4/18/2014New Mexico Appeals Court Upholds Arbitrary Speed Limits
Appellate judges in New Mexico say there is no need to establish a speed limit as valid before collecting on a speeding ticket.
The state of New Mexico does not need to justify its speed limits. The state Court of Appeals came to this conclusion earlier this month in upholding the conviction of Raul Tarin, a motorist who decided to mount a legal battle against his ticket for allegedly driving 71 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. Representing himself in court, Tarin argued that the state had to establish the speed limit's legitimacy before the ticket could be considered valid. It was the first time anyone had brought such an argument to the appellate level in the state.
Under New Mexico law, the default speed limit is 75 MPH, with particular statutory limits set in residential neighborhoods, school zones and business districts. The posting of a lower speed limit requires "an engineering survey and traffic investigation, a detailed report of which is filed with the traffic safety bureau of the state highway and transportation department." Tarin insisted on seeing the study that set the 45 MPH speed limit that got him into trouble, arguing the report is an essential element of justifying a speeding charge. The three-judge panel was not sympathetic to this line of reasoning.
"Defendant's arguments presuppose that the methods for establishing the posted speed limit are a required element to establish a charge of speeding, and it is the state's burden to prove the validity of the methods for establishing the posted speed limit," Judge Timothy L. Garcia wrote for the panel. "Defendant's arguments regarding the statutory interpretation of Section 66-7-301 appear to be matters of first impression before this court."
The appellate panel pointed out that state law only requires a sign be posted, whether the sign is valid or not.
"Nothing in Section 66-7-301 requires the state to provide any evidence addressing how a posted speed limit was established or adopted. The statutory scheme strongly indicates that the legislature did not intend that evidence of the underlying engineering survey and traffic investigation be a required element in nearly every case involving a speed limit violation below seventy-five miles per hour."
The panel found it would be "needless, inefficient and unreasonable" to require the state to produce a witness and a copy of an engineering survey for every speeding ticket case. The court was even less sympathetic to Tarin's argument that a police officer must have direct knowledge of the speed limit. The officer was familiar with the area and had seen the three 45 MPH speed limit signs posted in the vicinity, but Tarin argued this constituted hearsay because the officer did not know whether the limit was valid.
"We disagree," Judge Garcia wrote. "To the extent that defendant is also arguing that the hearsay rule would not allow the officer to rely on the speed limit signs that stated that the speed limit was forty-five miles per hour, defendant failed to fully develop this argument or establish how it was preserved. Because this court does not review unclear or undeveloped arguments, we will not address this hearsay argument further. For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that there were no hearsay violations arising from the citing officer's testimony that was based upon his personal observations and personal knowledge of the evidence."
That was enough for the judges to uphold Tarin's speeding ticket. A copy of the ruling is available in a 40k PDF file at the source link below.