Questions
Officer Qualifications Miscellaneous
Hours of radar training? Number of tickets that day?
Trainer(s) and qualifications? -- Month? Year?
Training material/records? Tickets disputed?
Time as officer? Quota system in agency?
Time in radar enforcement?

Not all questions or details are appropriate for all cases. The better you are prepared, the better the odds of a
favorable outcome (the same applies to the prosecution, except the odds are already in their favor). The more
pertinent questions you can ask that the officer cannot answer, the stronger your case.

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On court day be prepared to spend the entire day. Do not be surprised that typically 100 or
more people are scheduled at the exact same time. Before a trial one of the prosecutors may
try to talk you into pleading guilty. Be prepared -- scare tactics, intimidation and
time-consuming distractions are designed to make one believe pleading guilty is better than
going to trial. No plea bargain -- no deal.

If the prosecutors believes your case is strong you may be offered a plea bargain. The
stronger you make your case the better the plea bargain, but do not tip too much information in the event you
see the judge. Sometimes you can bargain the plea bargain, sometimes it's take it or leave it. Bargaining to pay
the fine and to not have the ticket on record (for the insurance company to see) is sometimes the best deal
(sometimes not). Most plea bargains also have a probation period of 30 to 90 days, if you don't get any tickets
during probation this ticket goes off the record.

If you do go to trial forget the prosecutor, now the judge is the only one to persuade. Don't try to make a case
with material you don't thoroughly understand, most judges recognize a shaky case. Do not be afraid to ask
the officer specific, pertinent and detailed questions about the radar. The more questions the officer cannot
answer, the less creditable the prosecution's case. Establishing the officer's lack of working knowledge about
radar can discredit the officer's testimony.

The general format for traffic court is the prosecution will state their case and question the officer for support.
You will then have a chance to state your case and question the officer. The prosecutor will then try to shatter
your case by questioning you. Be aware judges have authority to conduct court procedures to their
satisfaction, this means court procedures vary with state, county, city, judge, magistrate and arbitrator.

The Cosine Effect sometimes works in favor of the motorists in terms of
measured speed -- sometimes a little lower than actual speed. The Cosine Effect
also puts some limitations on the radar -- mainly a minimum range (vehicles less
than minimum range cannot be measured). The greater the distance the radar
from traffic lane, and the faster the traffic, the greater the minimum range. A
vehicle inside minimum range (closer to radar -- too close) could be mistaken for
a vehicle just outside minimum range by the operator (misinterprets radar
reading). Also see Chapter 2.2 -- Stationary Radar Cosine Effect / Minimum

The example image location is Interstate 55 (replaced Route 66) between Springfield and East St.
Louis, Illinois. This location is the state weigh station (for northbound traffic) near mile marker
56.6 north of Litchfield. Springfield District 9 State Police have been known to operate (as shown)
laser and microwave radar from this station and the station north of Springfield (for southbound
traffic) near mile marker 107. Both stations are nearly identical.


A common occurance is the radar cosine effect angle is so severe when measured speed is corrected for the
cosine effect angle the corrected speed is excessively high and unlikely. This would indicate the radar was
tracking another signal such as another vehicle echo or interference from a transmitter in and/or out of patrol

For example if the cosine angle is 60° radar measured speed is half true speed. If the officer states observed
estimated vehicle speed to be about the same as the radar measured speed (half true speed), one could argue
the officer's judgment was biased incorrectly by the radar. If the officer's estimated speed conflicts with radar
corrected speed, which one is correct, if any? Also see Chapter 2.1 -- Cosine Error Geometry.

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The cosine effect causes measured speed to change, the closer the target vehicle the lower the measured
speed to actual. A good track (steady stable reflection) will show cosine effects -- measured speed changes
slightly. A 75 mph vehicle approaching a radar (microwave or lidar) will display speed readings that look
something like "75...74-74-74-74-74-74-73-73-72-". A 75 mph vehicle receding the radar will display
something like "72-73-73-74-74-74-74-74-74-75-...". Note that each "-" is a radar cycle. Noticeable speed
changes take place relatively close to the radar/lidar. The speed readings are predictable and should be
noticeable to the officer (especially when the vehicle is relatively close to the radar) -- if not the radar was not
tracking the intended (expected) vehicle.

Also see;
Chapter 2.2 -- Stationary Radar Cosine Effect / Cosine Effect Simulator
Chapter 2.3 -- Moving Radar Cosine Effect / Cosine Effect Simulator

Also see Chapter 1.4 -- Visual Speed Measurements.

Some courts (judges) will accept an officer's meager visual observation of vehicle speed (even if all other
evidence discarded). This is dubious at best. Any court accepting a visual speed guess alone as good enough
is a kangaroo court by definition.

Test the officer's speed assessment ability by presenting a video of your vehicle traveling at several speeds.
You will probably have to provide your own video playback equipment in court. When recording place the
video camera about the same distance from traffic as the officer was for your case. The closer the officer is to
the traffic lane (for best radar performance and to minimize the Cosine Effect) the harder it is to judge speed.
In court show a speed run, write down the officers guess, then show the next run. After all runs compare the
officer's guesses to speedometer reading. This could work against you if the officer is proficient at estimating
speeds (not lightly but possible).

Another test is to assess the officer's ability to estimate the speed of a falling object. Drop an object from
several different heights and ask the officer to guess the speed of the object as it hits the ground. Note that a
falling object has a changing speed, speed increases at a constant rate (acceleration due to gravity). Someone
(the officer) adapt at visually judging speed should be expected to estimate a falling object's speed
(instantaneous) upon striking the ground, or at least the average speed -- half (0.5) instantaneous speed.

Table 10.4-4 --
Free Falling Object Speed
(feet) (sec) (mph) (meters) (sec) (kph)
------------------------ ------------------------
0 0.00 0.0 0.0 0.00 0.0
1 0.25 5.5 0.5 0.32 11.3
2 0.35 7.7 1.0 0.45 15.9
3 0.43 9.5 1.5 0.55 19.5
4 0.50 10.9 2.0 0.64 22.5
5 0.56 12.2 2.5 0.71 25.2
6 0.61 13.4 3.0 0.78 27.6
7 0.66 14.5 3.5 0.84 29.8
8 0.71 15.5 4.0 0.90 31.9
9 0.75 16.4 4.5 0.96 33.8
10 0.79 17.3 5.0 1.01 35.7

For a free falling object with an initial speed of 0 (at rest);

t = (2d/a)0.5, and v = at.

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t = time
d = distance object falls
v = instantaneous velocity at time t
a = acceleration (due to gravity) = 32.2 ft/s2 = 9.8 m/s2

Also see Appendix A -- Acceleration Parameters.
Police Traffic Speed Radar Handbook
Chapter 10.4 -- The Courtroom
Order Password
Police Traffic Speed Radar Web site

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