Written by Anthony Iori, Riddell Law Associate
The Ohio Court of Appeals upheld a motion to suppress evidence when it found officers improperly applied Ohio’s turn signal law (ORC 4511.39) to stop a driver and arrest him for operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol (OVI).
The Court said an officer cannot conduct a traffic stop on a driver where the driver did not commit a traffic violation. State v. Raubenolt, 2019-Ohio-3112.
In Raubenolt, Defendant and the arresting officer were driving side by side when Defendant activated his turn signal and began to move into the same lane as the officer’s vehicle. The officer honked his horn and Defendant moved back in his lane, avoiding an accident. The officer then drove behind Defendant’s car and pulled him over for an improper lane change, a violation of ORC 4511.39. After doing field sobriety tests, Defendant was arrested for OVI.
Defendant challenged the state’s case by saying the officer lacked a reasonable suspicion that he committed a traffic violation by failing to properly use his turn signal. In State v. Logan, 2008-Ohio-2969 the court held a traffic stop is valid only if the officer has reasonable and articulable suspicion that a driver has committed a traffic violation. Reasonable suspicion exists when an officer determines based on all the facts of the situation, that a traffic offense has occurred.
OHIO REVISED CODE SECTION 4511.39 (TURN SIGNALS)
Section 4511.39 states that when a driver intends to change lanes, he or she must activate their signal 100 feet before changing lanes. The officer testified at a hearing that he noticed Defendant activate his turn signal and begin the process of changing lanes but alerted Defendant with his horn to avoid an accident between the two cars. The officer stated that Defendant never left his lane and corrected himself once the officer alerted him.
The trial court in Raubenolt found that Defendant did not commit a turn signal violation under section 4511.39 because, “The defendant turned on his turn signal, the trooper honked, and the defendant went back to his own lane. He never left his lane. He didn’t even really move very far to the right in his lane.”
COURT OF APPEALS UPHOLDS LACK OF REASONABLE SUSPICION
The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision that there was no reasonable suspicion Defendant committed a marked lanes offense and held there was, “no reasonable suspicion, nor a violation, to stop the car. [Defendant] signaled to move over as required by R.C. 4511.39, started to move to the right, and then moved back to the center of his lane of travel. It was acknowledged by the officer, Defendant never left his lane of travel.”
The State argued that even if Defendant did not commit a turn signal violation under section 4511.39, he committed a marked lanes violation under section 4511.33 because of a “near collision” between the two cars. The Court of Appeals quickly dismissed this argument because by the officer’s own admission, Defendant never left his lane of travel while driving.