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Right of Way Charge Dismissed for Failure to Prove All Elements Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

When a criminal or traffic case goes to trial, the prosecutor is required to prove ALL elements of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt.  That is a fairly high burden and often cannot be met.  

Here, for example, the defendant was charged with violating a right-of-way at intersections law.  But the officer charged him with the wrong section of the law – and the section cited on the ticket could not be proven.  By the time they realized it, it was too late to fix it.  Thus, the defendant was found not guilty of the right-of-way charge. 

Driver Allegedly Pulled Out in Front of Another Driver

In this case, the defendant was traveling southbound toward an intersection.  Once he reached the intersection, he stopped at the stop sign and then turned into the curb lane of the road. He then merged into the middle lane and was going about 20 m.p.h.   He then heard a vehicle behind him screech, saw it make a sharp turn to the right and then come to a stop by knocking over a fire hydrant.

Concerned for the safety of the other driver, he pulled into a nearby driveway, checked on the other driver and called the police.  The other driver said he was going about 35 mph when the defendant suddenly pulled out in front of him.  He swerved to avoid him and hit the hydrant.   At the scene, the defendant took full responsibility for causing the accident.  Thus, he was cited with violating the local municipality’s “right of way at intersections” law. 

Because the Wrong Ordinance Was Charged, the Court Had No Choice but to Overturn the Conviction

The municipality’s right of way at intersections law said:

“When two vehicles approach or enter an intersection from different streets  or highways at approximately the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right.”

At trial, the judge acknowledged that what happened in this case was not a right of way violation.  If anything, the court said, it should be another section of the right of way code (but that was not charged here).  The trial court nonetheless found him guilty because by entering traffic going 20 mph when other traffic was moving at 35 mph, he created a “hazardous situation.”

On appeal, however, the court agreed with the defendant, finding that the prosecutor did not prove each element of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt.  The trial testimony did not support that the defendant was “on the left” and was required to yield to a car “on the right.”  Thus, the conviction was overturned and the charge dismissed.  

If you have been cited with a traffic violation and would like advice on next steps, talk to one of our Columbus traffic attorneys at (614) 361-2804.