Tire must cross line for marked lanes violation

At the hearing, Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper J.D. Thaxton testified that on September 9, 2012, he was in uniform in a marked cruiser. The Trooper testified that he was traveling northbound on Taylor Road in the City of Pataskala at approximately 1:01 a.m. when he saw appellee’s vehicle go over the solid white fog line on the right and then over the double yellow pavement line on the left. Trooper Thaxton further testified that the video recording device on his cruiser did not capture the vehicle driving over the white fog line because of a small grade in the roadway. However, he testified that he was able to see the vehicle’s tires on the right hand side completely cross over the white line. The Trooper testified that the cruiser’s video did capture appellee’s action in crossing over the solid yellow line to the left into an area containing cross-hatched markings. The video was admitted as an exhibit at the hearing.

On cross-examination, Trooper Thaxton testified that, with respect to the alleged white line violation, the entire tire width was over the white line. He agreed with defense counsel that, in the area where the suspect went over the white line, there was grass right next to the white line rather than a flat berm. On redirect, he testified that there was no doubt in his mind that some portion of the suspect’s right tire went over the right line and that there was no doubt in his mind that the suspect’s tire went completely over the yellow lane line.

Trooper Thaxton initiated a traffic stop of the suspect’s vehicle and she was subsequently arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

The trial court, in its Judgment Entry, stated that after viewing the video, it was not convinced that the suspect drove completely over the white line and that while the suspect did drive on the white line, driving on the white line was not a violation of R.C. 4511.33. The trial court further found that the suspect did not completely cross over the double yellow lines and that, therefore, there was no violation of R.C. 4511.33. The trial court concluded that there was no violation of R.C. 4511.33 and, therefore, no basis to stop the suspect.

The State of Ohio appealed the case to the Fifth District Court of Appeals. That Court first pointed out that the trial court found that Trooper Thaxton did not have reasonable, articuable suspicion that appellee had violated R.C. 4511.33 by driving on the white line or by driving over the double yellow line. The Court noted that R.C. 4511.33 states, in relevant part, as follows: “(A) Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic, or wherever within municipal corporations traffic is lawfully moving in two or more substantially continuous lines in the same direction, the following rules apply: (1) A vehicle or trackless trolley shall be driven, as nearly as is practicable, entirely within a single lane or line of traffic and shall not be moved from such lane or line until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”

The Court noted that while Trooper Thaxton testified that he saw the suspect completely travel a tire width over the right hand solid white fog line, he admitted that the same was not captured by the video camera because appellee was cresting a small rise in the road when she crossed over the fog line.

Pretty convenient.

The Court of Appeals pointed out that the trial court, in its entry, stated that after viewing the video recording, it was not convinced that appellee went completely over the white line. The trial court found that appellee drove on the white line. Having viewed the video recording, this Court cannot say that the trial court’s finding is against the manifest weight of the evidence.

The Fifth District Court of Appeals cited to its previous decision in the case of State v. Richardson, 5th Dist. No. 00-CA-A-01-003, 2000 Ohio App. LEXIS 3419, 2000 WL 1055917 (July 14, 2000). In that case, the appellee was pulled over after an officer observed his vehicle drive on top of the center line a total of four times. After the appellee was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, driving under suspension and a marked lanes violation, he filed a Motion to Suppress. In his motion, the appellee argued that the officer did not have a reasonable and articuable suspicion that the appellee had violated traffic laws. After the trial court granted such motion, the State appealed.

In affirming the decision of the trial court, the Fifth District Court, in Richardson, stated, in relevant part, as follows: “Appellee in the case sub judice was cited for violating R.C. 4511.33. It is appellee’s alleged violation of such section that was Officer Whitlatch’s justification for stopping appellee’s vehicle. R.C. 4511.33 requires a motor vehicle to be driven within a single lane. At the January 3, 2000, suppression hearing, Officer Whitlatch testified that appellee’s vehicle ‘traveled over top of the center line [sic] about a tire width four different times’ and that, each time, appellee steered his vehicle back into the northbound lane. Transcript of Proceedings at 15. Officer Whitlatch further testified that appellee’s vehicle never crossed over the centerline of the highway and that appellee never actually went left of center. Based on the foregoing, we agree with the trial court that Officer Whitlatch never observed any violation of R.C. 4511.33 since ‘R.C. 4511.33, the marked-lanes statute, requires a vehicle to be driven within a single lane. This vehicle was operated within a single lane and further did not go left of the centerline. The defendant ‘exactly drove on top of the center line [sic].’ See trial court’s January 5, 2000 Judgment Entry at 5. Accordingly, since appellee did not violate R.C. 4511.33, which Officer Whitlatch cited as the justification for his stop of appellee’s vehicle, Officer Whitlatch lacked an articuable and reasonable suspicion that appellee was operating his motor vehicle in violation of the law. The trial court, therefore, did not err in granting appellee’s Motion to Suppress.” Id. at 2.

Thus because the trial court found that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the suspect drove entirely over the line, there was no reasonable suspicion to pull the suspect over in the first place and all evidence flowing from the stop had to be suppressed.