Alan Jasper (not his real name) was charged with racing on the highway in violation of Section 316.191(2)(a), on November 19, 2013. Shortly after bonding out of jail, he hired Attorney Jeffrey H. Garland.
A Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) trooper alleged that he observed Jasper engage in a high speed acceleration contest. The FHP report asserted that the race began at the intersection of County Road 561 and U.S. Highway 27 in Lake Minneola Shores (Lake County), Florida. The trooper stated: “[I] observed two vehicles side-by-side proceeding to accelerate at a high rate of speed and subsequently proceeded to travel at a high rate of speed.” The charge of racing on the highway is no laughing matter. It has a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Importantly, on just a first offense, there is a mandatory minimum fine of $500 and a 1-year driver license revocation.
Attorney Garland promptly made a public records request to FHP for a copy of the on-board video mentioned in the reports. FHP was cooperative and produced a copy of the recording within 30 days. The recording showed that the northbound signal, on U.S. Highway 27, changed and thus began the “race”.
There were a number of civilian cars in front of the trooper’s cruiser at the traffic signal. These cars had to move out of the way before Jasper’s car became visible on the video. Jasper’s car was also pulling over when first observed on the video. Thirty seconds elapsed from the change of light to the first view of Jasper’s vehicle. Attorney Garland used Google Earth to establish the approximate distance from the starting point to the spot in the turn lane where Jasper’s vehicle was first observed. This distance was 1800 feet. Using simple mathematics, Attorney Garland determined that Jasper’s average speed during this 30-second period of time was just 60 feet per second:
1800 feet ÷ 30 seconds = 60 feet per second (approximately)
Converted to miles per hour, Jasper’s vehicle averaged about 41 mph during the so-called “race”. If the case had proceeded to trial, the State would have pointed out that the statute prohibits an acceleration contest, as well as a high rate of speed. The State would have claimed that an initial high rate of acceleration was sufficient to violate the statute. However, neither the video nor the mathematics can lie. The basis for the State’s prosecution of this case was certainly thrown into doubt.
Jasper had a great deal to lose. His driving record left much to be desired. Jasper did not want to go to jail or endure a mandatory revocation. Based upon these circumstances, the State agreed to reduce the charge to reckless driving. The probation would terminate upon payment of the fine, court costs and completion of an advanced driver improvement course.
A thorough investigation can expose weaknesses in a criminal prosecution. At a minimum, the trooper had exaggerated the circumstances of this case. This allowed the case to be successfully negotiated on terms acceptable to both parties.