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People v James

People v James

Court Discusses Whether People v Rice Interpretation of Section 1163 (a) of the VTL was Correct

The defendant was arrested on suspicion of driving while after he was pulled over. The criminal defendant was pulled over after he changed lanes without signalling, the officer observed that the defendant had bloodshot eyes and his breath smelled of alcohol. The defendant was arrested and taken to the station house where a breathalyzer test was done and his blood alcohol level exceeded the legal limit. The defendant was charged with two counts of driving while intoxicated in violation and one count of failure to signal a turn. The defendant requested to suppress all the evidence that flowed from the initial stop which included the the Intoxicated Driver Testing Unit videotape and breathalyzer test as there was no probable cause. The defendant relied on People v Rice 11 Misc 3d 539 as the initial stop of changing lanes without signalling by itself was not an infraction under the Vehicle and Traffic Law.

The case of Rice stated the VTL does not require signalling for every lane change. Therefore, based on Rice the defendant argued that there was no infraction when he moved from one lane to another without signalling where it was made with reasonable safety. However, the court declined to follow the principles laid down in Rice based on the legislative history and the plain language of the section 1163 of the VTL which mandated signalling prior to all lane change. At the trial the People relied on the testimony of the arresting officer who testified that he saw the defendant pulled over into the parking lane without signalling. He stated at as a result of the traffic infraction he pulled of the defendant and realized that he showed visible signs of intoxication. The defendant was as a consequence placed under arrest and charged with DWI driving while intoxicated.

The court declined to follow the decision of Rice which was identical to the defendant’s case and supported the defendant’s arguments. In Rice, the officer stopped the defendant after he failed to signal before he changed lanes. There was no testimony as to whether it was safe to change the lanes. Section 1163 (a) of the VTL states that vehicle must not move left or right until the movement can be made with reasonable safety and a person shall turn their vehicle without giving the appropriate signal. In Rice the court stated that there was a distinction between move and turn. A turn was defined as a movement from a direct course to the right’ or left. A turn can also include a U-turn or entry from a public roadway to a private road or driveway. It further stated that an appropriate signal was only required when the car was about to make a turn and a change of lanes was not a turn but a move from left to right. The court in the instant matter concluded that failing to signal was by itself a traffic infraction under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1163 (a), regardless of whether the lane change could be made with reasonable safety. The signalling requirement and the reasonable safety requirement applied to both actual turns and other vehicular movements such as lane changing. Under the statute, drivers wishing to turn or change lanes must not only signal their movement at all times, but must also refrain from making their turn or lane change unless and until they can make their movement with reasonable safety.

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