Where’s Your Sign? No Traffic Offense if Road Sign Not Visible

By April 19, 2013Drug Crimes

Criminal Defense Traffic SIgnIn Abney v. Statethe Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considered whether an officer had reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop when a vehicle was driving in the left lane of a road without passing.  There was a road sign that prohibited driving in the left lane without passing, but it was located over 20 miles away from where the Appellant was pulled over.

As tends to happen, the police officer found marijuana during the traffic stop. At trial, and on appeal, the Appellant claimed that he did not commit a traffic violation because the road sign was not anywhere near where the stop occurred.  The trial court and 5th Court of Appeals (Dallas) overruled this argument.  The CCA, on the other hand found it meritorious.

The Transportation Code certainly indicates that if there is a sign present that says the left lane is for passing only, then it is a traffic offense to travel in the left lane when not passing another vehicle. Section 544.004(a) states that an operator of a vehicle shall comply with an applicable official traffic control device such as a “left lane for passing only” sign. Without such a sign present within a reasonable distance of the traffic stop, there is no offense.

The CCA reversed the Court of Appeals and held that the officer lack reasonable suspicion to justify the traffic stop.  The evidence should have been suppressed at trial.