Take the “trap” away from speed trap before laser jammers considered obstruction.

[Photo by Steven Yeh]

Matthew Bruce lives in Alberta and works in the technology industry. He believes there is a direct correlation between unfair speed enforcement and arbitrarily low speed limits. He writes his view that motorists have a right to defend themselves against unfair or unknown enforcement and that right includes the use of laser jammers.

There has been and always will be “tough talk” from some police officers regarding the use of Laser Jammers in provinces that do not have specific laws against their use. They have been known to threaten, and have recommended criminal charges against people caught using these devices.

Section 129 of the criminal code. of the criminal code says: Every one who (a) resists or wilfully obstructs a public officer or peace officer in the execution of his duty or any person lawfully acting in aid of such an officer, (b) omits, without reasonable excuse, to assist a public officer or peace officer in the execution of his duty in arresting a person or in preserving the peace, after having reasonable notice that he is required to do so, or (c) resists or wilfully obstructs any person in the lawful execution of a process against lands or goods or in making a lawful distress or seizure, is guilty of (d) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or (e) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

However, given the very nature of speed traps which use laser enforcement, is it possible to willfully obstruct police if you do not know they are present and executing a duty? Police may intentionally use unmarked cars, hide somewhere on the side of the road or surprise drivers around a turn when using a LIDAR gun at distances of 1000 feet or more. Some officers would have you believe that yes, interfering with the speed trap is obstruction and on a cursory examination of the law it sounds plausible; however recent case law suggests otherwise. Recently, in the British Columbia case of R. v. Langthorne in December of last year a judge ruled that a person cannot willfully obstruct the police if not clearly informed that the police are executing a duty prior to the alleged obstruction.

The transcript of the decision can be read here. The case involved a man who was suspected of having an illegal firearm. Police officers, in an unmarked car, approached the suspect and yelled out “hey!” and “stop!”. The suspect fled/resisted the officers and was charged with jay-walking (an excuse to search him) and obstruction of police. However, the judge in this case acquitted the defendant of all charges because he was not informed by the police that he was being charged with jay-walking before he allegedly obstructed them. The judge is quoted as saying: “In this case, the officers’ …. and their readiness to escalate a common place situation into a scenario of alleged criminal obstruction cannot be countenanced.” and “The effect on the accused was also significant. People must be free to go about their business without their liberty being subject to infringement through arbitrary police conduct or the abuse or misuse of police power”.

The reason cited by the police in this case for detaining the suspect was “information gathering”. I believe it is reasonable to consider running a speed enforcement trap is a form of information gathering. And until a citizen is made aware, by the police that they are executing a duty, it is not possible for an obstruction to occur. It’s easy to come to the conclusion that officers hiding 1000 feet away, from an oncoming motorist, without their emergency lights on (or in an unmarked car behind a tree), clearly has no intention of letting the motorist know that they are executing a duty. Hiding is a vital part of the “speed trap” concept and as a result it is in most cases impossible for an obstruction charge to occur during the execution of a speed trap.

A case from this year in Alberta resulted in the same determination and the judge in that case clearly articulated the application of an obstruction charge. In that case a citizen pulled over to adjust some items in his truck bed. An officer pulled in behind him to execute a ticket for an equiptment violation. While the officer was in the course of issuing the ticket, the event became a physical confrontation and the citizen was charged with obstruction as a result. However because the officer did not inform the citizen that he was executing a duty (issuing a ticket), the appeal was allowed and the conviction for obstruction was overturned. The transcript of the decision can be read here. Here are the main points of the Alberta decision articulated by the court. “ . . . if the accused lacks the knowledge that the peace officer is engaged in the execution of his duty, an essential component of the mens rea of this particular offence is missing. [18] It is possible that a person in Mr. Richter’s position might suspect that the police officer had some issue or concern he wanted to speak to him about. Or it is at least equally possible that he might think the police officer had observed him stop and wanted to see if he was in need of assistance, or wanted, with his police vehicle lights, to alert approaching traffic that there was a vehicle stopped at the side of the road. [19] The evidence establishes only that Mr. Richter did not know what Constable Frenette was up to.

The evidence does not establish that Mr. Richter knew or ought to have known that Constable Frenette was engaged in the execution of his duty. [20] In these circumstances, though Mr. Richter’s conduct was clearly intentional, it was not criminal.” Being on duty is not the same as executing a duty. And intent is not the same as being willful. Only when knowledge of the execution of a duty combines with a continued intent can an act truly be considered willful and satisfy mens rea. As was mentioned by the judge in the previous case, people must be free to go about their business without their liberty be subject to infringement through arbitrary police conduct or the abuse or misuse of police power. And indeed, the readiness of some officers to escalate what is a traffic violation in most provinces into a scenario of alleged criminal obstruction cannot be justified.

Owning a Laser Jammer is not illegal in BC. Having one installed in your vehicle is not illegal in BC and obstruction for using one is only possible if motorists are clearly made aware of the police executing a speed trap before they enter it. Making their presence known is not part of normal police modus operandis when operating speed “traps” therefore I cannot see how operating a jammer can be considered obstruction.

