The Fifth District Court of Appeals recently overturned the conviction of a man for DUI / OVI because the officer incorrectly used Ohio’s turn signal law as a justification to stop the driver. See State v. Trout.
In Trout, Defendant approached an intersection in his vehicle and the road curved slightly. Defendant was not required to turn onto another street in order to continue on the curved road. However, an officer who observed Defendant believed that he was required to use his turn signal to proceed through the curved portion of the road.
Once Defendant traveled through the intersection without using his turn signal, the officer pulled him over for failing to use his turn signal. During the traffic stop, the officer believed Defendant was impaired and arrested Defendant for DUI / OVI.
During a subsequent hearing, the officer testified that he pulled Defendant over because he honestly believed that Defendant committed a traffic violation. However, when the law is clear, the police cannot pull a driver over if a traffic violation was not committed.
Reasonable Suspicion to Pull Driver Over in Ohio
Before a law enforcement officer may stop a vehicle, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion, based upon specific and articulable facts, that an occupant is or has been engaged in criminal activity. State v. Logan.
The trial court in Trout found that Defendant did not need to use his turn signal because the slight curve of the road did not require the use of a turn signal based on the language of R.C. 4511.39. However, the trial court still held that the stop of Defendant’s vehicle was valid because the officer had a good faith belief that Defendant had committed a traffic violation by failing to use a turn signal. Thus, the officer satisfied the requirement of reasonable suspicion.
Specifically, the trial court determined that a reasonable person might question whether a turn signal was required in that situation and felt that the mistaken interpretation of the statute by the officer was reasonable. This reasoning was based on the court’s interpretation of Heien v. North Carolina.
Reversed on Appeal
The Fifth District Court of Appeals disagreed. In Heien, there was uncertainty as to whether the driver had actually committed a traffic violation. In Trout, there was no uncertainty. Defendant’s driving was not a violation of R.C. 4511.39 as that law is clear on what is required of drivers regarding use of a turn signal. Since the law is not ambiguous, the officer was unreasonable when he stopped Defendant’s vehicle for a turn signal violation.
Due to the error of the trial court, Defendant’s conviction was vacated. However, this presents a clear example of where many trial courts in Ohio provide too much deference to law enforcement. Many courts simply take an officer’s word without actually inquiring into the actually facts to the detriment of many. This is where having a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is crucial.
Columbus and Delaware, Ohio DUI / OVI Attorney
If you have been charged with DUI / OVI in Columbus or Delaware, Ohio, contact Johnson Legal, LLC and speak with an experienced Columbus and Delaware, Ohio DUI / OVI attorney. Attorney David Johnson of Johnson Legal, LLC will discuss your case and assist you in fighting the charges. Call (614) 987-0192 or send an email to schedule a consultation regarding your DUI / OVI case.
Johnson Legal, LLC serves the following cities in the central Ohio area for DUI / OVI Defense:
Westerville, Worthington, Columbus, Polaris, Reynoldsburg, Grandview Heights, Shawnee Hills, Bexley, Pickerington, Gahanna, Sunbury, Powell, Upper Arlington, New Albany, Dublin, Hilliard, Lewis Center, Galena, Clintonville, Huber Ridge, Blacklick, Grove City, Delaware, Marysville, Groveport, Newark, Canal Winchester, Obetz, Marion, Mt. Gilead, Pataskala, Granville, Whitehall, Franklin County, Morrow County, Licking County, Union County and Delaware County