NO REASONABLE SUSPICION FOR TRAFFIC STOP WHERE THERE WAS NO TURN SIGNAL VIOLATION
The Ohio Court of Appeals recently issued a decision that states an officer cannot conduct a traffic stop on a driver where the driver did not commit a traffic violation and it can be shown that no other officer would have pulled the driver over for the same reason. State v. Barnett, 2018-Ohio-2486.
In Barnett, the Defendant approached an intersection and his car was in the lane of travel that was designated as the “straight” travel lane–meaning that his lane of travel would proceed through the intersection without making a right or left turn.
When proceeding straight through the intersection, a driver would still need to make a slight right turn to continue through the intersection. The Defendant proceeded with his car through the intersection and made the slight right turn, but was immediately stopped by the arresting officer for failing to use his turn signal when making the slight right turn.
During the traffic stop, the arresting officer discovered drugs in the vehicle and the Defendant was arrested. The Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence of the traffic stop.
REASONABLE SUSPICION REQUIRED FOR A TRAFFIC STOP
In State v. Mays, 2008-Ohio-4539, 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.
The State in Barnett argues that the officer had a reasonable suspicion that the Defendant committed a traffic violation because the laws for turn signals in Ohio (Ohio Revised Code 4511.39) states that a driver who is going to turn left or right must use their turn signal 100 feet before making the turn. The state then pointed to State v. Crisafi, 2001-Ohio-3254 which indicated that even slight turns, similar to the turn the Defendant made, must be preceded by the use of the turn signal.
The Court in Barnett disagreed with the state’s argument because although the Defendant did make a slight right as he traveled through the intersection, the Defendant was in a lane that was designated by a valid sign as a “straight” lane of travel. Since the Defendant was in a lane where he was not required to use a turn signal as it was a lane considered to go straight through the intersection, there was no reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop of the Defendant. The Court state there was “no suspicion that the Defendant committed, was committing, or was going to commit a traffic offense.”
GOOD FAITH EXCEPTION DOES NOT APPLY WHERE OFFICER DIDN’T ACT REASONABLY
The States final argument was that even if the Defendant did not commit a traffic offense under the letter of the law, the officers could still initiate a traffic stop if they believed in good faith a traffic offense had been committed. State v. McGee, 2013- Ohio-4165.
The Court in Barnett rejected this argument as well because in order for the good faith exception to apply, officers must be acting in an objectively reasonable manner. The Court concluded the Defendant was to signal only when required, and the fact that appellee was in a lane designated as “straight” showed an objectively reasonable officer would not have concluded that appellee’s lack of a turn signal was a violation of Ohio’s turn signal law.