Monday, July 5, 2010

Rules of the Road: CCA Opines on the Turn Signal Requirement

A recent Texas Court of Criminal Appeals opinion assures us that the CCA considers no issue too-small in the Texas criminal law landscape.  I did somewhat of a double-take when I read the issue presented in Mahaffey v. State:  
Is merging without using a signal a traffic violation under the Texas Transportation Code?
Why does that matter, you ask?  Because Appellant was arrested for DWI after an officer pulled him over for failing to signal when he merged into the left lane as his traffic lane was ending.  If a "merge" does not, in fact, require a signal, then there was no legal basis for the stop and the evidence of DWI should have been suppressed at the trial court.

The lower court (12th Court - Tyler) held that a "merge" is a "turn" and as such, requires a signal under the Texas Transportation Code section 545.103.  The CCA disagreed, stating:
the Tyler court’s holding in this case leads to an absurd result: a requirement that a driver must signal any movement that is not a perfectly straight trajectory. 
Nowhere does the [Texas Driver's Handbook] say that a driver must signal when a lane merges into another lane.
Accordingly, the CCA remanded the case back to the 12th Court to determing whether a "merge" (not a turn) requires a signal.