Appeal from Superior Court, Franklin Unit, Criminal Division
Martin A. Maley, J.
Heather J. Brochu, Franklin County Deputy State's
Attorney, St. Albans, for Plaintiff-Appellee.
Matthew Valerio, Defender General, and Dawn Seibert,
Appellate Defender, Montpelier, for Defendant-Appellant.
PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson, Eaton and Carroll,
1. Following his conditional guilty plea to driving under the
influence, defendant Kevin Cook appeals the trial court's
denial of his motion to dismiss, in which he argued that his
failure to signal a turn was not illegal under the
circumstances and thus did not provide a reasonable,
articulable suspicion for the arresting officer to stop his
vehicle. We affirm.
2. The facts are not contested. Shortly after midnight on
December 4, 2016, defendant was driving east on Hoyt Street
in St. Albans and approached a "T" intersection
where Hoyt and Main Streets meet. Hoyt Street ends where it
meets Main Street, and it has designated right- and left-turn
lanes for drivers approaching the Main Street intersection.
There is a stop sign at the intersection for cars using Hoyt
Street. Preparing to turn right onto Main Street, defendant
drove into the right-turn-only lane and stopped at the stop
sign. At that time, a police officer pulled onto Hoyt Street
and noticed defendant's car stopped at the intersection
without its turn signal on. The officer watched defendant
make the right turn onto Main Street without signaling and
stopped defendant's car for that reason. During the
traffic stop, the officer smelled alcohol on defendant and
conducted field-sobriety tests. Ultimately, defendant was
charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).
3. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the DUI charge. He
argued that the officer had no grounds to stop him because,
although Vermont law requires drivers to signal their
intention to turn under 23 V.S.A. §§ 1064 and 1065,
drivers are not required to put on their turn signal when
there is only one legal turning maneuver possible-such as
turning right in a right-turn-only lane. In a brief entry
order, the trial court denied defendant's motion, citing
this Court's decision in State v. Harris, 2009
VT 73, 186 Vt. 225, 980 A.2d 785. On appeal, defendant argues
that he did not violate the law when he followed his lane
along its natural course without using his turn signal, and
thus there was no basis to stop him. The State argues that,
regardless of a car's position on the road, drivers are
not relieved of their obligation to use a turn signal;
therefore, the officer was authorized to stop defendant for
committing a motor-vehicle violation.
4. "In reviewing a denial of a motion to suppress, we
apply a deferential standard of review to the trial
court's findings of fact, and we review the court's
legal conclusions de novo." State v. Fletcher,
2010 VT 27, ¶ 8, 187 Vt. 632, 996 A.2d 213 (mem.).
Defendant does not challenge the trial court's brief
factual determinations, which included that defendant's
car made a right-hand turn at the intersection and changed
directions from east to south onto a different street without
using his directional signal. Rather, he contests only the
court's legal conclusions. "Our examination of those
legal conclusions is therefore nondeferential and
plenary." State v. Bryant, 2008VT 39, ¶ 9,
183 Vt. 355, 950 A.2d 467.
5. Vermont motor vehicle statutes 23 V.S.A. §§ 1064
and 1065 govern drivers' obligation to signal when
turning and moving on the road. In relevant part, § 1065
provides that "[a] right or left turn shall not
be made without first giving a signal of intention
either by hand or by signal in accordance with section
1064." 23 V.S.A. § 1065(a) (emphases added).
Section 1064 explains that "[t]he signals provided for
in section 1065 . . . shall be used to indicate an
intention to turn, change lanes, or start from a parked
position," id. § 1064(e) (emphasis added),
and instructs that "[b]efore changing direction or
materially slackening speed, a driver shall give
warning of his or her intention . . . as provided in section
1065 . . . or with a mechanical or lighting device."
Id. § 1064(a) (emphasis added). Additionally,
§ 1064 states that "[a] signal of intention to turn
right or left when required shall be given
continuously during not less than the last 100 feet traveled
by the vehicle before turning." Id. §
1064(d) (emphasis added). Here, we are charged with
construing these provisions to determine whether defendant
was required to signal prior to turning right onto Main
Street, even though he was in a right-turn-only lane. We
conclude that he was.
6. In construing statutes, our goal is to implement the
intent of the Legislature. Harris, 2009VT 73, ¶
5. In doing so, we assume the Legislature intended the plain,
ordinary meaning of the language used. Id. If the
legislative intent is clear from the language at issue, then
the Court's "inquiry is at an end, and we enforce
the statute according to its plain terms."
Fletcher, 2010 VT 27, ¶ 10. Defendant argues
for an exception to the signaling requirement by reading into
the statutes language that is not there. Neither § 1064
nor § 1065 contain any express exception to eliminate
the requirement for use of a turn signal when a car is
positioned in a turn-only lane. Rather, the statutory
language consistently mandates the use of a signal whenever a
driver effects a turn, using the word "shall." See
23 V.S.A. §§ 1064(a), (d), (e), 1065(a). We do not
find the language of these statutes unclear or ambiguous. As
such, we conclude that, based on the plain language of the
statute, defendant was required to signal prior to executing
a right-hand turn.
7. We have had occasion to consider the requirements of our
turn-signal statutes several times in recent years, and this
body of caselaw supports our conclusion here. First, a change
in direction, such as the ninety-degree change in direction
defendant took from Hoyt Street onto Main Street here, may
indicate that the driver is turning and that a signal is
required under §§ 1064 and 1065. See id.
§ 1064(a) (requiring driver to signal "[b]efore
changing direction"); see also Harris, 2009 VT
73, ¶ 8 (remanding for trial court to consider relevant
evidence as to whether vehicle exiting rotary had
"changed directions," effecting turn, thereby
triggering turn-signal requirement of § 1064(a)).
8. Next, in State v. Fletcher, we explained that
turn signal requirements under § 1064 apply regardless
of traffic conditions. 2010 VT 27, ¶¶ 11-13. In
that case, we held that an officer had a reasonable,
articulable suspicion to stop a motorist who did not activate
her turn signal at three stop signs until she had come to a
stop at the intersections, in violation of §
1064(d)'s requirement that a signal must be used for at
least 100 feet before an intersection. Id. ¶
13. In so doing, we rejected her contention that §
1064(d)'s "when required" language meant that
turn signals were only required when necessitated by traffic
conditions. Id. ¶ 11. On the contrary, we held
that the use of turn signals is required 100 feet from
turning, regardless of traffic conditions. Id.
9. Finally, and most recently, in State v. Hutchins,
we held that continuing on the natural arc of a road did not
trigger the turn-signal requirement. 2015 VT 38, ¶ 11,
198 Vt. 431, 114 A.3d 906 ("[A] vehicle following a
circular or arcing roadway would not need to activate a turn
signal to continue around that arc because it is the natural
course of the road. Only upon departing from that natural
course-and thus changing direction-would a 'turn'
occur."). In Hutchins, the presence of a
bisecting road did not change the trajectory of a car