946 P.2d 894 (Alaska App. 1997), A-6420, Municipality of Anchorage v. Baxley

Docket Nº:A-6420.
Citation:946 P.2d 894
Opinion Judge:COATS, Chief Judge.
Party Name:MUNICIPALITY OF ANCHORAGE, Appellant, v. Clyde BAXLEY, Linda Weatherholt, Jeff Ullom, and Heather Siegel, Appellees.
Attorney:Thane R. Mathis, Assistant Municipal Prosecutor, and Mary K. Hughes, Municipal Prosecutor, Anchorage, for Appellant. Bradley K. Leutwyler, Leutwyler, Brion & Associates, Anchorage, for Appellee Baxley. Heather Siegel, pro se. No appearance for Appellees Weatherholt and Ullom.
Judge Panel:Before COATS, C.J., and MANNHEIMER and STEWART, JJ.
Case Date:October 16, 1997
Court:Court of Appeals of Alaska
 
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Page 894

946 P.2d 894 (Alaska App. 1997)

MUNICIPALITY OF ANCHORAGE, Appellant,

v.

Clyde BAXLEY, Linda Weatherholt, Jeff Ullom, and Heather

Siegel, Appellees.

No. A-6420.

Alaska Court of Appeals

October 16, 1997

Order Denying Rehearing Nov. 19, 1997.

Page 895

Thane R. Mathis, Assistant Municipal Prosecutor, and Mary K. Hughes, Municipal Prosecutor, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Bradley K. Leutwyler, Leutwyler, Brion & Associates, Anchorage, for Appellee Baxley.

Heather Siegel, pro se.

No appearance for Appellees Weatherholt and Ullom.

Before COATS, C.J., and MANNHEIMER and STEWART, JJ.

OPINION

COATS, Chief Judge.

The Municipality of Anchorage prosecuted Clyde Baxley, Linda Weatherholt, Jeff Ullom, and Heather Siegel for speeding in a school zone, Anchorage Municipal Ordinance §§ 09.26.020 or 09.26.030.C. Each of the defendants was issued a citation based on a reading obtained from a photo-radar machine. On July 31, 1996, the municipality and the defendants appeared at a hearing before District Court Magistrates Geoffrey T. Comfort, Ron Wielkopolski, and Roy V. Williams. The magistrates, sitting jointly, heard the municipality's case against all four defendants. In its presentation, the municipality focused on proving that photo-radar was an accurate and reliable method for ascertaining and recording the speed of a motor vehicle.

Following three days of evidence and arguments, the magistrates took the case under advisement. Two months later, the magistrates issued a joint decision finding all the defendants not guilty. The magistrates first stated that, absent independent corroboration, radar results are not admissible. The magistrates next concluded, in the alternative, that even if photo-radar evidence were admissible, the evidence presented by the municipality at the hearing failed to convince the magistrates of the four defendants' guilt.

The municipality now appeals the magistrates' decision. The municipality argues that photo-radar results are admissible without independent corroboration. However, as explained below, we conclude that this issue is moot because of the magistrates' second conclusion: their conclusion that, even with the photo-radar results, the municipality's evidence at trial did not convince the magistrates of the defendants' guilt, and thus the defendants were entitled to a verdict of acquittal.

The municipality next asserts that, even though the magistrates may have acquitted

Page 896

the defendants after a trial based on the facts of the case, the municipality is entitled to seek appellate review of the magistrates' decision. The municipality argues that such review is not barred by the double jeopardy clause because traffic offenses are not "offenses" for purposes of double jeopardy. We conclude that we need not decide this issue because, even assuming that the municipality is entitled to seek appellate review of the magistrates' verdicts, there is no reversible error in the verdicts. We therefore affirm the judgments of acquittal entered by the district court.

At the outset, we confront the municipality's assertion that the three-day hearing in front of the magistrates was only an evidentiary hearing, not a trial on the merits. To answer this assertion, we believe it necessary to detail the evidence presented at the hearing.

Before the hearing, the municipality made a motion asking the court to take judicial notice of a report from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program setting out nationwide practices on the photographic enforcement of traffic laws. The magistrates granted this motion at the beginning of the hearing.

The first prosecution witness at the hearing was Augie Henry, an administrative officer for the Anchorage Department of Public Works. Henry testified about the process used by the Municipality of Anchorage to adopt and to contract out a system of photo-radar enforcement of speed limits; the contract was eventually awarded to American Traffic Systems (ATS), a private organization, in December 1995. Henry testified that although the municipality remained in control of the photo-radar program, ATS actually operated the program and received seventy percent of the amount of collected fines. Henry then described some of the administrative aspects of the photo-radar program.

Henry testified that he also had personally seen the photo-radar photographs and driver license...

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