11/3/2017Texas: Federal Court Upholds Rights Of Left-Lane Bandits
Federal judge says Texas drivers hogging the left lane can only be stopped if a specific sign is posted.
Dawdling in the fast lane on a freeway is a protected right in Texas according to one federal magistrate. US District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo last week gave a free pass to Arturo Buruato, a man pulled over for hogging the left lane of state Highway 83 in his white 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe on July 5, 2017.
That stretch of road near the Mexican border in Webb County has a 75 MPH speed limit, and signs are posted advising "Slower traffic keep right." Sheriff's deputy Ismael Garcia followed Buruato for thirty seconds before deciding to pull him over. The man had no license or other identification, and, after looking into the vehicle, he saw someone hiding in between the back seats. Buruato had just been caught smuggling six illegal aliens into the country, but the only question before the federal court was whether the initial traffic stop for being a left lane bandit was justified.
The prosecution pointed to Texas Code Section 545.051, which states that drivers should stay on the right side of the road unless passing, or if there is an obstruction. The law does not apply to "a roadway restricted to one-way traffic." Judge Marmolejo concluded that this exclusion applied to Highway 83.
"In this case, defendant was on a divided highway," the judge ruled. "A large median separated the northbound and southbound lanes. Thus, the side of the roadway that defendant was on was restricted to one-way traffic."
The prosecution insisted that the exception was meant to apply only to downtown urban roads that are completely one-way, not roads with a median. The judge pointed to a Texas appellate court ruling that the law can only be enfoced if a "left lane for passing only" sign is posted. Even the recent US Supreme Court precedent allowing police officers to stop people based on misunderstandings of the law could not save this traffic stop.
"Normally, mistakes of fact that justify a traffic stop are based on errors in an officer's perception of a physical fact he observed," Judge Marmolejo ruled. "This case is different. Deputy Garcia did not make a minor error of physical perception. Instead, for reasons unknown, he held a mistaken belief -- independent of anything he had observed -- that a sign prohibiting driving in the left lane was nearby."
Since there was no such sign, the evidence that followed from the traffic stop was suppressed.
"Were it otherwise, officers -- knowing that they would have the newly minted mistaken-belief card in their pocket -- would be encouraged to perform illegal traffic stops anytime someone is traveling in the left lane," Judge Marmolejo concluded.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 1.2mb PDF file at the source link below.