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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Turn-Signal Duties Clarified in DUI Case

(CN) - Throwing out a drunken-driving conviction, the Vermont Supreme Court found that the driver's turn-signal use for a slight right was beyond reproach.

Wayne Hutchins actually had used his signal while driving on Park Street in Brandon, Vt., one July evening in 2012.

Two officers pulled Hutchins over, however, because he used his signal after coming to the stop sign at the intersection, rather than 100 feet before, as the law requires.

Hutchins had made a slight turn through the intersection onto Smalley Road. A full right turn would have put him onto Country Club Road.

The officers had already checked the vehicle's records before making the stop, revealing that one of its registered owners had a suspended license.

Hutchins was charged with driving under the influence in connection to the stop.

Though he moved to suppress the evidence based on the supposed illegality of the stop, a judge in Rutland denied the motion.

Hutchins pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion.

The Vermont Supreme Court reversed on Feb. 6 and ordered the DUI charge dismissed.

A critical point for the court was that the "trajectories of Park Street and Smalley Road align such that from an aerial view, they appear to form a single curving road that is bisected by Country Club Road in the middle of that curve."

The only relevant issue, the court said, is whether Hutchins was turning his car, which would determine whether he was required to activate his turn signal.

"It would be absurd to require drivers to signal whenever the road they are traveling upon winds to the left or right, and the Legislature could not have intended that result," Justice Marilyn Skoglund wrote for the five-person court.

Hutchins' use of the turn signal, only to continue onto Smalley Road rather than Country Club Road also did not require police intervention, the court found.

"The act of signaling and then not turning, however, does not violate (the law) because the plain, unambiguous language of that provision makes turning an essential element of any violation," Skoglund wrote.

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