2/22/2018Georgia Court OKs Cutting Through Gas Station To Avoid Traffic Signals
Appellate court makes clear that cutting through parking lots to avoid traffic lights is legal in Georgia.
Motorists in Georgia are free to cut through a gas station to avoid being stuck at a long traffic light. The state Court of Appeals made the point clear last week as it overturned the conviction of Alfred G. Harris Jr, who was unlawfully pulled over by a Clayton County Police Department officer on January 23, 2017.
Harris pulled up to an intersection intending to turn right, but he was blocked by a car ahead of him. After waiting for several minutes for the light to change, he became fed up. He signaled properly, moved legally into the gas station parking lot next to him, and turned onto the adjacent road. A police officer saw this and decided to pull Harris over for "disengaging the stop light, as the code section states, by cutting through the parking lot... instead of sitting for the light to turn green."
Georgia's red light running statute makes it unlawful to "disengage" from a traffic signal by "running" the signal. The officer testified that he was taught that cutting through gas stations was illegal, and he had written many tickets for this supposed offense. Clayton County Judge John C. Carbo III ruled that this interpretation of the law was completely wrong, but he upheld the traffic stop under the US Supreme Court's Heien precedent that allows police to make a reasonable mistake about the law (view case). The three-judge appellate panel in Georgia found nothing reasonable about this traffic stop.
"The officer's understanding that 'disengaging' the traffic light is a violation of OCGA Section 40-6-20 is not supported by the plain language of the statute, and nothing in the plain language of the statute indicates that Harris committed a violation by 'running' the light, when he took a detour around the intersection," Judge Amanda H. Mercier wrote for the court. "This is not a case where the law in question is genuinely ambiguous... We therefore find that the officer's mistake of law here was not objectively reasonable and there was no reasonable articulable suspicion to support the traffic stop."
Because the stop violated the Fourth Amendment, the court reversed Harris's conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).
Cutting through parking lots to avoid traffic jams is not lawful in some jurisdictions. In 1993, gas station lobbyists convinced the Virginia General Assembly to make it a crime to "evade any stop sign [or] traffic light" by driving across private property (Virginia Code Section 46.2-833.1). Michigan (Michigan Vehicle Code Section 257.611) and Florida (Florida Statutes 316.074) have similar laws.
A copy of the ruling is available in an 80k PDF file at the source link below.