In May of 2002, Ken McGrew was traveling on an elevated, multi-lane, divided freeway in Madison, Wisconsin. He passed a sheriff’s truck that was parked on the side of an on-ramp with emergency signs around it. This truck was paid for with a federal grant and was supposed to be used to help stranded motorists. Ken moved to the right lane for the safety of the deputy and went on his way.
Ken saw the truck pull out with its lights on. He moved to the right lane to allow it to pass. Instead, the deputy in the truck pulled Ken over. The distance from where Ken passed him to where he was stopped was half a mile.
The deputy claimed that he clocked Ken on rear-facing radar at speeds over 80 mph (in a posted 55 mph zone). Ken knew he was going the speed limit. He questioned the officer’s reading, suggesting that the deputy clocked the car on the other side of the road. Ken also challenged the deputy’s ability to have visually estimated his speed, given the short amount of time that Ken’s car would have been visible in the deputy’s rearview mirror.
The deputy responded by giving Ken a citation that claimed he had paced Ken’s car!
During his preparation for trial, Ken struggled to get access to important evidence that could prove his innocence. He did learn that the radar unit in the deputy’s truck was not authorized for traffic enforcement purposes. Ken also learned that the truck’s speedometer had never been certified and was not a “police speedometer,” which is required by Wisconsin case law. Despite Ken’s efforts, the judge hearing his case called his challenge of the stop a “silly waste of the court’s time.” The judge fully cooperated with the prosecution, but he ignored all Ken’s correspondence, and ruled against all Ken’s motions.
At trial, the officer testified that he was not parked, but moving at 55 mph when Ken passed him at 80. The deputy then claimed to have matched Ken’s speed in just ten seconds, despite the fact that the deputy was driving an underpowered but overweighted Ford 250 Quad Cab. He said that he only accelerated to a top speed of 85 mph. He also testified that he clocked Ken traveling 83 mph using radar. The officer also said he paced Ken for 2/10 of a mile while following Ken’s car closely. Ken was able to demonstrate that for the deputy to have closed the distance, paced Ken, then pulled him over would have taken not half a mile but almost three miles. The jury ignored Ken’s arguments and found him guilty anyway.
The NMA Foundation helped Ken hire an attorney to appeal the case. Ken and his defense team appealed on a variety of issues. Once the discovery materials withheld before trial were finally turned over, they learned that the radar unit in the truck was a stationary unit, and could not have reached a reading of 82 mph while the truck was itself moving. So, they appealed on the basis that his testimony was demonstrably impossible. Ken also appealed on the grounds that he was denied discovery and a twelve-person jury. In the end, the Appeals Court bent over backwards to rule against him.
Ken appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The court agreed to hear the case based on Ken being denied the right to a twelve-person jury. The court had refused to hear a similar challenge from Ken on these grounds in the past.
In all other cases in Wisconsin, except traffic tickets, a defendant or civil litigant can have a 12-person jury. Furthermore, the state’s constitution clearly grants the right to a jury trial for any criminal or civil case, and all court precedents confirmed that a jury should have 12 members. We felt we had a very strong case.
In a disappointing decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court attempted to rationalize their irrational conclusion that traffic ticket defendants had a right to a jury trial, but that six jurors was sufficient. This decision was certainly a disappointment, but the court did affirm motorists’ constitutional right to a jury trial in traffic cases. Politicians won’t be able to legislate that away.
Our rights are too important to leave to chance. Help support cases like Ken’s now!