Under the 6th Amendment to the Constitution, you have the right to face your accuser. But what if your accuser is your own car?
The Minnesota Court of Appeals today ruled that you don’t have the right to face your own car.
It was data from Brittny Nicole Ziegler’s car that did her in when she was convicted by a jury of criminal vehicular operation and reckless driving, stemming from a road rage incident on Highway 14 in Olmsted County.
Another driver passed her and, according to court documents, she wanted to teach the driver a lesson. So she sped up, gave the driver the finger, and collided with the car when the other driver sped up to prevent her from passing.
The State Patrol pulled the data from the car’s computer and a State Patrol reconstruction expert testified on what it revealed.
Based on the data that he received from the SDM, Sergeant Inglett testified that Ziegler’s car was traveling at 71 miles per hour five seconds before the crash. Sergeant Inglett further testified that Ziegler’s car was traveling at 47 miles per hour four seconds before the crash, six miles per hour three seconds before the crash, three miles per hour two seconds before the crash, and nine miles per hour one second before the crash.
Sergeant Inglett also testified that Ziegler’s brake switch was activated eight seconds before the crash, seven seconds before the crash, six seconds before the crash, four seconds before the crash, three seconds before the crash, and two seconds before the crash. But the brake switch was deactivated five seconds before the crash and one second before the crash.
Sergeant Inglett concluded that “when [Ziegler] completed her pass [of the Ford], she also applied the brakes and then that reduced speed,” leaving the driver of the Ford “no choice but to go out onto the shoulder or rear-end [Ziegler’s] vehicle.” Sergeant Inglett testified that the driver of the Ford drove onto the shoulder and then overcorrected, which led to the collision.
A jury convicted her but she appealed on Sixth Amendment issues, claiming the evidence was “hearsay”.
In its decision today (pdf), the Court of Appeals said machine data that doesn’t include human statements isn’t an accuser.
“No human intervened during the collection and recording of the SDM data. And, although a person used software and a device to extract and print the data from the SDM, that person did not and could not alter or manipulate the data,” Judge Michelle Larkin wrote in today’s decision.
Nonetheless, Ziegler attempts to portray the SDM data as the statements of human witnesses. Specifically, she asserts that the SDM data are testimonial statements of the people who wrote the computer program that operates the SDM. We disagree. On this point, the reasoning of the Eleventh Circuit is persuasive: “To be sure, there can be no statements which are wholly machine-generated in the strictest sense; all machines were designed and built by humans. But certain statements involve so little intervention by humans in their generation as to leave no doubt that they are wholly machine-generated for all practical purposes.”