7/26/2010Tennessee Court Rules Overturns Turn Signal Traffic Stop
Tennessee Appeals Court rules police must show failing to signal caused a hazard to initiate a traffic stop.
The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday ruled that a driver cannot be pulled over for failure to signal when that conduct did not affect any other driver. The decision came down in the case of Antoinette Feaster, 37, who was stopped and arrested on August 15, 2007 around 11am. Rutherford County Sheriff's Department Officer Travis Robinson had set up a speed trap on the median of Interstate 24 when he saw Feaster's Chevrolet Tahoe traveling about 8 MPH below the speed limit and making a lane change without signaling. Feaster's attorney quizzed Robinson on the stand at trial about his recollection of the incident.
ATTORNEY: Okay. And did you see any vehicle put on the brakes as a result of this lane change?The three-judge panel considered, based on these facts, whether the stop was justified.
ROBINSON: There were several vehicles around. I can't recall at this time.
ATTORNEY: Did you see any vehicle having to leave the road as a result of this lane change?
ROBINSON: I don't recall any vehicles leaving the road, no, sir.
"We conclude that this testimony is insufficient to support a violation of section 55-8-143(a)," Judge David H. Welles wrote for the court. "It does not establish that the defendant maneuvered her vehicle in 'close proximity' to other vehicles such that those vehicles may have been affected by her lane change."
Under Tennessee case law, the signal is required when "any other vehicle may be affected" by the lane change.
"We are mindful of the fact that section 55-8-143(a) does not require evidence that other vehicles actually were affected by a defendant's turn or lane change; our precedents have considered such evidence important only because the fact of an actual effect on another vehicle necessarily establishes the possibility of that effect... To be sure, we can easily imagine a scenario in which a vehicle, traveling in a medium amount of traffic with other vehicles around it, changes lanes in a way that may affect other vehicles. This case simply lacks specific evidence that such an event actually occurred. In order to establish a violation of section 55-8-143(a), the evidence must show that a vehicle turned or changed lanes without signaling and that this failure to signal at least threatened to create a hazard involving other vehicles."
With the traffic stop thrown out as invalid, the court suppressed the evidence obtained after a drug dog was brought in to search Feaster's Tahoe. The dog found two bags containing 135.4 grams of cocaine in the vehicle. Feaster had been sentenced to eight years in jail.
A copy of the decision is available in a 140k PDF file at the source link below.