Written by Gregory Monte.
When I was doing the research for last week’s blog post A Traffic Ticket for Hanging an Air-Freshener Off Your Rear-View Mirror?, I came across an interesting case of an individual in Indiana who realized that he had been improperly charged with a window-obstruction violation. Instead of just paying his ticket and moving on with life, he decided to fight it all the way up to the Court of Appeals: Anthony v. State, 103 NE 3d 696 – Ind: Court of Appeals 2018.
Even if you are not a resident of Indiana, I think you will appreciate this story of how a regular citizen – the little guy – can end up victorious if he has the willingness and determination to stand up for his rights.
Introducing The Facts
John W. Anthony was charged in July 2017 with a violation of Indiana Code 9-19-19-3:
“A person may not drive a motor vehicle with a sign, poster, sunscreening material, or other nontransparent material upon the front windshield, side wings, or side or rear windows of the vehicle that obstructs the driver’s clear view of the highway or an intersecting highway.”
What was the so-called obstruction here?
According to the officer:
“The car ‘had plastic bags of trash, canned foods, clothes, piled from the bottom of [its] floor to the ceiling … on the dashboard and along the side windows and rear windows.’ After looking around the car and being able to see in only the driver’s window, Officer Greer issued a citation.”
The “Little Guy” Presents His Case
Representing himself at the initial bench trial, Anthony …
“… repeatedly noted the statute prohibits ‘nontransparent material upon the windows’ … and argued he ‘didn’t have nothing on the windshield. [He] didn’t have nothing on the side windows.’”
While his manner of speaking may not be entirely grammatically correct, he certainly understood the law much better than the state attorney who was prosecuting him. This was clearly evident in the transcript from the trial. Check out this exchange where the prosecutor tells Anthony that he doesn’t understand the law correctly ….
- [State:] A person may not drive a motor vehicle with a sign, poster or non-transparent material, that’s debris, on the front windshield, side windows, rear window of the vehicle, obstructs the driver’s clear view of the highway or intersection highway. You read this?
- [Anthony:] It says nothing on the windshield. I don’t have nothing on the windows.
- [State:] I don’t believe you understand what I’m saying, sir.
- [Anthony:] I understand what you’re saying. I understand what I’m reading too.
- [State:] So you do understand that non-transparent materials is not a decal? That’s not a sticker. It’s any non-transparent material, do you understand?
- [Anthony:] Yeah, it’s not on the windows. It’s in the vehicle.
Persistence Leads to Victory
Clearly, Anthony’s vehicle was full of all types of things which likely did obstruct his view of the road as he was driving. Critics on my Facebook page tell me that this is the kind of situation where the individual should just admit his guilt and pay the fine like a good citizen. Anthony obviously broke the law and was very likely endangering fellow motorists because of the condition of his car. Paraphrasing a comment from one of my Facebook detractors: “If you want to dance, you have to pay the fiddler.”
Well, this particular individual decided not to be a good citizen/sheep. He took the time to actually read the law that he was charged with violating and used his common sense to beat the ticket. He realized that the law he allegedly violated specifically refers to a window obstruction, not a general obstruction of view.
The judge agreed:
“By all accounts, his operation of the vehicle raised safety concerns because his view was obstructed. However, Indiana Code section 9-19-19-3 does not prohibit an ‘obstructed view,’ generally. It prohibits placement of ‘material upon … windows… that obstructs the driver’s clear view. The State did not present such evidence. Accordingly, we reverse.”
Winning on a Technicality
The lesson here should be obvious. If you take the time to understand the law you are accused of violating, you can find technicalities which will enable you to win in court. I have an entire section in my blog archives which prove this to be the case. Better, your chances of winning increase if you can back up this technicality with case law to support it.
In fact, my son won his stop sign ticket case using this approach. He showed that the particular stop sign that he allegedly rolled through was not properly authorized by the town that installed it. He referenced the statute which required this authorization and then backed it up with five court cases (precedent) which supported his interpretation. If you are interested in more information about his strategy, check out my two free PDFs which outline the approach he took. He won his case in Pennsylvania but the strategy he used is applicable anywhere:
While technicalities don’t always work (I have several blog posts about this also), they offer the only full-proof way to win in court. If you think that your personal testimony about what really happened on the day you got your ticket is going to matter when the cop tells a different story, you are bound to be disappointed. Much better to use the law (backed by court precedent) to beat the law.