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Life in the fast lane
How traffic violations can turn criminal
By Jeff Terrill
Fort Wayne Reader
Did you know that you could go to jail for speeding? In Indiana, most traffic violations are not filed as criminal cases, but thereís a bunch of ways for an Indiana driver to commit a crime.
An intoxicated driver might be committing a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on his criminal history and the extent of injuries if there is an accident. A suspended driver breaks the law when he drives and, depending on the reasons for his license suspension, might be committing a misdemeanor or felony. If a driver refuses to let his passenger out of the car, he could be charged with criminal confinement in a vehicle, a Level 5 felony.
Racing another car is a crime. So is using your car to purposely damage property. If you run on foot from a police officer, you commit resisting law enforcement as a misdemeanor. Flee from police in your vehicle, however, and youíre looking at a felony resisting charge. A driver who recklessly or intentionally uses his vehicle to injure or kill someone could be looking at a range of felony charges all the way up to manslaughter or murder. The guy who uses his car to obstruct traffic commits a crime.
The Class A misdemeanor charge of aggressive driving occurs when a driver engages in at least three of the following types of conduct during a single episode of driving: following too closely; unsafe operation; passing on the right by driving off the roadway; unsafe stopping or slowing; unnecessary sounding of the horn; repeatedly flashing headlights; speeding and/or failing to obey a traffic control device. We can all probably remember being followed by someone we would have enjoyed seeing charged with aggressive driving. So think twice before you hit the horn or flick the headlights at the car in front of you.
Now, back to the speeders. It seems like most drivers exceed the speed limit. Maybe not all the time, but at least a few times each day. The Indiana Code has many speeding statutes that basically all mean the same thing: you canít drive faster than the posted speed limits. Interstates, highways, city streets, worksites and even alleys have designated speed limits. So, if you are driving and donít see a speed limit sign, donít trust that youíll have a viable defense to a speeding charge. In case you didnít know, the speed limit in an alley, unless otherwise posted, is statutorily set at 15 mph. In addition to state laws, a city ordinance can regulate the speed limits within the city. A city police officer, for example, might choose to issue a citation to a speeder under a city ordinance instead of state law.
Also, an arresting officer can send the ticket to any established court within the county. So if you were wondering why you were sent to the New Haven City Court for speeding on a road or interstate nowhere near New Haven, now you know.
So how is it that a speeder can go to jail? Under Indiana Code 9-21-8-52, a person who operates a vehicle and who recklessly (1) drives at such an unreasonably high rate of speed or at such an unreasonably low rate of speed under the circumstances as to: (A) endanger the safety or the property of others; or (B) block the flow of traffic commits reckless driving, a Class B misdemeanor. The offense is punishable up to 180 days in jail. You can also commit reckless driving by doing other things as well, such as passing a school bus when its arm signal device is extended.
The reckless driving statute gives police officers and prosecutors great discretion. Is a person who is driving 90 mph (20 mph over the speed limit) down I-69 committing a traffic violation or is he committing the crime of reckless driving? What about 30 mph in a speed limit 15 mph? What if the roads are slick from rain or snow and the person is driving the speed limit? Could that be considered an unreasonably high rate of speed under the circumstances? How fast is too fast? The law is clear when it comes to speeding infractions. A driver canít exceed the posted speed limit. But the lines are blurred when trying to determine when exactly fast driving turns criminal.
Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients accused of crimes throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about his firm at www.fortwaynedefense.com. This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have. Thank you