The radar man zooms to laser victim's cause

May 13, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Ed Heard contributed to this article

Maryland's highest paid lobbyist was in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday, defending a motorist who contends that state lawmakers have never authorized police to operate the kind of laser gun used to snare him for speeding.

The case of David Goldstein has become a magnet attracting special interests on both sides of the speed enforcement issue, including Annapolis attorney Bruce Bereano, who was paid $10,000 in 1993 for lobbying for RADAR, an Ohio-based association of radar detector manufacturers.

Should the laser guns come into widespread use, they wouldrender traditional radar detectors obsolete.

Mr. Goldstein, a 46-year-old Gaithersburg transportation consultant, was clocked at 74 mph in his 1987 Audi by a Howard County police officer operating a laser gun along Route 32, near U.S. 1 in Jessup, on July 17, 1992. The highway has a 55-mph speed limit.

Convicted of speeding and ordered to pay a $40 fine after a Howard District Court trial in April 1993, Mr. Goldstein appealed his conviction, making the case the first of its kind to reach the Circuit Court level in Maryland.

Kevin Reynolds, an Annapolis attorney who works for Mr. Bereano's law firm, said more cases like Mr. Goldstein's have entered court systems nationwide as laser guns gained popularity among police departments in recent years.

Proponents of radar detectors and laser guns are interested in the outcome of Mr. Goldstein's case.

The defense's expert witness -- Subhash Sarkar, an engineer from Amherst, N.H. -- has worked for a radar-detector manufacturer to develop a device that can detect signals from laser guns. Giffen Nickol Jr., representing the Maryland chapter of the National Motorists Association, a group that lobbies for drivers' rights, also testified on Mr. Goldstein's behalf that no federal agency has approved the use of laser guns.

Meanwhile, Assistant State's Attorney Shawn Larson called two witnesses -- the police officer who issued the speeding ticket and an astrophysicist from NASA's Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt -- to testify on the reliability of laser guns.

The scientist, Daniel Gerazi of Chevy Chase, was paid to study laser guns by Laser Technology Inc. of Englewood, Colo., the company that manufactured the LTI 20-20 device used to nab Mr. Goldstein. The firm is partially owned by GEICO, an insurance company that has donated laser guns to police departments across Maryland.

Mr. Nickol said after yesterday's hearing that he questions the needfor police to use laser guns, since they have won a multitude of convictions using radar devices.

"There's no need for this thing," Mr. Nickol said. "The police in this state do not have a problem getting convictions for speeding."

Mr. Nickol noted that committees in the General Assembly killed bills that would have permitted police to use laser guns during legislative sessions in 1992 and 1993. No such bills were introduced this year.

In Maryland, state police, as well as county and municipal police, use laser guns, which cost about $4,000 each. A radar device costs about $1,000, Mr. Nickol said.

Typically, an officer stands along a roadway and aims the 6-inch-by-4-inch laser gun at a suspected speeding vehicle and activates the unit. In less than a second, the gun sends out pulses of infrared light, which hit the vehicle and are reflected back tothe gun. Each pulse measures how far the vehicle is traveling. The time between each pulse measures how far the car moves over a period of time or, in other words, the speed.

"They're an advancement in speed enforcement," said Lt. Greg Shipley, a Maryland state police spokesman.

Mr. Gerazi, the prosecution's expert, testified that laser guns are just as accurate as radar devices. "I can't think of any weakness or criticism of the device," Mr. Gerazi said.

But defense expert Mr. Sarkar questioned the accuracy of laser units, noting that a unit's circuitry can be affected by weather conditions, the alignment of the unit's scope and the stability of its gauges. He said it can be as much as 10 mph off from a motorist's actual speed.

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