 

Comments

  1. Enrique

    December 2, 2015

    Tam,As a former San Diego pocile officer who also worked for the California Highway Patrol, an officer is expected to use discretion. He is _not_ required to enforce all laws. That is one of the reasons I got out of law enforcement: too many officers being trained who believe the job is simply “Law Enforcement” and not keeping the peace.In our academy at San Diego, we were taught not only to use discretion in our job, but to enforce the SPIRIT of the law, _not_ the LETTER of the law. Of course this was thirty years ago, and obviously times have changed. We no longer have many officers who are peacekeepers (are those few who keep the peace now called Oath Keepers?) Now we have obviously brainwashed individuals who think they must enforce _all_ the laws. Tgace may have his heart in the right place, but he is unaware of the fact that he has been taught improperly. He does not sound like he understood what oath he was taking when he swore to uphold and defend the Constitution.

  2. michael swami

    April 10, 2014

    i got stopped on the georgia viaduct by van police with a lase jammers jamming his gun he held me for 5 minutes then let me go

  3. Legal Leg to Stand On?

    October 16, 2013

    What does the legal record day? Is there any cases where a driver has been charged with obstruction for having a laser jammer? Or is this just a random threat with no real teeth to keep laser jammers out of circulation?

    • Ian

      October 17, 2013

      Obstruction is a subjective judgement on the part of police. In our view it’s an abuse of the CCC however some have been charged. It’s a game of chicken between some police and motorists who choose to push the envelope. The BC Assn of Chiefs of Police years ago requested the Attorney General outlaw jammers and they did not get what they wanted; so in insolent retaliation, some regional heads of traffic police instructed their officers to charge those they found using laser jammers … regardless of whether the motorist was committing a traffic infraction in the first place.

  4. Evelyn Danielle

    September 17, 2013

    I’ve been driving since 1977 and have had 1 at-fault accident – I bumped the rear bumper of a car driven by a 92-year old man (during the morning rush!) because he panicked and decided to stop in front of me for no reason. I have had exactly 4 speeding tickets in 36 years:

    #1) Park Zone in Port Coquitlam – about 1991. This was a speed trap on a road I travelled daily with my 4 children, going from school to school. Location: eastbound in the 1700 block of Lincoln Avenue near Wellington Street. The cop jumped out from the bushes and informed me I was speeding in a park zone. I said “Park? It’s nothing but trees. There’s no sign for a park zone here.” He said, “You’re supposed to know.” Then he gave me a ticket (no warning). There is actually a playground on the Wellington side of the lot, but just a forest on the Lincoln side. I was mad because I’ve always been a good and careful driver – especially with my children in the car. Not long after that they actually put in park zone signs on the Lincoln side.

    #2) August 31, 1997 – eastbound on Como Lake Avenue (downhill), Coquitlam – photo radar ticket. I fought this ticket in court because I was driving a large GMC van and had just crested the hill and was starting down the other side – the camera snapped my plate before I even had a chance to apply the brakes for the downhill segment. The judge said “Were you speeding?” and I said “No, my van was.” She said, “The law is very black and white on speeding. Either you were or you weren’t.” She fined me at a reduced rate.

    #3) Westbound in the 200 block of Mariner Way, Coquitlam near United Blvd. (Cape Horn area) – about 2008. This was a speed trap at 5:50 a.m. The cop jumped out from the corner and waved me to pull into the side street (Gloucester Court). He said I was speeding – I was going faster than the posted speed, yes – but there was no one on the road at this hour and I was trying to get my son to work by 6:00 a.m. (No good deed goes unpunished…)

    #4) Northbound on Gaglardi Way heading up to SFU – about 2010. Again a speed trap – the cop jumped out from the bushes and ran in front of my car. I was ticketed for speeding uphill!!! The speed limit is 60km. It’s almost impossible to keep your vehicle in a forward motion going uphill at that speed. I was trying to keep my car from stalling. I was really mad about this ticket because the reason I was on Gaglardi Way that day was because I couldn’t use the HOV lane on the freeway because my husband was not working that day, so I was taking an alternate route (I would never think of cheating in the HOV lane!).

    As you can see, the only tickets I have received were in Speed TRAPS – not for speeding at an excessive rate of speed in regular traffic. In each case I was the only driver on the road. I have always believed these speed traps are a money grab and that the cops have a quota to fill. They will tell you different – but we all know it. I also believe that having cops jumping out from hiding places into traffic is going to CAUSE an accident.

    My husband has been saying for decades that the speed limits are too low. Thank you for doing this Sense BC!

  5. Matthew

    September 16, 2013

    Went to BC over Labour Day weekend. Police had a speed trap just west of hope. Approximately 250m in front of the officers there was a sign that said there was police ahead. This sign was right after a blind corner, where you would not have time to turn off the jammer before it interfered with police equipment. In this scenario, would the sign be considered enough notice for them to legally charge you?

    Further, wouldn’t the need to turn off the jammer constitute distracted driving?

  6. Kevin Edge

    February 13, 2013

    Maybe I’ll get one if they are legal.
    Live in SSurrey but go to my place in S’land over the Coq a lot, plu a place in Whistler. I drive an M3 my wife an ISF, also ride a “Gixxer” plus am rebuilding my high school ’66 Canso to be essentially a corvette with so far a 460 hp sb. So I fight a lot of tickets with about 50% success rate. At 55 yrs have never been in an accident. Don’t drive fast ever in high populated (people or cars) areas. Are household has ~ 5 radar detectors at any given time (several have been stolen/replaced).

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