Monday, August 06, 2012

Interpreting NM law regarding turn signals more expansively than state courts, Tenth reverses suppression grant

U.S. v. Burciaga, 2012 WL 3024224 (7/25/12) (N.M.) (Published) - A divided 10th reverses the grant of a suppression motion, adopting an expansive view of New Mexico's statute requiring turn signals 100 feet before turning when "any other traffic may be affected." In State v. Hubble, 206 P.3d 579 (N.M. 2009), the N.M. S. Ct. interpreted the statute to mean a turn signal must be used when there is "only a reasonable possibility that other traffic may be affected by the signaling driver's movement." In Hubble, the defendant did not turn after stopping until after an officer had passed a T-intersection [when it was obvious the defendant had to turn one way or the other]. Yet the N. M. S. Ct. held the defendant had violated the statute. The 10th says that under Hubble, while a driver doesn't have to signal before every lane change, the state doesn't have to prove other traffic "could have been affected." The standard is lower than that. [The 10th admits "Hubble is an exercise in semantics."] A driver intending to change course may affect not only drivers' actions, but also their decision-making processes in the time leading up to the movement. In this case, the defendant made the mistake of passing New Mexico State Police Officer John Valdez at 75 miles per hour on I-25 and then once he was a "little ways in front" of the officer, signalling his intention to merge back to the right lane simultaneously with the move. This gave the officer reasonable suspicion that the defendant violated the turn-signal statute, even though the officer didn't think the defendant's actions affected him or other traffic. Chief Judge Briscoe dissents. She notes the government conceded that, if another car was a great distance away from the defendant, there would be no violation. She finds insufficient evidence of a violation because the officer did not present a concrete estimate of the actual distances involved and his speed at the time.