FAILURE TO USE TURN SIGNAL IN PRIVATE PARKING LOTS
This case – State v. Dowty, 2016-Ohio-4719 – involved a driver who was parked in a Walgreens parking lot. She drove from her parking spot to the exit and didn’t turn on her signal while the car was moving.
She turned it on briefly when she was stopped just before turning. An officer pulled her over and cited her for failure to signal for 100 feet before turning. Upon stopping the car, the driver admitted to having drugs in the car.
On appeal, an Ohio Court of Appeals found that the officer was wrong. The 100 foot turn signal law doesn’t apply in a private parking lot. So no traffic violation occurred and the officer thus had no constitutional reason for pulling her over.
As a result, all evidence of drugs, admissions made by the driver and all other evidence discovered after he pulled her over were thrown out.
Driver Fails To Use Turn Signal 100 Feet Ahead of Private Parking Lot Exit
A police officer was on patrol in a marked cruiser in an area where the officer had in the past observed drug transactions. The officer observed the Defendant’s vehicle parked in a Walgreens private parking lot.
The driver started driving toward the parking lot exit, then stopped near the sidewalk. The driver did not turn on his turn signal initially. She turned on his left turn signal, then switched to the right turn signal, all while still stopped. Then the driver turned right onto the road.
The officer made a traffic stop and cited the Defendant for failing to properly signal. After stopping the vehicle, the officer discovered that the driver did not have a license and the Defendant admitted that she had drugs and paraphernalia in her possession.
Failure to Use Turn Signal – O.R.C. 4511.39
The local failure to signal statute charged in this case was identical to O.R.C. 4511.39.
The failure to signal law says:
(A) No person shall turn a vehicle or trackless trolley or move right or left upon a highway unless and until such person has exercised due care to ascertain that the movement can be made with reasonable safety nor without giving an appropriate signal in the manner hereinafter provided. And;
(B) When required, a signal of intention to turn or move right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle or trackless trolley before turning * * *
Here, the driver did turn on her signal at the exit of the lot before turning, and there was no safety concern. Therefore, the driver complied with the requirements of R.C. 4511.39(A).
The court next decided whether the officer could reasonably conclude that the driver could be cited for violating R.C. 4511.39(B) requiring the turn signal be on for at least the 100 feet before making a turn.
Here, the parking spot to the exit was only 30 feet. So – technically – she didn’t turn on his signal 100 feet ahead of the turn. But, doing so would have been impossible.
Officer’s Interpretation of Turn Signal Was Wrong; All Evidence Thrown Out
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently that a police officer can pull someone over if the officer has an “objectively reasonable belief” that a traffic violation has occurred — even if he is ultimately wrong on the law. We discussed that case — Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S.Ct. 530, 190 L.E.2d 475 (2014) — here.
The test here is this: Could an “objectively reasonable officer” have concluded that the turn signal law requires a driver to turn on his signal 100 feet ahead when driving in a private parking lot? State v. Dowty, 2016-Ohio-4719
The court said no. It was not reasonable for the officer to think apply the 100 foot rule within a private private parking lot. And here, ultimately, the driver did turn on his signal before she turned on to the road.
So, the court said, the officer was wrong when he thought the driver had violated the turn signal law. The Court concluded that the Defendant’s motion to suppress was properly granted and the stop should have been thrown out as unconstitutional.
Written by Anthony M. Iori, Associate Attorney at Riddell Law LLC.