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Physicist Beats Traffic Ticket, Gives False Hope To Amateur Scientists Everywhere.

Dmitri Krioukov is a physicist at the University of California in San Diego and he got a ticket for failing to stop at a stop sign. He decided to challenge the ticket because he didn’t think he did anything wrong. Nothing unusual about that.

Where the story differs from the typical traffic ticket defense case is his use of a very technical paper entitled “The Proof of Innocence” to allegedly “prove” that he was not guilty and did come to a complete stop. The media has been reporting the story and setting forth that this man’s ticket was dismissed because he was able to conclusively show that he did indeed stop at the sign.

Personally, I don’t understand a bit of the science involved. Won’t even try. You can read the whole paper and I can tell you I was lost from the start.  The paper opens with “It is widely known that an observer measuring the speed of an object passing by, measures not its actual linear velocity but the angular one” and it only gets more complicated from there as he moves from this “widely known” stuff about linear velocity to a series of increasingly technical charts and trigonometric equations. SohCahToa was hard enough…this is way beyond that.

My problem with all this is simple. This is NOT proof that a vehicle stopped. So many people who get traffic tickets seek some conclusion in court that “proves” their innocence. Many times I see people argue that a radar was interfered with or an officer couldn’t see or it was another vehicle who committed the act and call their reasoning “proof” that they did nothing wrong. None of this proves anything just like none of this professor’s Good Will Hunting mathematics proves he came to a complete stop.

Show me authentic video of the incident itself from an angle where I can see conclusively whether the wheels stopped moving prior to the stopping point. Short of that, nothing has been conclusively proven or has removed all doubt. Of course, few people videotape themselves driving so this professor did the next best thing–try to convince the judge that perhaps a mistake had been made and the benefit of any existing doubt should go to the motorist.

How’s this for “proof” that “The Proof of Innocence” proves nothing–He could have written this same paper even if he blew right through the stop sign.

So why was this ticket dismissed then? We don’t know for sure, but just rattling some possibilities off the top of my head…

  • The Judge was amused or impressed with the effort and decided to give the guy a break.
  • The Judge was getting bored, or hungry, or getting a headache trying to figure it out and decided to just give the guy a break.
  • The officer admitted it was possible he made a mistake instead of stating that he was absolutely 100% certain no stop was made.
  • The officer failed to testify to some other important piece of information. For example, maybe when it was all said and done he never clearly set forth which corner at the intersection had the stop sign.

My main point here is for people to understand that they shouldn’t expect to walk into court with charts, diagrams, fancy math, pictures, letters from their Rabbi, etc and profess that they have proof no traffic violation was committed. These things can be used to help show that maybe a mistake was made and potentially leave some doubt in the  judge’s head. This type of “proof” may help push a decision in your favor when combined with a  judge in the right mood and an officer who isn’t too combative or thorough, but remember that it still proves nothing with respect to the underlying violation itself.

Scott Feifer