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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > April 2014 > Traffic Stops (Turn Signal Violations): State of Ohio v. Smith

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Traffic Stops (Turn Signal Violations): State of Ohio v. Smith

Question: Do you have reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop if a driver fails to continuously signal 100 feet before a turn and claims he was unable to follow the law?
Quick Answer: Yes. Your observation that the driver violated the rule is enough. Any excuse the motorist has is something that can be considered a defense in court, but does not negate the fact the law was broken.

State of Ohio v. Smith, Tenth Appellate District, Franklin County, Feb. 27, 2014
Facts: Gino Smith had parked his car behind another vehicle, 20 to 30 feet from an intersection with a stop sign. After returning from a store, he got in his car, pulled out of his spot, and veered around the car in front of him. At the stop sign, he turned on his signal. At the same time Smith stopped, police were on the opposite side of the intersection and noted the turn signal was not on continuously for 100 feet prior to the turn. The officer initiated a traffic stop and found drugs. Smith argued there was no reasonable suspicious to pull him over. He claimed he did not violate the traffic ordinance because he was parked less than 100 feet from the intersection and therefore, could not have activated his signal 100 feet before turning.

Importance: A traffic stop is valid if an officer has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a motorist has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. Under these circumstances, the court determined the officer had reasonable articulable suspicion because he witnessed Smith activate his signal at the stop sign, a clear violation of the law. The officer knew no other information at the time and did not need to know any other information. The stop was reasonable, and any evidence found during the stop was valid.
Keep in Mind: Smith argued that he could not have followed the law because of where he had parked. Under the law, this may be considered a defense, but to you it is probably an excuse. Although you have the discretion to write a ticket, you do not need to consider every excuse for why someone could not comply with a law. Let the court handle the defenses.
More on Traffic Stops
You still need to signal. You arrive at a residence on a drug trafficking complaint to find a vehicle with out-of-state license plates pulling up to the house. The driver failed to signal when he pulled along the curb. You approach the vehicle to request ID, run the suspects, and then watch as they move suspiciously inside the vehicle. Believing they may be associated with the drug house and based on their suspicious movements, you order the suspects out of the car. As one exits, a large bag of heroin falls on the ground. The suspects are arrested and argue the stop was invalid. Was the traffic stop valid? The court in Rastbichler said yes. The city ordinance imposed an absolute duty to signal, and failure to signal before pulling to the curb was a clear traffic violation. This violation provided a lawful basis to stop the vehicle. State of Ohio v. Rastbichler, Second Appellate District, Montgomery County, Feb. 21, 2014
This is taking too long. While on patrol, you watch a car with out-of-state plates make an abrupt lane change less than a car length in front of a semi-truck. You initiate a traffic stop and are handed a rental car agreement. The agreement, however, is out-of-date and does not contain the name of the driver. You suspect the car is stolen and call the rental car company. While waiting to speak to someone, you call in the K-9 unit. The dog alerts on the vehicle, and the car is searched. A bag of marijuana, scales, and prescription drugs are found in the trunk. The stop took 17 minutes. Was this stop unreasonably long? The court in Brazil said no. Brazil presented the officer with an expired rental agreement that did not list his name. Although he did have permission to use the vehicle, the officer had to confirm this with the rental car company. The company was not reached until after the K-9 search was completed. The stop was reasonable and did not last longer than necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. State of Ohio v. Brazil, Sixth Appellate District, Wood County, March 7, 2014
I am going to let you go with a warning. Oh wait, what’s that? You get a call from dispatch that a witness reported a car had run a red light, sped up and slowed down, swerved, and almost caused a crash. The witness identified the location and description of the car and added that the driver was either drunk or that something was wrong. You head to the area and find the vehicle pulling into a parking lot without signaling. You initiate a traffic stop and approach the vehicle. The driver smells of cigarettes and mint gum. He does not make eye contact with you. As you start to give the driver a warning, you notice a long paper bag in the back seat. You ask the driver about the bag, and he refuses to tell you what it is. You order him out of the car and smell a strong odor of alcohol as he walks by you. You then notice his eyes are bloodshot and glassy. Based on this, you administer a field sobriety test, which he fails, and you arrest him. On inventory of the car, you find an empty vodka bottle under the front seat. Did you have reasonable suspicion to perform the field sobriety test? The court in Muster said yes. Even though the officer had first decided to write a warning about the turn signal violation, the changing circumstances during the stop gave the officer reasonable suspicion to conduct the field sobriety test. The detention of a stopped driver may continue when additional facts generate reasonable suspicion of criminal activity beyond that which prompted the initial stop. State of Ohio v. Muster, Fifth Appellate District, Stark County, Feb. 24, 2014