It was with some fanfare that the Chicago Police Department announced three years ago that all city police districts were being supplied with high-tech LIDAR speed detectors to help crack down on speeders on neighborhood streets.
What nobody has bothered to make public, however, is that for at least the past year, speeding tickets produced by Chicago police officers using LIDAR have been routinely dismissed in Cook County Traffic Court for any defendant bothering to show up to contest the case.
The tickets are being voluntarily waived by the city's Law Department because of legal challenges to the laser technology underlying the LIDAR (light detection and ranging) equipment.
The city began taking the approach after Traffic Court judges started ruling in favor of defense attorneys who contend local prosecutors must hold a special hearing to prove the scientific basis behind LIDAR before using it as evidence.
You don't even need a lawyer
This has not kept the city from continuing to accept the guilty pleas -- and cash the checks -- from the vast majority of accused speeders who dispose of their tickets by just mailing in the fine or going to traffic school.
For those who go to court, on the other hand, it's simply a matter of waiting for their name to be called and the judge to hand them back their driver's license, no questions asked and little if any explanation given.
"This is a LIDAR case," an assistant Corporation Counsel told Judge George Scully Jr. one day last week as the next defendant's name was called. With that, Scully pulled the driver's license from the ticket to which it was stapled and returned the license to the defendant, sending her on her way.
I watched this happen again and again without fail during the past week in the courtrooms in the Daley Center basement where minor city traffic cases are heard. Defendants gratefully exited court with wallets intact, most of them clueless about what had transpired.
Occasionally, a judge would say something like "the city cannot meets its burden of proof," by way of explanation before handing over the driver's license.
Some defendants had hired the hallway lawyers who hang around Traffic Court to represent them, not realizing they were receiving the same outcome as those who didn't have a lawyer, except they had to pay the lawyer.
"Hey, I make a living off this stuff," one lawyer told me when I brought it up.
He said he deserves to continue to make money from such clients because he "invented" the defense now being used to squelch all the LIDAR cases -- by citing a Downstate appellate court opinion that was the first to call for a scientific review of the LIDAR technology.
That case actually involved a Naperville lawyer, Michael Canulli, who was driving with his family to a girls' softball tournament in Springfield nine years ago when he was ticketed on I-55 near Lincoln, where State Police had sprung a massive speed trap. Incensed by their tactics, Canulli took the case to court. Now he's cited as the basis for beating every LIDAR ticket in Chicago, which is fine by him.
The courtroom rejections have not deterred Chicago Police from continuing to use LIDAR to bring speeding cases.
"Our job is enforcement. We enforce the laws. . . . If we don't win the case in court, that doesn't stop us from enforcing the laws," said Lt. Dave Blanco, commanding officer in CPD's Traffic Section.
"We know it to be a very reliable speed measuring device," Blanco said of the hand-held LIDAR units, which have been in use here for seven or eight years.
Read the rest of the article at http://www.suntimes.com/news/brown/1868508,CST-NWS-brown06.a...
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