Square peg, roundabout hole: COA affirms suppression motion in roundabout dispute

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Does a motorist violate current Indiana traffic law by not signaling a turn when exiting a roundabout? The answer is no, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday in affirming a suppression ruling.

In the case of State of Indiana v. Cliffton W. Davis,19A-CR-1650, Cliffton Davis was pulled over after a Warsaw police officer saw him fail to use a turn signal when exiting a roundabout. When the officer approached the car, he noticed Davis was acting nervous and tried to conceal something in the vehicle.

A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a digital scale with residue of methamphetamine, as well as other drug-related items.

Davis was charged with Level 6 felony possession of methamphetamine, Class C misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia and Class C misdemeanor operating while intoxicated. However, he filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the traffic stop and argued the stop was unlawful, to which the Kosciusko Circuit Court agreed.

Granting his motion, the trial court concluded the state failed to prove Davis violated the Indiana statute regarding turn signals, Indiana Code § 9-21-8-25, and therefore the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop of Davis’s vehicle.

An appellate panel affirmed that decision, finding Davis’ failure to signal out of the roundabout did not violate the statute at issue.

“Indeed, although Indiana Code Section 9-21-8-25 would presumably apply to all roadways, including roundabouts, as roundabouts are not specifically excluded from its ambit, we must recognize that this signaling provision was drafted well before roundabouts became widespread in our state. Moreover, any assumption that the signaling statute specifically applies to roundabouts fails to withstand scrutiny when the reality and logistics of roundabouts are considered,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the appellate panel.

“… (W)hen the act of exiting a roundabout, as involved here, is considered, application of our current signaling law becomes even more problematic,” Crone continued. “As noted by the State, exiting a roundabout requires the driver to deviate from the natural circular flow of the roundabout. The driver must make a choice between various points of exit, a choice to which other motorists should arguably be notified.

“But, based upon our current turn signal law, how and when would a motorist be required to signal his exit from a roundabout? This simple question only generates more questions which demonstrate that our current turn signal statute is completely unworkable in this context.”

Likening I.C. 9-21-8-25 to a “square peg that cannot fit into the roundabout hole,” the appellate court concluded that, as the law now stands, roundabouts are intersections to which the current turn signal statute simply cannot and does not apply.

“With the foregoing considerations in mind, we observe that it is for the Indiana General Assembly, and not this Court, to promulgate specific rules and regulations regarding the use of turn signals in roundabouts, and we encourage it to do so. Because Indiana Code Section 9-21-8-25 is inapplicable to roundabouts, we hold that Davis did not violate that statute when he did not signal a turn when exiting the roundabout in this case,” the court concluded.

Deferring to the trial court’s decision, the appellate panel rejected the state’s assertion that even assuming the officer was mistaken in his belief that Davis violated I.C. 9-21-8-25, his mistake of law was objectively reasonable.

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