Hepworth Holzer Prevails In “Stop As Yield” Appeal

This is a copy of the OPINION ON APPEAL in Case No. CR01-19-29825.  The Judge on appeal avoids the problem of windshield bias.

STATE OF IDAHO, PIaintiff-Respondent, vs, ELIZABETH L. HILTON, Defendant-Appellant.

ATTORNEY FOR THE PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT: JANICE M. BELLER (City Of Boise)
ATTORNEY FOR THE DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: KURT HOLZER (Hepworth Holzer, LLP)

I. NATURE OF THE CASE

Elizabeth L. Hilton appeals her Judgment of Conviction for a red light violation under Idaho Code § 49—801. She alleges Idaho Code § 49-801 does not apply to cyclists, and Idaho Code § 49—720(2) precludes application of Idaho Code § 49-801.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On July 19, 2019, Officer Ben Kettering responded to a crash at the intersection of Latah and Americana. Upon arrival to the scene, the officer saw the appellant on the ground. a bicycle on the side of the road, and a white car parked beyond her. The driver of the car. David McDaniel, testified that when the light turned green, he looked for vehicles and pedestrians before entering the intersection, but ended up hitting the appellant while turning onto Americana. The appellant told Officer Kettering that she stopped at the red light, yielded, and proceeded through the light after determining it was clear. The appellant testified that she was clear of the intersection when she was struck from behind. Officer Kettering cited the appellant for a red light violation under Idaho Code § 49—801.

The appellant made an oral motion for judgment of acquittal at trial asserting that Idaho  Code § 49-801 does not apply to cyclists and the State had not met its burden of proof under Idaho Code § 49-720(2), which does apply to cyclists. The magistrate court denied the motion. The court found the appellant guilty of violating Idaho Code § 49-801. The appellant filed a renewed motion for judgment of acquittal, which was denied. She filed a timely Notice of Appeal.

III. ISSUES 0N APPEAL

The appellant maintains the magistrate court erred by finding Idaho Code § 49-801 applied to cyclists even though there is a more specific statute setting forth the rules of the road for cyclists at stop lights in Idaho Code § 49-720.

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a district judge considers an appeal from a magistrate judge (not involving a trial de novo), the district judge is acting as an appellate court, not as a trial court. State v. Kenner, 121 Idaho 594. 596, 826 P.2d 1306, 1308 (1992). “Statutory  interpretation is a question of law over which this Court exercises free review.” State v. Anderson, 145 Idaho 103. 175 P.3d 788, 792 (2008).

V. ANALYSIS

The appellant asserts the magistrate court erred by denying her motions for judgment of acquittal because Idaho Code § 49-801 is inapplicable to her as a cyclist. The State contends Idaho Code § 49-801 is the general rule the appellant must follow and Idaho Code 49-720(2) is an exception. “The plain meaning of a statute will prevail unless clearly expressed legislative intent is contrary or unless the plain meaning leads to absurd results.” State v. Doe, 147 Idaho 326, 328, 208 P.3d 730, 732 (2009). “Moreover, this Court must consider all sections of applicable statutes together to determine the intent of the legislature.” Id. Legislative intent is determined not only by “the literal words of the statute, but also the reasonableness of proposed constructions, the public policy behind the statute, and its legislative history.” Id. (quoting State v. Schwartz, 139 Idaho 360, 362, 79 P.3d 719, 721 (2003)). Idaho Code § 49-801(1) states that “[t]he driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any traffic-control device placed or held in accordance with the provisions of this title, unless otherwise directed by a peace officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle by this title.” (Emphasis added). Idaho Code § 49- 802(3) states that when facing a “steady red indication,” a driver “shall stop before entering the intersection…and shall remain stopped until an indication to proceed is shown” unless the driver is making a legal turn. “‘Vehicle” is defined as “[e]very device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.” |.C. § 49-123(2)(a).

Idaho Code § 49-123(2)(a) reflects that the definition of vehicle within Title 49 includes bicycles. Idaho Code §§ 49—801(1) and 49-802(3) provide that the driver of a vehicle must stop at a steady red indication and remain there until otherwise indicated to proceed. A driver may, however, proceed after stopping when the driver is making a legal turn. Chapter seven of Title 49 sets forth specific rules for cyclists. Idaho Code § 49-720(2) states:

A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution.

Idaho Code § 49-714(1) states that “[elvery person operating a vehicle propelled by human power or riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle under the provisions of chapters 6 and 8 of this title, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.” (Emphasis added.) The language of Idaho Code § 49-714(1) reflects that a cyclist must follow the provisions of chapter eight “except as otherwise provided” in chapter seven. Idaho Code § 49-801(1) therefore does not apply to the appellant as a cyclist. Idaho Code § 49-801(1) is also precluded from application in lieu of Idaho Code § 49-720(2). The appellant was not charged under the appropriate statute.

The respondent argues that a prosecutor has broad discretion in determining what charge to file against a defendant where statutes can be construed harmoniously. The Idaho Supreme Court “has held that statutes which are in pari materia are to be construed together to further legislative intent.” State v. Barnes, 133 Idaho 378, 382, 987 P.2d 290, 294 (1999). Specifically, this means that “all statutes relating to the same subject are to be compared, and so far as still in force brought into harmony by interpretation.” Id. (quoting Meyers v. City of Idaho Falls, 52 Idaho 81, 89—90, 11 P.2d 626, 629 (1932)). Where a defendant’s actions come within the purview of two harmonious statutes, a prosecutor has discretion to charge under either statute. Id. If “harmonious construction is impossible, the more specific of the two statutes will prevail.” State v. Callaghan, 143 Idaho 856, 858, 153 P.3d 1202, 1204 (Ct. App. 2006). Idaho Code §§ 49-8010) and 49-720(2) cannot be. construed harmoniously. They impose different standards and are applied to different vehicles. Idaho Code § 49-801(1} requires drivers to stop and remain at a steady red light until the light changes, unless the driver is making a legal turn. Idaho Code § 49-720(2) allows cyclists to stop at a steady red light, yield to traffic, and proceed if clear. Idaho Code § 49-714(1) also precludes application of Idaho Code § 49-801(1) to cyclists.

The provisions of Idaho Code § 49-720(2) prevail, as it is the more specific statute. The prosecutor did not have discretion to charge Appellant under Idaho Code § 49-801(1)_ Should a prosecutor be allowed to charge cyclists under Idaho Code § 49-801(1), a cyclist riding in accordance with her legal duties would always be in violation for proceeding against a steady red light unless the cyclist was making a legal turn. Idaho Code § 49-720(2} contradicts this result.

The appellant also asserts the rule of lenity applies and the magistrate court erred by finding the appellant was broadsided, rather than hit from behind. The respondent contends the appellant is raising these arguments for the first time on appeal. Given that the appellant was charged under the incorrect statute, it is not necessary for this Court to reach the merits of these issues.

VI. CONCLUSION

The Judgment of Conviction is reversed.

Dated this 21st day of May 2020.

Gerald F. Schroeder Senior District Judge

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