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Court News Ohio

Third District: Pastor Driving to Work Wins Citation Appeal

A pastor who was ticketed for driving on a street that was closed for repair won his appeal against the city of Sidney.

James Alter was driving to Grace Baptist Church in August 2013 when he was pulled over for driving on a street that was closed except to local traffic. Businesses considered local traffic were posted on a list on one of the “road closed” signs. The church was not on the list.

Two days later, after consulting with his supervisors, the police officer ticketed Alter for violating Sidney Traffic Code 331.24. The traffic code states: “No person shall drive upon, along or across a street or highway, or any part of a street or highway that has been closed in the process of its construction, reconstruction or repair, and posted with appropriate signs by the authority having jurisdiction to close such a street or highway.” Violators of traffic code 331.24 are guilty of a minor misdemeanor.

The case went to trial at Sidney Municipal Court. The city’s sole exhibit was a Google Maps diagram showing where the church was located compared to the closed street.

Alter moved for acquittal because the city failed to prove each element of ordinance 331.24 beyond a reasonable doubt. A judge denied his motion and Alter was found guilty and had to pay court costs.

Alter appealed the trial court’s decision to the Third District Court of Appeals arguing that the city failed to prove that the closed street was “posted with appropriate signs” since the list was not presented as an exhibit at the trial court proceedings.

The appeals court agreed with Alter and said the city was required to not only prove the list existed but also that the city posted the list.

“Our conclusion is supported not only by the plain language of Sidney Traffic Code 331.24, but also by Sidney Traffic Code 313.01(a)(2), which prohibits the enforcement of any Traffic Code provision for which signs are required if a proper sign is not posted,” Third District Court of Appeals Judge Vernon L. Preston wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion. “The City argues that ‘there exists a rebuttable presumption that traffic signage placed by a governmental entity is legally erected in compliance with applicable law.’ The City offered no evidence that the ‘road closed’ signs in this case were ‘placed by a governmental entity.’”

“After viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the City, we conclude that no rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of Sidney Traffic Code 331.24 proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Preston added.

Judges John R. Willamowski and Richard M. Rogers concurred in the decision that reversed the trial court’s ruling.

Sidney v. Alter, 2014-Ohio-3374
Opinion: http://sc.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/3/2014/2014-ohio-3374.pdf
Civil Appeal From: Sidney Municipal Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Reversed and Remanded
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: August 4, 2014

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