March 11, 2009

Man takes traffic ticket case to state Supreme Court

By Charles Oliver

One Whitfield County resident’s challenge to a traffic case could help determine whether Georgia law regarding left turns is constitutional. The Georgia Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in Todd Christopher McNair’s challenge to a March 2008 conviction for making an illegal left turn.

“It’s now in the Supreme Court’s hands,” said his attorney, Benjamin Goldberg. “It could be up to six months before they deliver a decision.”

According to a summary of the case on the court’s Web site, in June 2007, McNair turned left onto eastbound U.S. Highway 41 from a parking area at the Best Western Inn. He pulled into the outermost lane, but he was stopped by a Dalton police officer in an unmarked car who claimed the law required McNair to turn into the innermost lane. McNair was charged with improper left turn, DUI and obstruction of an officer. McNair was on probation, so he had his probation revoked and spent four months in jail. At trial, a jury acquitted him of DUI and obstruction but found him guilty of the improper turn. He was sentenced to 12 months probation, a $500 fine, 100 hours of community service, drug and alcohol counseling and random drug tests.

“We argued from the beginning that the left turn law is unconstitutionally vague. It fails to put on notice millions of drivers in Georgia as to how to comply with it,” said Goldberg. “As you read that statute it is open to two opposite interpretations. One is the way the state has maintained and the officer thinks, which is that you have to turn into the left lane, the extreme left lane. But the other way is that you have to leave that lane available for other traffic. Under that interpretation, you would be required to turn into the rightmost lane, which is what Mr. McNair did.”

The law states: “Whenever practicable, the left turn shall be made to the left of the center of the intersection and so as to leave the intersection or other location in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as such vehicle on the roadway being entered.”

Conasauga Circuit District Attorney Kermit McManus, whose office prosecuted the case, says the law is clear and it requires people to turn into the inside lane.

“I’ve never had anyone complain they didn’t understand what the law requires until this case. It may have occurred in other places, in courtrooms I wasn’t involved it,” he said. “But I’ve been in this office as a prosecutor since 1983. The first 14 years, from 1983 to 1986, I did all the traffic cases that came through the district attorney’s office in both Whitfield and Murray counties.”