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United States v. Humphreys

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

April 24, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JULIAN E. HUMPHREYS, Defendant-Appellant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Defendant Julian E. Humphreys was convicted by a magistrate judge of speeding in the Shenandoah National Park on November 20, 2016, in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 4.21(c). Humphreys appeals his conviction, arguing that it cannot stand because the evidence was insufficient to show that his vehicle was the speeding vehicle in question. For the reasons below, the court rejects his argument and will affirm his conviction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Humphreys is charged with speeding.

         At approximately 1:15 p.m. on November 20, 2016, Shenandoah National Park Service Ranger Eric Yount was driving northbound when he observed Humphreys driving southbound near milepost 17 on Skyline Drive. (Violation Notice 1, Dkt. No. 12-1.) In particular, he observed Humphreys, who was driving a gray Audi, travelling at about 60 miles per hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone. (Id.) Yount activated his Raptor radar, which he had calibrated that morning, and it confirmed that Humphreys was driving 61 miles per hour. (Id.; see also Trial Tr. 5-6, Dkt. No. 6.)

         After pulling Humphreys over, Yount identified him by his Virginia driver's license, and he issued Humphreys a violation notice for exceeding the posted speed limit in a National Park area, in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 4.21(c). (Violation Notice 1.) The notice lists Humphreys' address, phone number, date of birth, sex, height, and eye color, as well as the color and make of his vehicle. (Id.) The probable cause statement within the notice incorrectly lists the driver's name as “Eric J. Humphreys, ” and the “defendant information” section incorrectly lists his first name as Humphreys, his last name as Eric, and his middle initial as “J.” (Id.)

         B. Humphreys is convicted of speeding.

         The violation notice provided that Humphreys was to pay a $180 forfeiture amount, together with a $30 processing fee, or appear in court. (Id.) On April 11, 2017, Humphreys appeared before Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe and proceeded to trial on the speeding charge. (Trial Tr. 1-2.)

         The government called one witness: Ranger Yount. (Id. at 10.) He testified that he was driving northbound near mile marker 17 on Skyline Drive when he observed a gray Audi headed southbound that appeared to be travelling at approximately 60 miles per hour. (Id. at 5.) Yount asserted that “numerous signs” posted in the area along Skyline Drive alert motorists to the speed limit of 35 miles per hour. (Id.) After visually observing the Audi, Yount activated his Raptor radar, which he had calibrated that morning, and it confirmed that the vehicle was travelling at 61 miles per hour. (Id.) Yount testified that at this point, the Audi drove past him, and Yount observed a single male inside. He turned his car around and proceeded to stop the Audi. (Id. at 6.) Yount testified that he identified Humphreys using his Virginia driver's license, and he identified Humphreys in the courtroom as well. (Id.)

         On cross-examination, Yount conceded that he did not maintain visual contact with Humphreys' vehicle “the entire time.” (Id. at 9.) Yount noted that he was initially headed in the opposite direction as Humphreys, and so he had to turn his vehicle around, but he went on to explain that “traffic was light that day at that area where I saw your vehicle [and] I did not see a vehicle immediately in front of you.” (Id. at 9-10.) Additionally, Yount acknowledged that he entered Humphreys' name on the violation notice incorrectly; he “somehow transposed [Humphreys'] middle and first name” and wrote the “middle and the last name in the wrong block.” (Id. at 12.)

         Humphreys testified in his own defense. He asserted that on November 20, 2016, he pulled out from an overlook where he had been parked on Skyline Drive and drove “around a sharp turn.” (Id. at 14.) According to Humphreys, “As I was going straight, I passed [Yount] headed in the opposite direction . . . .” (Id.) He maintained that both he and the driver of a car in front of him were going the speed limit, but Yount “must have gone down and done a U-turn” and then pulled Humphreys over. (Id. at 15.) As a whole, Humphreys posited that “[t]he car that [Yount] witnessed going in one direction was a different car, something, ” and that “for whatever reason, [Yount's] attention may have been distracted, as shown by errors in the charging document.” (Id.)

         After hearing argument from both parties as to whether the evidence proved the charge, the magistrate judge found Humphreys guilty of speeding by driving 61 miles per hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone. (Id. at 21.) The magistrate judge concluded that the evidence was sufficient to prove that Humphreys was speeding. He reached this conclusion because “[t]here was no evidence that . . . there was another car of a similar make and model that [was] somehow in between your car and the ranger after he turned around.” (Id. at 20.) The magistrate judge emphasized that “I don't have any-any evidence that shows that the ranger made a mistake in pulling over your car as the one that he identified as going 61 miles an hour.” (Id.) Last, he distinguished Yount's “clerical error” of mixing up Humphreys' name from the issue of “being able to identify . . . the speed that a car was” driving. (Id.)

         The magistrate judge concluded that the standard forfeiture amount was appropriate in the case. Thus, he imposed a $170 fine, a $30 processing fee, and a $10 special assessment, for a total of $210. (Id. at 21-22.) The magistrate judge then notified Humphreys of his right to appeal the finding. Humphreys ...


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