Ruling Could Throw Out Some Speeding Tickets

By Shane Allen
|  Friday, Nov 1, 2013  |  Updated 11:56 AM CDT
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An opinion by the state attorney general states that police cannot legally use radar guns with cameras to issue speeding tickets.

Omar Villafranca, NBCDFW.com

An opinion by the state attorney general states that police cannot legally use radar guns with cameras to issue speeding tickets.

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An opinion by the Texas attorney general could invalidate your speeding ticket if you were pulled over by the North Richland Hills Police Department last year.

Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled this week that radar guns that use video or photos are prohibited in Texas.

Think of it as a red-light camera, but for speeders.

North Richland Hills police used the devices last year in July, August and September. A department spokesman said the department only had one video-radar gun and that only one officer was trained to use it.

Plano and Irving police were keeping their eye on the attorney general's decision because they were considering buying the device.

"We will continue to enforce the law," Plano police spokesman Rick McDonald said of the opinion. "Speed enforcement is a crucial part of traffic safety, and we will continue to be diligent in our efforts."

NBCDFW first reported the issue in September after state Rep. Vicki Truitt requested an attorney general opinion on behalf of the Plano Police Department about the legality of the devices in Texas.

North Richland Hills police said Tuesday that they quietly did away with the radar gun after the story.

"Back when we were made aware this could be an issue, we elected to remove the device from service," NRHPD investigator Keith Bauman said Tuesday. "We recognize and respect the attorney general's opinion."

Bauman didn't immediately know how many tickets were written. But he did say that drivers could still be on the hook for other infractions found during the stop, such as an expired inspection sticker.

"We're not going to say we're dismissing the citations. It's too early to say," Bauman said. "The citations will be remedied in accordance with the ruling."

A few legislative sessions ago, some lawmakers jumped to change laws in Texas to prohibit a Hill Country city from installing an automated traffic camera that took photos of speeders and mailed them tickets -- just like a red-light camera does for drivers who blow past stop lights or roll through a right turn on red.

The speed guns in question aren't automated but are operated by a police officer. The officer still has to pull a driver over, but the law's wording raised questions on whether law enforcement can use any device that takes a photo or video of a speeder.

"Although a common understanding of the term automated may suggest a lack of human direction or control, the [law's] definition does not so limit the phrase 'automated traffic control system,'" Abbott wrote. "Instead, any handheld laser device will meet the Legislature's definition so long as it records the speed of a motor vehicle and obtains the requisite photograph or recorded image."

Officers argue that the photos or videos strengthen their line of evidence heading into court, making it harder for drivers to fight their speeding tickets.

The Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland and Arlington police departments said they don't use the $6,000 devices.

NBC DFW's Omar Villafranca contributed to this report.

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