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Driver Appeals Court’s Decision Accident Citation

In a recent court decision of the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal’s appellate panel, Town of Burrillville v. Robert Woods, C.A. No. T13-0018, the court considered a driver’s appeal of a trial court sustaining the charged violation of G.L. 1956 § 31-15-11, “Laned roadways.”  The driver appeared before the panel pro se, which means he represented himself.

Background of the Charge & the Trial Court’s Decision

On December 18, 2012, an Officer of the Burrillville Police Department charged the driver with the aforementioned violations of the motor vehicle code. The driver contested the charge, and the matter proceeded to trial on February 27, 2013.  At trial, the police officer stated that he was patrolling westbound on Pascoag Main Street, when he observed a vehicle located directly in front of him cross over the double yellow solid center line on the road.

The officer activated his emergency lights in order to stop the vehicle, and approached the vehicle. The driver then became irate and aggressive with the police officer.  When the driver appeared to be exiting his vehicle, the police officer called for backup.  At the conclusion of the stop, the police officer cited the driver for a road lane citation on the basis that the officer witnessed the driver cross over the double yellow center line.

After hearing the testimony presented, the trial judge sustained the violations (convicted the driver). Thereafter, the trial judge imposed sentence and the driver timely filed an appeal.

As you can see, the driver did not comport himself with respect; query whether if the driver had been polite he would have had the figurative “book thrown at him” by the police officer.  But give him credit; he did not sit on his rights once the judge backed up the police officer’s actions.

The Driver’s Appeal of the Trial Court’s Decision

On appeal, the driver contended that the trial judge’s decision to sustain the charged violation was not supported by the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record. Specifically, the driver argued that the trial judge did not take into account the argument presented at trial when making her ruling.

Here, the Officer testified that the driver’s vehicle crossed over the double line with over half of the vehicle over that line.”  However, the driver countered the police officer’s testimony by testifying that it was not unsafe to cross over the line and the driver had proceeded to cross over the line to avoid hitting potential pedestrians.  Subsection (a) of RIGL § 31-15-11 provides in relevant part:  “A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety.”

The appellate panel noted that the statute provides an exception to the general rule to allow motorists to cross over the double line, if it is safe to do so. According to the appellate panel, the record was devoid of any factual findings to show that it was unsafe here to cross over the double lines.  As an element of the violation was not proven at trial, the panel decided that the charged violation cannot be sustained.  Having reviewed the entire record before it, the members of the appellate panel were satisfied that the trial judge’s decision was in violation of statutory provisions and affected by error of law, with substantial rights of the driver prejudiced as a result.

Accordingly, the driver’s appeal was granted, and the charged violation was dismissed.  While this outcome is not common, frequently a motor vehicle accident victim will receive a citation from the investigating officer.  As always, your best bet is to consult with our office as soon as possible about your options and how a citation may affect your injury case. Call 1-800-LAW-1222 to set up a consultation today.

Whatever your decision, this case is a reminder that you should not sit on your rights, but instead you should seek justice as soon as possible.