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CASE 4 – Beating a speeding charge (or “Skop die Gatsometer se gat”)

Beating a speeding charge (or “Skop die Gatsometer se gat”)

The reader may be aware of the fact that for quite some time the popular equipment used for speed trapping had been the Gatsometer. It so happens that (stated in Afrikaans vernacular) “Ek het the Gatsometer se gat geskop” (I kicked the Gatometer’s arse.) when I was personally caught in a speed trap in Old Fort road in Durban some time ago.

In the case I decided that my attack in the matter would focus on the distance between the two parallel sensors of the device. I alerted the prosecutor to that fact and when the officer who set up the trap was called to testify, he was duly armed with a measuring tape that impressively displayed some markings of the Durban City Police and that clearly alluded to some sort of certification pertaining to the correctness of the tape.

During cross-examination I popped the question of whether the witness calibrated the particular tape measure. His reply was obviously in the negative and soon thereafter he also conceded that he couldn’t confirm that a measurement of approximately a meter between two sensors was indeed a meter because he did not calibrate the tape with which me made his measurements when setting up die Gatsometer.

After an adjournment the prosecutor had regained his confidence and called an officer who testified that he had personally calibrated the measuring tape against a standard tape that had been calibrated by the Surveyor General. But when I asked the officer under cross-examination whether he could give any evidence on the calibration of the standard tape by the Surveyor General, he answered in the negative. The matter was adjourned and the prosecutor licked his wounds.

On the adjourned date the prosecutor came up with a letter from the Surveyor General’s office, of which the author is the person who had calibrated the standard tape of the Durban City Police, against which the measuring tape that was used in setting up the trap, was calibrated. I objected to the letter as evidence on the grounds that it is hearsay and after legal argument on the issue, the court reserved judgement and the matter was adjourned.

On the adjourned date the court ruled in my favour and the prosecutor applied for an adjournment to subpoena the Surveyor General as a witness. The adjournment was granted and before I left for my office I told the prosecutor that I will help him to stop making a fool of himself by telling him something about the science that is applicable to the particular issue of distance measurements. Although he brushed what I had to say aside, I persisted doggedly and told him that the only way that he can prove that the tape measure is correctly calibrated, is by proving that it has been calibrated against the international standard that is kept in Paris (that is Paris in France, and not the Free State), and that he would have to send a witness to Paris to do the calibration, because anything else would be hearsay, and inadmissible in court.

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