ILNews

Improperly fastened seatbelt can lead to stop

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Front-seat passengers in cars must have their seatbelts properly fastened when the car is in motion, meaning the lap belt must be fastened and the shoulder belt across his or her shoulder, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

The appellate court examined Indiana Code Section 9-19-10-2 to come to the conclusion that to avoid being stopped by a police officer for a seatbelt violation, a person must have both the lap and shoulder harnesses fastened and placed properly on the body.

In State of Indiana v. Shawn Massey, No. 49A02-0712-CR-1136, the state appealed the trial court's grant of Shawn Massey's motion to suppress evidence found during what she claimed was an invalid traffic stop.

The police saw Massey's passenger, a 12-year-old girl, did not have the shoulder part of her seatbelt across her body properly, so they stopped the car. The girl had on only the lap portion of the belt; she had the shoulder harness tucked underneath her armpit.

Massey was charged with Class D felony operating a motor vehicle while a habitual traffic offender because after stopping the car, the police discovered she was driving with a suspended license.

At issue is how to construe the "properly fastened" language in the seatbelt statute. The state argued the passenger didn't have her seatbelt properly fastened because she was only wearing the lap belt correctly.

Chief Judge John Baker, noting there isn't any Indiana precedent on the case, agreed with the state's argument that it would be illogical to construe the statute as permitting a motorist to wear a seatbelt improperly. The purpose of the statute is to promote highway safety and to protect citizens.

The evidence on the record led the police to conclude that the passenger wasn't wearing her seatbelt because they saw the seatbelt tucked behind her shoulder, which initiated the stop, he wrote.

Because Massey committed a Class D infraction by having a passenger under the age of 16 not properly fastened by a safety belt, the police had the authority to ask for Massey's driver's license, which led to the discovery she was driving while her driving privileges were suspended.
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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