I was in Washington County District Court yesterday morning on a traffic ticket. My client was charged with failing to yield the right of way at an intersection.
She approached an intersection with a two-way stop sign (the intersecting traffic had no stop sign), stopped at the sign, and proceeded through the intersection. She was t-boned by a car coming from the right.
The police officer came after the fact and wrote my client a ticket for violating Transportation Article Section 21-401, which states, in part, "a vehicle at an intersection ... shall yield the right-of-way to any other vehicle approaching from the right." Seems a good fit.
I began preparing my defense. The client handed me some pictures of the intersection, showing that, when stopped at the stop sign, you cannot see the traffic coming from the right because there were hedges, parked cars and a tree blocking the view. I remembered that there was a case from last year, Grady v. Brown, which held that a driver who was hit while entering a highway from an alleyway was not necessarily, per se, negligent under the boulevard rule because he could not see around the parked cars.
I probably spent more time than I should have preparing for this case, but it was an interesting issue, and I wanted to do everything I could to protect my client's driving record.
I went to the office early on the day of trial to prepare. About 15 minutes before I left for court, I reviewed everything one final time. This time, I realized that 21-401 starts off with, "Except at through highways..."
I quickly checked the definitions section (21-101) and confirmed that this intersection was, indeed, a through highway. The definition is:
(x) Through highway.- "Through highway" means a highway or part of a highway:
(1) On which vehicular traffic is given the right-of-way; and
(2) At the entrances to which vehicular traffic from intersecting highways is required by law to yield the right-of-way to vehicles on that highway or part of a highway, in obedience to either a stop sign or yield sign placed as provided in the Maryland Vehicle Law.
Thus, the statute doesn't apply to the facts of this case! Realizing this, I walked to the courthouse to meet my client. Our case was about the third one called, and the courtroom was packed with the traffic docket.
The state put on their witnesses - the guy who t-boned my client, and the police officer who came after the fact. I asked about four questions of cross-examination between the two of them, and made a motion for judgment of acquittal.
I told the judge that the evidence has established that this was a through highway, and that this statute simply doesn't apply. My client probably should have been charged under 21-403, but she wasn't, and now it's too late. The judge looked at me with a curious nod as she grabbed her code book. I am told the police officers in the audience murmured in disbelief saying "yeah right..."
I stood there with my arms crossed, and about a minute later, the judge looked up and said "the motion for judgment of acquittal is granted." We walked out of the courtroom very happy people.
It's a small detail, but a very important one. I nearly missed it. The police officer definitely missed it. My client missed it. The judge would have missed it if I had not called it to her attention.
Still, I think I had a pretty decent case that the state would have failed to meet its burden of proof that the other driver was driving "lawfully," i.e., the speed limit, and that my client did not yield the right of way. This way was just much easier.
So, the lesson? Never assume anything.