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Judges interpret left turn traffic statute

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Turning left from an intersection doesn’t mean you must drive into the lane closest to the center line, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The state’s intermediate appellate court interpreted Indiana Code 9-21-8-21 that was crafted two decades ago, finding that it isn’t specific about which lane right of the center line a person must turn into when turning left from an intersection.

That ruling came in Ken Gunn v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1102-CR-82.

An Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer observed Ken Gunn making a left turn in June 2010 onto a four-lane road with two lanes in each direction. In making that turn and entering the southbound lanes, Gunn didn’t turn into the lane closest to the center line but instead swung out into the other lane. Believing that turning left into a lane other than the one closest to the center line was a traffic infraction, the officer initiated a traffic stop.

The officer asked Gunn for his driver’s license and routinely asked if any guns were in the car, to which Gunn responded that he had one in a holster on his right hip and that he had a permit. The officer found the permit expired three weeks earlier and wasn’t renewed, and so he arrested the driver. The state charged Gunn with Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license. Gunn filed a motion to suppress the gun on grounds it was obtained as the result of an illegal traffic stop, but the Marion Superior Court denied that motion after a hearing.

On appeal, Gunn argued that any evidence obtained at the time should be suppressed because the traffic stop violated his Fourth Amendment and state constitutional rights. Specifically, Gunn contended the officer’s justification for the stop was invalid.

The appellate judges analyzed IC 9-21-8-21, which says a person making an intersection turn must “make the left turn so as to leave the intersection to the right of the center line of the roadway being entered.”

“The statute does not specify which lane the driver must enter if there is more than one lane for traffic in that direction,” Senior Judge Patrick Sullivan wrote. “Rather, the only requirement is that the driver must enter a lane to the right of the center line.”

Despite the state’s argument that the turn must be made into the lane closest to the center line, the appellate judges disagreed with that reading of the statute’s clear language. If the Legislature had intended that, they could have specified as they did in a subsection focusing on right-hand turns. Even if the state’s reading would be more conducive to traffic safety, the court found no reason to require that based on the law.

The appellate court declined an invitation to hold that this was a situation where an officer’s good faith belief, later to be found incorrect, may be objectively reasonable at the time of the assessment and sufficient to justify an investigatory stop.

As a result, the appellate panel reversed the judgment, finding the trial court erred in denying Gunn’s motion to suppress the evidence.
 

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  • Left Turn Laws
    My friend insists that in a situation where you come upon an intersection with a left turn only lane/arrow, when the left arrow and circular signal for straight through traffic are both green and the left turn traffic is turning onto a multi-lane roadway, it is lawful for the lane closest the left turn only lane to also make a left turn. I disagree with him in the fact that the left turn lane indicates that it is a left turn ONLY lane. This particular question applies to intersections where you may turn left after the green arrow is distinguished, but you still have a green circular light for through traffic, providing there is no oncoming traffic. Can you please verify this
  • Driving on a collission course.
    The officer was correct in his view that the driver of a passenger type vehicle(not a semi which needs more room in which to make a turn)should make his or her left turn into the closest possible lane to the center line as to avoid a possible conflict with other traffic and a question of who has more of a right of way when those other motorists that are making legal right hand turns from the opposite direction onto the same roadway collide with each other. Been to the mall lately? If driver's know exactly which lane they should be turning in and are then does'nt this increase better traffic flow? Oh but wait this leaves out those driver's who are still waiting to decide on a destination until they get there! We know that in todays environment of cell phones and driving and every other driving distraction you can think of this is a common occurance even without bad weather or reduced visibility. If the Indiana statute does not say this specifically enough for these judges then maybe it is time to re-write it. Too many driver's on the road these days drive like it is a competition or a free for all. Hence the spike in aggressive driving complaints, and new laws aimed to deal with aggressive and road rage type driving. Instead of passing new laws in an attempt to make the voters happy, how about assisting the police to enforce the ones we already have on the books? Or writing these laws in a way that anyone intelligent enough to have a driver's license could understand.

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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