Driving On Lane Line Does Not Justify Stop In Ohio DUI/OVI Cases

Marked-Lane-300x113“U Can’t Touch This” – That’s what the trooper believed when he stopped Ryan Turner for touching the ‘fog line’ on Old State Route 74. Based on that belief, the trooper stopped Turner and ultimately charged him with ‘DUI’ (called ‘OVI’ in Ohio). Turner challenged the trooper’s decision, and the case made its way to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Court concluded “you can touch this”, as long as you don’t go over it.

Marked Lanes Violations In Ohio OVI Cases
A Marked Lanes violation is one of the most common traffic offenses which lead to OVI arrests. In a typical scenario, and officer makes a stop for a Marked Lanes violation, observes the odor of alcohol and glassy/bloodshot eyes, and administers field sobriety tests. When the driver performs poorly on the field sobriety tests, the driver is arrested and charged with OVI, as well as the Marked Lanes violation. But what is a Marked Lanes violation?

Ohio Revised Code section 4511.33 states:

(A) Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic, or wherever within municipal corporations traffic is lawfully moving in two or more substantially continuous lines in the same direction, the following rules apply:
(1) A vehicle or trackless trolley shall be driven, as nearly as is practicable, entirely within a single lane or line of traffic and shall not be moved from such lane or line until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.

What Constitutes A Marked Lanes Violation?
There has been disagreement among Ohio courts regarding what constitutes a Marked Lanes violation. Some courts have concluded a violation occurs if a vehicle touches the marked lane, while other courts have held a violation occurs only if a vehicle crosses the lane line. As there were conflicting decisions among the Ohio appellate courts, the Ohio Supreme Court accepted the Turner case as a ‘certified conflict’.

The Ohio Supreme Court resolved the conflict in State v. Turner. The Court analyzed the Marked Lanes statute in the context of the “extensive statutory scheme regulating the operation of motor vehicles on Ohio roads”. Part of that scheme is the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices adopted by the Ohio Department of Transportation. The Manual is used to flesh-out the meanings of statutes involving traffic control devices, and a lane line is a traffic control device.

The Manual indicates, “A solid line discourages or prohibits crossing (depending on the specific application)”. The solid white line (the ‘fog line’) marks the right-hand edge of the roadway. That line discourages or prohibits crossing it. Therefore, touching it, or driving on it is not a violation of O.R.C. 4511.33, the Marked Lanes statute.

Was The Trooper’s Mistake Reasonable?
The Court concluded that, because Turner touched but did cross the lane line, he did not violate the Marked Lanes statute. We would expect the Court to then find the trooper did not have a justification to stop Turner, so all evidence obtained after the stop is excluded (thrown out). However, the prosecution had argued to the court of appeals that, even if there was no Marked Lanes violation, the trooper was justified in making a traffic stop because he made a reasonable mistake of law when he believed touching the line was a Marked Lanes violation. The Ohio Supreme Court remanded the case to the court of appeals to determine whether the trooper’s mistake of law validated the traffic stop.

In my opinion, the trooper’s mistake cannot validate the traffic stop. As the Court stated in the Turner case, “Ohioans are expected to know the meaning of roadway markings contained in the MUTCD because the enforcement of certain Ohio traffic laws is tied to the meanings of the markings contained therein.” If Ohio drivers are expected to know the meaning of roadway markings, troopers enforcing laws related to roadway markings should certainly be expected to know those meanings. Therefore, the trooper’s mistake was not a reasonable mistake of law.

OVI cases often start with an alleged Marked Lanes violation. For a person charged with Marked Lanes and OVI, it is beneficial to hire an OVI lawyer with a firm understanding of the laws relevant to OVI cases in Ohio.

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