Court throws out Georgia's left-turn law

Wording just isn't right, justices say

But the Georgia Legislature so badly mangled the wording of the law the Georgia Supreme Court on Monday found it "unconstitutionally vague."

A plain reading of the statute renders two "diametrically opposite interpretations," Justice Carol Hunstein wrote. A person of "common intelligence" cannot determine with reasonable certainty that the law prohibits making a left-hand turn into the right lane of a multi-lane roadway, the ruling said.

Until the Legislature meets next year and fixes the law, police cannot longer hand out tickets to motorists who make the improper turn.

The court ruling was a legal victory for Todd Christopher McNair of Whitfield County. In 2007, he was arrested by Dalton police for DUI, obstruction of a police officer and making an improper left-hand turn. McNair should have turned into the left-hand lane, not the right-hand lane of the roadway, police said.

At trial, McNair was acquitted of DUI and obstruction but convicted of the improper turn. He was fined $500, given a year's probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. He also was sentenced to four months in jail for a probation violation.

Benjamin Goldberg, a Whitfield County public defender, said when he first read the statute he couldn't believe it -- or comprehend it.

"It was jibberish," Goldberg said. "It was like reading another language."

The law starts out well enough, clearly instructing drivers to be in the far left-hand lane of the ongoing traffic before making a left turn.

But then the statute becomes indecipherable: "Whenever practicable, the left turn shall be made to the left of the center of the intersection and so as to leave the intersection or other location in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully avilable to traffic moving in the same direction as such vehicle on the roadway being entered."

Goldberg said even attorneys have a hard enough time interpreting some state laws. But this one, he said, was off the charts.

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