Thursday, March 29, 2007

Local County Screws Up Sting

On their online site, The St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote that Dakota County, Minnesota law enforcement ticketed 150 people for failing to change lanes so that they were a lane away from a stopped law enforcement vehicle.

The article starts: "Not everyone knows it's the law to switch lanes when a law enforcement officer is stopped on the side of the road with flashing emergency lights.

At least 150 motorists found out Wednesday and got tickets for not changing lanes while approaching squad cars stopped on the shoulder of Interstate 35E."

The problem?

The Minnesota Supreme Court decided in 2004 that the statute at hand does not require drivers to leave an empty lane between the stopped law enforcement vehicle and their vehicle. From the opinion: "In reversing the district court, the court of appeals concluded that Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 11, could mean “either in the next lane or a full lane away,” and, therefore, was ambiguous. Anderson, 671 N.W.2d at 904. The state notes that the word “away” has several dictionary definitions and, therefore, argues that we should affirm the court of appeals’ holding that the statute is ambiguous.
We do not agree with the court of appeals that the phrase, “a lane away” is ambiguous. The state is correct to point out that the word “away,” when standing alone, has several meanings. However, a reading of the phrase “a lane away” that parses the individual words from each other detracts from the plain meaning of the phrase as a whole. See Chiodo v. Bd. of Educ. of Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 298 Minn. 380, 382, 215 N.W.2d 806, 808 (1974) (“words of a statute are to be viewed in their setting, not isolated from their context.”) When the phrase “a lane away” is viewed as a whole, its “natural and obvious usage” is clear; it means “in the lane next to” the stopped emergency vehicle.[1] See Amaral, 598 N.W.2d at 384.

The parties agree that Anderson’s vehicle was completely within the center lane of traffic, the lane next to the lane occupied by the officer’s stopped squad car. Therefore, Anderson was not in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 11, when the officer conducted the traffic stop."

I don't expect cops to know ALL the laws, but this is three years ago that this law was interpreted by the highest court in Minnesota and they still get it wrong. Not only that but in a 150-ticket writing binge.