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Improperly-Posted Traffic Signs May Mean No Traffic Ticket

Improperly-Posted Traffic Signs May Mean No Traffic Ticket
October 12, 2019 Shannon Dawes

A traffic stop and resulting citation for a traffic violation are never pleasant but rarely controversial. Although there are few (if any) defenses to traffic infractions like speeding or failing to use a turn signal, most individuals will choose to pay the fine or reach a plea agreement with the prosecutor rather than search for some way to avoid conviction and the resulting fine. That is, unless the traffic stop led to a more serious charge like driving under the influence or a drug possession charge, many drivers in Ohio do not consider fighting a simple traffic charge to be “worth it.”

A recent decision from Ohio’s appellate courts may change some of these apathetic feelings and encourage more Ohio drivers to challenge their traffic stops. The appellate court’s decision may not offer much of a defense to other, more serious charges that stem from a traffic stop.

Facts and Holding of Ohio v. Norman

In Norman, a trooper pulled the driver over after observing the motorist make a left-hand turn from the incorrect lane. A road sign was present at the site where the driver made the improper turn directing motorists to use the center lane to make left-hand turns; however, Norman claimed the sign was not posted at a height that he could see. The trooper’s investigation eventually led to Norman being charged with and convicted of driving under the influence and making an improper turn. Norman appealed, stating that the trooper’s stop and investigation were both invalid because the traffic sign he violated was not properly displayed.

Referencing Ohio’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which sets forth specifications describing how high traffic control signs must be displayed in Ohio, the appellate court agreed with Norman that his conviction for making an improper turn was invalid and should be overturned because the sign he was alleged to have violated was not displayed at the appropriate height (according to the Manual). Because the sign did not conform to the law in that it was being displayed at the incorrect height, a motorist like Norman could not be held responsible for violating the directions of such a sign because it is unclear he or others would have been able to see it.

However, the court continued by holding that the trooper still had “reasonable suspicion” to stop Norman because the trooper had a reasonable basis to believe Norman did commit a traffic violation. Thus, Norman’s conviction for driving under the influence was affirmed.

“Reasonable Suspicion” and Ohio Traffic Stops

A police officer or trooper does not have unassailable proof that a driver has committed a crime or infraction before stopping a motorist. In fact, seeing a motorist commit a traffic violation is always a legitimate reason for law enforcement to stop a vehicle, but so is believing that a motorist is committing a violation, too (so long as that belief is reasonable). That is why the Ohio appellate court ruled in the manner that it did: because the trooper believed that what Norman did was a traffic violation, and because that belief was reasonable, the stop itself was not illegal or improper even though the traffic violation could not be sustained.

Dawes Legal, LLC Helps Protect the Rights of Ohio Motorists 

In other situations, the results may be different. If the officer or trooper has reason to know that a traffic control sign is posted in a manner inconsistent with the Manual, or if the law enforcement officer believes certain activity is a crime when, in fact, the activity is clearly not (such as continuing through an intersection where the light changes from green to yellow), then both the traffic infraction you were stopped for as well as any subsequent crimes the trooper discovered may be suppressed. It can be difficult for individuals without a legal background to know when law enforcement stepped over the line, so speak with Dawes Legal, LLC by calling (614) 733-9999 and speaking with us about your traffic stop.