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Word ‘upon’ leads COA to toss obstructed-windshield conviction

May 31, 2018

A man’s infraction conviction for violating a windshield-obstruction law was thrown out Thursday by the Indiana Court of Appeals, which held that the plain meaning of the statute meant he couldn’t be convicted despite trash, clothes, food and other items piled from the floor to the ceiling of his vehicle.

John W. Anthony represented himself at a Marion Superior bench trial, where he was convicted and fined for violating Indiana Code section 9-19-19-3, which prohibits driving “with a sign, poster, sunscreening material, or other nontransparent material upon the front windshield, side wings, or side or rear windows of the vehicle that obstructs the driver’s clear view of the highway or an intersecting highway.”

An Indianapolis police officer testified that he cited Anthony after looking around the car and being able to see only in the driver’s window. The officer said Anthony’s car “had plastic bags of trash, canned foods, clothes, piled from the bottom of [its] floor to the ceiling … on the dashboard and along the side windows and rear windows.”

But at trial, Anthony insisted he had not violated the statute, repeatedly answering the state’s attorney’s questions about his vehicle by saying on cross examination that he had placed nothing “on” the windshield, and therefore was not in violation of the statute.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed Thursday in John W. Anthony v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1712-CR-2859, with Judge Melissa May writing, “As the State did not present any evidence to prove Anthony violated that statute, we reverse.”

Nevertheless, the panel noted there is a law on the books against driving in the manner for which Anthony was cited — just not the one for which he was charged.

“Indiana Code section 9-21-8-43 provides: ‘A person may not drive a vehicle when [it] is loaded in a manner … so as to obstruct the view of the person who drives the vehicle to the front or sides of the vehicle,’” May wrote. “Because the legislature has already provided a means to punish citizens who drive vehicles loaded in a manner that obstructs the driver’s view, we need not interpret Indiana Code section 9-19-19-3 so broadly that ‘on’ means more than its plain and ordinary meaning.

“While there seems to be little doubt Anthony’s vehicle was full of items that obstructed his view, those items were not affixed to the windows or dependent on the windows for their support. Rather, the items in Anthony’s car were resting on the floors, the seats, and the dashboard,” May wrote.

“By all accounts, his operation of the vehicle raised safety concerns because his view was obstructed,” according to the panel. “However, Indiana Code section 9-19-19-3 does not prohibit an ‘obstructed view,’ generally. It prohibits placement of ‘material upon . . . windows . . . that obstructs the driver’s clear view.' ... The State did not present such evidence. Accordingly, we reverse.”

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