Legal case gives reprieve to speedsters

The speed gun in question
The speed gun in question

Speed junkies may have been handed a “get out of jail free” card – because of legal problems with the laser speed-measuring device that is being used countrywide.

The prosecuting authority in the Free State has withdrawn all criminal cases against offenders who were caught in the province by the ProLaser 4 speed-measuring device.

Speeding was declared a priority crime in the Free State in January. This means that offenders will no longer get away with a simple admission-of-guilt fine; they may now receive a hefty fine or face jail time lasting up to three years.

In addition, their drivers’ licences and permits can be suspended for months and they will have a criminal record against their name.

But now, prosecutions across the entire country that are based on the use of the ProLaser 4 could be jeopardised.

This week, the office of the director of public prosecutions in the Free State confirmed to City Press’ sister publication, Rapport, that an instruction was sent to prosecutors to withdraw all pending speeding cases until the legal issues regarding the ProLaser 4 device have been sorted out.

“We cannot say how long it will take, because it is the traffic department that has to deal with the ProLaser’s shortcomings,” said Phaladi Shuping, spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

The NPA was also unable to say how many of these cases would be withdrawn.

Some cases are being withdrawn as they come in.

The withdrawal of cases comes after a court case in May, in which magistrate Terence Green of Villiers, a town along the Free State’s N3 highway, acquitted a motorist who was caught by the ProLaser 4 device.

Zaheer Khan was accused of driving at 171km/h, but the state could not prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The ProLaser 4 is manufactured in the US by Kustom Signals. It is distributed by South African company Truvelo, whose employees are trained in the US to calibrate and repair the device.

In his judgment, Green said the ProLaser 4 was being used across the country by law enforcement officials and a conviction would affect a number of people. Hence, the system’s accuracy and reliability had to be beyond question.

In Khan’s case, the state was unable to show that the ProLaser 4 had undergone all the necessary testing and had been approved by an independent, accredited laboratory, in accordance with legislation and South African standards, Green found.

He found no evidence that the ProLaser 4, used in Khan’s case, was sealed by Truvelo after being calibrated.

In addition, the version of the software and hardware for the model used on April 20 last year, when Khan was caught, is unknown. And, it is unclear whether any changes or repairs were made to that model.

Simon Zwane, of the Road Traffic Management Corporation, told Rapport that officials were investigating the problem, alongside the relevant institutions, in order to give guidance to traffic authorities.

He said it was not known exactly which traffic authorities used this particular system.

Farrel Payne, the director of Western Cape traffic services, said the province used the ProLaser 4, adding that its equipment had the approvals required by law.

Various municipalities which had asked for quotations to acquire the ProLaser 4 indicated in their annual reports that the device had now been acquired.

These include Western Cape municipality Mossel Bay, Mandeni in KwaZulu-Natal, Maquassi Hills in North West, and Ephraim Mogale, Makhuduthamaga, Polokwane, Maruleng and Lephalale – all in Limpopo.

Adriaan Janse van Rensburg, an attorney in Bloemfontein specialising in criminal law, said it was concerning that the state did not appear to have its house in order. “A person is not meant to be prosecuted if the equipment that is being used does not comply with all the legal requirements.”

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