The Ohio Court of Appeals recently overturned an OVI conviction because the officer incorrectly used Ohio’s turn signal law as a reason to stop a driver. State v. Trout, 2019-Ohio-124.

The officer testified that he believed he pulled the driver over because he honestly believed the driver committed a traffic violation. However, the law says an officer cannot pull someone over if the driver did not commit a traffic violation and the law on the traffic violation is clear.

In Trout, Defendant approached an intersection in his vehicle and the road curved slightly. Defendant did not need to turn onto another street to continue along the curved road. An officer patrolling near the intersection observed Defendant traveling in his vehicle and believed he needed to use his turn signal to proceed through the curved portion of the road.

When Defendant traveled through the intersection and made the slight curve without signaling, the arresting officer stopped Defendant for failing to use his turn signal when making the slight right turn. During the traffic stop, the arresting officer determined Defendant was impaired by alcohol and arrested him for OVI. The Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence of the traffic stop.

REASONABLE SUSPICION

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.

APPEALS COURT FINDS TURN SIGNAL LAW IS CLEAR: NO TURN SIGNAL REQUIRED ON A CURVED ROAD

The trial court in Trout found that Defendant did not need to use his turn signal for the type of road he was traveling on because the slight curve of the road does not require a driver to use his signal based on the language of Ohio Revised Code 4511.39. However, the trial court still determined the stop to be valid because the officer believed in good faith that he has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that Defendant committed a traffic violation for failing to signal. The trial court found that a reasonable person might question whether a turn signal was required in that situation and believed the mistaken interpretation of the statute was reasonable under the circumstances. The trial court based it decision on its interpretation of Heien v. North Carolina, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 530, 190 L.Ed.2d 475 (2014).

The Court of Appeals in Trout disagreed. In the Heien case, there was uncertainty as to whether the driver committed a traffic violation. In Trout, the Court of Appeals found that there was no gray area for the arresting officer to be uncertain as to whether the driver committed a traffic violation. The Court found that Defendant’s driving on the road was not a violation of Ohio Revised Code 4511.39, and that section is clear as to what is required of drivers when using a turn signal.

Since there was no violation of the traffic code, and the code is not ambiguous, the officer was unreasonable when he stopped Defendant for a turn signal violation.

It is important to contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about all possible defenses available to you including whether the officer actually incorrectly determined you committed a traffic violation. If you have questions about your Columbus criminal or OVI related charges, talk to our defense attorneys at 614-361-2804.

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