Is Failing to Use a Turn Signal a Crime in Virginia?

Virginia is known for being incredibly tough on drivers who break the law. In a recent decision by the Virginia Court of Appeals, it seems that being tough on drivers has been taken to a new level.

Wilson v. Commonwealth

This month, the Virginia Court of Appeals issued a decision in the case of Wilson v. Commonwealth. In this case, the defendant, Ms. Wilson, was a passenger in a car that was pulled over in Virginia. The police officer that pulled the car over testified that the car pulled into a left turn lane without using a signal. Upon a search, marijuana was alleged to have been found on the defendant’s person and more marijuana and a gun were found in the glove compartment of the car. The defendant was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. She appealed her conviction on the basis that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to pull over the vehicle because that, since there was no traffic on the road, there was no necessity to use a turn signal and therefore, no law was violated and there was no basis for reasonable suspicion.

This appeal was primarily based on the interpretation of a Virginia law that makes it illegal to not use a turn signal when making a turn. The law requires that any driver who intends to turn from a direct line must indicate this with an appropriate signal “whenever the operation of any other vehicle may be affected by such movement.” The police officer testified at a hearing that there was no oncoming traffic that was affected.

The Court upheld the conviction, using the logic that the Commonwealth did not have to prove that another vehicle was affected but that the police officer himself (who never testified that he was affected by the failure to signal) might have been affected.

Confused? The Court said they relied on the plain language of the statute and the fact that the law was written to facilitate the orderly movement of traffic. Turning left from a left turn lane without a signal when there is no oncoming traffic seems to fall outside the umbrella of this law.  It doesn’t seem like the driver was “affecting” anyone. Doesn’t it seem like a left hand turn from a left hand turn lane is the only choice available to a driver and therefore, readily apparent to other drivers (of which there were none)?

Ms. Wilson’s conviction and sentence of five years in jail with four years suspended was affirmed. So, at least in the Commonwealth, this is how failing to use a turn signal can get you serious jail time.

Criminal trials can sometimes lead to odd results. In the case above, an action that arguably violated no laws ended up resulting in a felony conviction. Police often use tactics like this to bring more serious charges against drivers and passengers. If you find yourself in a situation like this, you need serious legal help. For Northern Virginia drivers, Jad Sarsour has been protecting their rights against charges like this for over ten years. Give him a call today at (571) 261-7314 to schedule your initial consultation. He has the expertise and experience help you get the results you deserve.