May 04, 2002
I fought the law and the law lost

Houston District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has sent a letter to Harris County Attorney Michael Fleming saying "it will be difficult to prosecute" people who are ticketed for speeding if they demand a jury trial.

Under Texas law, motorists who exceed posted limits are assumed to be driving in an unsafe, imprudent manner. But they actually are ticketed for driving in an unsafe manner, not because they went over a speed limit.

The law thus opens the door to the argument that a motorist who exceeds the speed limit was nonetheless driving in a safe manner, Rosenthal said.

"I believe that it would be difficult to convince a jury that a speed in excess of 55 is unreasonable, given the historical fact a speed of 70 was considered by the Texas Transportation Commission to be reasonable and prudent a few short weeks ago," Rosenthal wrote.

Pretty interesting. I must admit, I hadn't thought of it. One of Houston's dirtier secrets is that you can fight a speeding ticket and win. Some years ago, the speed limit on a section of service road for Loop 610 raised its speed limit from 35 to 40 after a string of motorists successfully challenged tickets on the grounds that a study of actual use had never been performed to determine what a proper limit should be. This section of the service road runs through the city of Bellaire, which is a notorious speed trap. The state eventually did a study, and when they discovered that the average speed on that stretch of road was 44 MPH, the limit was raised.

Of course, some people simply hire the right lawyer when they can't or don't want to take Defensive Driving. I know several people who have used David Sprecher's services to get tickets dismissed. There's nothing like being the top expert in an obscure but lucrative profession.

The ultimate effect here may be the retraction of the lower speed limit, whose implementation Attorney Stafford worked to prevent in the first place:

Stafford is trying to persuade the commission to substitute another measure for the lowered speed limit, such as tighter controls on industrial pollution.

He said he will present the TNRCC with a highway safety expert's findings that a 55-mph speed limit creates dangers because motorists drive at vastly different speeds.

Stafford said the signals coming from the TNRCC are that it will restore the old speed limit.

"I think the commission will vote 'yes,' " he said. "I remain optimistic."

I can already see the letters to the editor decrying the waste of putting the 55 MPH signs up only to take them down again in short order. Nothing like a well thought out plan.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 04, 2002 to Crime and Punishment