February 18, 2019

A Cup of Joe | Okay to Speed Over Limit to AVOID Hitting Deer?

This week’s case brings us to the beautiful town of Webster, New York, sitting right off of Lake Ontario, and just to the west of Rochester. Wendy O. Williams, lead singer of the Plasmatics, and Lou Gramm, lead singer of Foreigner, were both born in Webster. The town's motto is "Where Life Is Worth Living."

Enter: Stefan Kurlak.  Stefan was driving his sleek 2015 Mercedes heading southbound on Holt Road in the Town of Webster. The posted speed limit on that road was 35 miles per hour. Unfortunately for Stefan, he was clocked by WPD Officer Katie Hillyard as he was cruising along at about 53 mph.  Officer Katie, with lights and sirens going, proceeded to stop Stefan just north of the intersection of Holt Road and Orchard Street.  Stefan, after producing his license and registration, and not saying a word, was issued a ticket for speeding. Stefan went home and began thinking of a defense. Stefan arrived home with a plan.

At trial, Officer Katie testified to her length of service with the Webster Police Department, her training in general and her ability to estimate the speed of a moving vehicle. She testified to that on the date and time in question she visually estimated the Stefan’s to be traveling at 50 mph. She then engaged her radar device, which registered the Mercedes doing 53 miles per hour. The judge asked Officer Katie what traffic control device Stefan violated. Officer responded, "the speed control sign,"

Stefan did not deny exceeding the speed limit. Nor did he contest the speed as attested to by the officer. Instead, Stefan raised the defense of justification. Here is what Stefan told the judge while Officer Katie listened with eyebrows raised as high as they could go:

Stefan testified that while driving south on Holt Road, before being stopped by the officer, a deer jumped over the hood of his car without touching it. He then noticed a group of four more deer to his left. He stated that it was at that time that he sped up to get past those deer before one or more of them ran across the road in front of his car. Both sides rested.

The judge had to determine this issue: Was Stefan justified in speeding up in order to avoid a possible collision with the deer?

The judge commented that there was no indication why Stefan could not slow down or move over to the side of the road until the possible danger passed. The judge looked at an older case from 1969, (People v. Hariton), where a driver was charged with speeding. The defendant there contended that  it was necessary for them to increase his speed to permit a police vehicle to pass when he could not move safely into the right-hand lane. The court in the Hariton case was not convinced that the driver had no choice but to exceed the speed limit to avoid an accident. The judge in the Hariton court took note of People v. Bartlett, a decision from 1967 that found the driver of a private ambulance responding to an emergency call on the same road Hariton was driving on guilty of speeding.

The law does not favor sudden bursts of speed. Stefan’s Deer Defense failed. Stefan pays the ticket.

Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_29035.htm

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