Writing on a “clean slate,” the Court of Appeals of Indiana has affirmed a finding that a man who had blue lights on the inside of his car committed an infraction.
The case involves Indiana Code § 36-8-12-11(a), which allows members of volunteer fire departments to have illuminated blue lights on their privately owned vehicles when they’re on their way to emergency scenes or to the fire station.
But people who are not part of a volunteer fire department cannot have illuminated blue lights on their car. Pursuant to I.C. 36-8-12-11(e), doing so is a Class C infraction.
Bryan Falletti was driving on U.S. 136 in Warren County when Indiana State Police Trooper Jonathan Fulfur saw blue lights coming from the vehicle. Fulfur stopped Falletti and issued him a citation for the lights.
A bench trial was held on Feb. 24, 2022, and Falletti acknowledged that he was not a volunteer firefighter. But he argued that the statute refers to blue lights on the outside of the vehicle, while his were on the inside.
The Warren Circuit Court issued a written order entering judgment and a fine against Falletti for a Class C infraction. The trial court’s judgment stated, “Here, the statute refers to a light ‘on’ the vehicle and does not limit it to being affixed on the interior or exterior.”
Falletti filed a motion to correct error, which was denied.
He then appealed, arguing the trial court erred in determining he violated the statute. He claimed the “on a vehicle” language is ambiguous, and the rule of lenity should apply in his favor.
Falletti also argued that subsection (c) only prohibits the general public from displaying blue lights of the type and in locations described in subsection (a).
The statute hasn’t been interpreted before, so the COA said it was writing on a clean slate.
“Applying the plain and ordinary meaning of the language in section 36-8-12-11 in a manner consistent with the policy and goals of the statute, volunteer firefighters may display blue lights in limited places on their vehicles visible to the public, but non-volunteer firefighters may not display blue lights visible to the public at all,” Judge Margret Robb wrote. “Although this conclusion is based on the plain and ordinary meaning of the statute, even if there were conflicting reasonable interpretations, applying the canons of statutory construction would lead us to the same outcome.”
Additionally, the COA ruled that the statute is not limited to lights affixed to the exterior of a vehicle.
“We also conclude the interpretations urged by Falletti would produce absurd results,” Robb added.
Lastly, looking at the lenity rule, the appellate court found the rule only applies when ambiguity remains after consulting traditional canons of statutory construction.
“Falletti does not claim to be a volunteer firefighter and he does not contest that the blue lights in question were clearly displayed,” Robb concluded. “He therefore committed a Class C infraction by displaying illuminated blue lights in his rear window.”
The case is Bryan C. Falletti v. State of Indiana, 22A-IF-1066.