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Noble v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

September 4, 2015


Appeal from the Superior Court, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Randy M. Olsen, Judge. Trial Court No. 4FA-10-4690 CR.

Callie Patton Kim, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

W. H. Hawley, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Hanley, District Court Judge.[*]



The police stopped Curtis Donald Noble for failing to use his turn signal when he entered and left a roundabout. During their ensuing contact with Noble, the police discovered that he had been drinking, and Noble was later convicted of felony driving under the influence.

In this appeal, Noble challenges the legality of the traffic stop. He argues that Alaska's existing regulations regarding a motorist's use of turn signals do not apply to roundabouts. For the reasons explained in this opinion, we agree with Noble that our state's existing traffic regulations do not cover a motorist's use of turn signals when negotiating a roundabout. Therefore, Noble did not commit a traffic violation by failing to signal when he entered and left the roundabout.

However, when Noble's case was litigated in the superior court, the State advanced other justifications for the traffic stop. The superior court did not expressly rule on those alternative justifications, so we now remand Noble's case to the superior court to allow the court to make findings on those

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proposed alternative justifications for the stop.

Underlying facts

On November 1, 2010, the campus police at the University of Alaska Fairbanks received a report of a reckless driver in a dark-colored Toyota, possibly a Camry, headed toward the campus recreation center.

According to the caller, the driver of the car was male, possibly Hispanic. The caller furnished the numeric portion of the driver's license plate, and the caller told the police that the three letters of the license plate were either " FJH" or " FHJ" .

Two University police officers began to look for the driver of the Toyota. While these officers were looking for the car, their dispatcher searched the department's database for a vehicle matching the caller's description of the car. The dispatcher soon found an entry for a silver Toyota Camry with a license plate that matched the one described by the caller. This vehicle was registered to Walter Galauska.

About 20 minutes later, the police found this vehicle in a campus parking lot. The police decided to keep this vehicle under surveillance for a while, in case the driver returned.

Just before 1:00 p.m. -- i.e., approximately 45 minutes after the initial 911 call to the police dispatcher -- a man (later identified as Noble) approached the Toyota and got into the front passenger seat. After sitting there for a short time, the man got behind the wheel, started the car, and drove away. The police followed him in an unmarked car.

When Noble drove through a nearby traffic roundabout, he did not use his turn signal, either upon entering or leaving the roundabout. Shortly after Noble left the traffic circle, the police pulled him over -- ostensibly, because Noble had committed two traffic infractions by failing to signal upon entering and leaving the roundabout.

Alaska law relating to a motorist's use of turn signals, and why we conclude that Alaska's existing law does not require signaling at roundabouts

The issue before this Court is whether Alaska law requires motorists to use turn signals when negotiating a roundabout.

(Alaska law defines " roundabout" as " a circular intersection [constructed] around a rotary traffic island, where two or more roadways join and the vehicular traffic is directed to travel in a single specified direction around the perimeter of the ... traffic island." See 13 AAC 40.010(a)(66).)[1]

Alaska has several traffic regulations that expressly apply to roundabouts. For instance, a driver entering a roundabout must yield to any vehicle that is already on the circulating roadway in the roundabout.[2] Drivers must not change lanes in a roundabout, or exit a roundabout, until the movement can be made safely.[3] And within a roundabout, a vehicle in front has the right-of-way over the vehicles behind it.[4]

Alaska also has a traffic regulation -- 13 AAC 02.215 -- that governs the use of turn signals. But this regulation does not contain any ...

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