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German Appeals Court Allows Police to Ticket by Counting

September 8, 2009

German Appeals Court Allows Police to Ticket by Counting
Appeals court in Hamm, Germany rules that red light tickets can be issued based on counting out loud.  

Appeals courtroomA motorist in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany was convicted and sentenced for running a red light based solely on the counting skills of a police officer who had been standing on the other side of the intersection. In March, the Regional Court of Appeals in Hamm upheld a verdict that imposed on the driver a fine of 188 euros (US $267), a one-month driving suspension plus the combined costs of the district court trial and appeal.

The evidence against the driver came from a police officer who testified from the notes he took after writing the ticket (he had no independent recollection of the incident). According to these notes, the officer stood about forty feet away from the intersection and watched the traffic lights in his direction. The officer testified that by the time the defendant entered the intersection, the traffic signal had been red for two seconds. The officer knew this because he had counted out loud beyond twenty-one, the duration of the red phase at the signal in question. The motorist objected that this evidence was too flimsy to meet the standard of proving that he had entered the intersection more than a second after the light turned red. The appellate court disagreed.

“An estimate is indeed accompanied by uncertainties,” the court explained in its ruling. “However, these are diminished by meeting the aforementioned prerequisites so that a sufficient level of security is achieved.”

The court found that, if anything, the officer’s technique erred in favor of the defendant. Ultimately, the court believed that the police officer must be telling the truth because it was unlikely that he would lie in court.

“Any inaccuracy from the requirement that the counting method last through a red light by at least two seconds (any number mentally pronounced ‘twenty-one… twenty-two’ corresponds at a normal rate of speech of at least one second) must be estimated sufficiently and taken into account,” the court stated. “There is no good reason to believe that an official under specific threat of criminal penalty… would deliberately attempt a very fast count in order to wrongly prosecute a motorist for a qualified red light infringement.”

With that, the court found the motorist guilty.

A copy of the decision (in German) is available in a 70k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Ruling 3 SS OWi 55/09 (Oberlandesgericht Hamm, 3/12/2009)

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