SailorsAllen Law

Two Week Blogiatus

This blog is back after two weeks off, a blogiatus, if you will.   Somehow the sun continued to rise and humanity continued to press on.    The reason for the break was the holidays and the worst vacation ever.    A vacation that I had to flu, broke my foot and it was so cold in Florida that Iguanas were falling from the trees.   I feel like Lloyd Chrismas saying “our pets heads are falling off!” with the Iguana thing.     Now, I may have broken my foot prior to leaving the State, but the TSA didn’t catch the broken foot (which would have been cheaper than an MRI) and Iguanas are sort of stupid, but those things happened.  And now we have to blog.   Blogging is chicken noodle soup for the fingers.   That sounds weird.

The case this week is about lanes.  “Stay in your own lane.”  Literally. Here is what happened:

On September 22, 2016, at approximately 11:50 p.m., Officer Jacques was on routine patrol traveling north on County Road 24 when he observed a vehicle approximately one mile in front of him traveling in the same direction. Officer Jacques was patrolling that location because there had been parties there in the past.  When they say parties, not like the Whigs, but parties involving underage drinking.  The worst kind.  Officer Jacques caught up to the vehicle, and when he was approximately three car lengths behind the vehicle, he observed it move right and on to the fog line, but not over the fog line. Officer Jacques then observed the vehicle move left and onto the center line, but not over the center line. Officer Jacques initiated a traffic stop and identified Kruse as the driver of the vehicle. Kruse performed poorly on field sobriety tests, and Officer Jacques arrested him for DWI.

Kruse moved to suppress the evidence supporting the charges, arguing that he was unlawfully seized without reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Kruse also petitioned for rescission of the license revocation on the same ground.  Kruse lost at the district level and appealed.   How much lane touchin’ became the question?

Here is the law:

A traffic stop “‘must be justified by some objective manifestation that the person stopped is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal activity.’” State v. George , 557 N.W.2d 575, 578 (Minn. 1997) (quoting United States v. Cortez , 449 U.S. 411, 417, 101 S. Ct. 690, 695 (1981)). It cannot be based on a “hunch” or be “the product of mere whim, caprice or idle curiosity.” Id. ; State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 921 – 22 (Minn. 1996) (citing Terry, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S. Ct. at 1880). However, “ if an officer observes a violation of a traffic law, no matter how insignificant the traffic law, that observation forms the requisite particularized and objective basis for conducting a traffic stop.” State v. Anderson, 683 N.W.2d 818, 823 (Minn. 2004). “[T]he factual basis required to support a stop for a ‘routine traffic check’ is minimal. ” State v. Engholm, 290 N.W.2d 780, 783 (Minn. 1980) (quotation omitted).  So they don’t need much.   The classic stop is when the officer pulls someone over because their license plate light is not inoperable.

Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7. That statute provides,

When any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic…

(a) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.

 Kruse argued:

That a “momentary touch of the fog line of a highway, [without] crossing it, does not constitute a violation of [Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a)],” which, again, provides that “ [a] vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and should not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”

So the court determined it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.   No, they defined “lane:”

The American Heritage College Dictionary defines “lane” as “[a] narrow way or passage between walls, hedges, or fences ” and as “[a] strip delineated on a street or highway for a single line of vehicles.” The American Heritage College Dictionary 779 (4th ed. 2007).  The same dictionary defines “delineate” as “[t]o draw or trace the outline of; sketch out, ” and it defines “between” as “[i]n or through the position or interval separating.” Id. at 136, 375. Combined, these definitions indicate that the markings referred to in Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 7(a), delineate lanes for traffic and that the areas between the markings, but not the markings themselves, constitute the lanes.

Thus driving on markings constitutes movement from a lane and a potential violation of the statute.    So there you go.  Don’t drive on markings.  Don’t drive on paint.  Stay in your own lane.  Don’t break your foot or attempt to drive with an air boot on.  You will drive on paint.  You will get pulled over.  You will get pulled out of the car because your flu symptoms will be mistaken for intoxication.   You will be tested for field sobriety.  Which you will fail because you can’t walk a straight line because of the aforementioned boot and because you will be distracted by iguanas falling out of a tree. All of these things could happen if you are drive on paint.