Appellate Procedure,  Criminal Procedure,  Legal Writing,  Standard of Review

Patrol Cars are Traffic, Too

Federal Protective Service vehicle.Image via Wikipedia

In People v. Logsdon, case no. G038366 (4th Dist. May 28, 2008, ordered published June 24, 2008), the defendant contended that the officer following him on an otherwise nearly deserted street in the middle of the night lacked cause to stop his vehicle after defendant crossed several lanes of traffic without signaling. Defendant contended that in the absence of other traffic, his unsignaled lane change was a safe move.

He forgot about the patrol car following him! The court holds that the officer who made the stop constituted traffic that needed warning of the lane change.

There’s an interesting angle to this case from an appellate perspective and from a writing perspective.

Writing first. When the defendant claimed that the patrol car was too far away to be affected by the unsignaled lane change — as evidenced by the fact that the officer neither braked nor swerved — the court discounted thre argument with an unintentionally (?) funny choice of words to explain that the defendant’s lane change did not actually have to alter the patrol car’s course to be unsafe (emphasis added): “Actual impact is not required by the statute; potential effect triggers the signal requirement.” Glad to know a collision isn’t required.

Next, the appellate angle. The trial court found that defendant’s lane change affected a car traveling about 100 feet behind him (apparently referring to the patrol car) and decided not to disturb the ruling without resolving the issue of whether it was a factual finding or a discretionary one (emphasis in original):

The trial court found that a vehicle within 100 feet of Logdon’s car, traveling in the same lane and at the same speed, was affected by the lane change. Moreover, the Legislature has declared its opinion that vehicle signals are needed within 100 feet of any turn. (See Veh. Code, § 22108.) Whether this finding is a discretionary finding or a finding of fact, we must accept this one. Factual findings are to be accepted if substantial evidence can be found in the record to support them [citation], and discretionary rulings must be upheld unless an abuse of that discretion is shown. (See People v. Bishop (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 203, 212-213 [abuse-of-discretion standard appropriate when lower court “is in the best position to determine the genuineness and effectiveness of the showing . . . .”].) Under either standard, we must accept this finding.

Before you do battle over the nature of a finding and thus the applicable standard of review, make sure the distinction makes a difference.