August 22, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Trooper’s Erroneous Interpretation of Governing Statute Was Not Reasonable Mistake of Law

On Monday, January 14, 2019, the Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Burnett.

Searches and Seizures—Reasonable Suspicion— Mistake of Law.

In this interlocutory appeal, the supreme court considered whether a Colorado State Patrol trooper made a reasonable mistake of law when the trooper stopped a car for making what he believed to be an illegal lane change after witnessing the driver flash her turn signal twice over a distance of less than 200 feet and then change lanes. The court held that the trooper’s erroneous interpretation of the governing statute, C.R.S. § 42-4-903, did not constitute an objectively reasonable mistake of law. It is plain from the text of the statute that a driver is not required to signal continuously for any set distance before changing lanes on a highway; the statute only requires that a driver use a signal before changing lanes. Thus, because this was not a reasonable mistake of law, the trooper did not have reasonable suspicion to justify the investigatory stop. The court therefore affirmed the trial court’s suppression order.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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