By on November 15, 2011

Drivers cannot be pulled over if they peel out from an intersection with a bit of tire squeal, Alaska’s second-highest court ruled Thursday. In countries like Australia, a similar chirp of the tires could lead to the impounding of the vehicle under “anti-hoon” laws that generate millions in revenue. A three-judge panel in The Last Frontier was more forgiving when considering the fate of Vernon Burnett who was pulled over after midnight on September 20, 2009.

Alaska State Trooper Lucas Altepeter saw Burnett’s truck stop, then spin its tires one-third of the way through the intersection while turning left in the city of Bethel. Burnett made no driving errors, but Trooper Altepeter decided to stop him anyway, as he had “never seen somebody accidentally lose traction and spin their tires as fast and as far as this particular vehicle did.” The trooper believed he could write a citation for the tire spinning alone. A district court judge agreed, saying the the spinning was sufficient proof of negligent driving. The appellate court sided with Burnett.

“Under (state law), a person commits the offense of negligent driving if they drive in a manner that creates an unjustifiable risk of harm to a person or to property, and if their conduct actually endangers a person or property,” Judge David Mannheimer wrote for the court. “Altepeter did not assert that Burnett’s driving endangered Burnett or anyone else, or that Burnett’s driving put property at risk.”

Prosecutors countered that spinning tires represented a potential threat to everyone on the road, and that the trooper had reasonable suspicion to effect a traffic stop, or issue a safety warning to the driver. The three-judge panel found this line of argument unpersuasive.

“A person can not be convicted of negligent driving for creating a theoretical or speculative danger,” Mannheimer wrote. “The statute requires proof of actual endangerment.”

The appellate court also rejected the safety warning concept as there was no evidence Burnett was pulled over because he needed assistance or because intervention was needed to protect the public. The last ditch effort of prosecutors was the claim that a peel out gives rise to the reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. No testimony was given to back up this claim. Similar claims have also been rejected in cases before the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

“Because we conclude that the traffic stop of Burnett’s vehicle was unlawful, the evidence obtained as a result of this traffic stop must be suppressed,” Mannheimer concluded. “And because the primary evidence of Burnett’s impairment was obtained as a result of this traffic stop, Burnett’s conviction for driving under the influence is reversed.”

A copy of the decision is available in a 275k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Burnett v. Alaska (Court of Appeals, State of Alaska, 11/10/2011)


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5 Comments on “Alaska Appeals Court Upholds Burnouts...”

  • avatar

    In southeastern Wisconsin in the 1970s, this heinous crime was called “Excessive Acceleration” and carried a fine of around $50.00.

  • avatar

    A few years ago I came to a stop sign and made a full and complete stop. I then accelerated full throttle from the stop (without any wheel spin, traction control was on). I never went over the posted limit of 35 mph (I reached the speed limit in about 2 seconds), but I was pulled over for reckless driving. The officer however, was unable to explain how exactly my driving was reckless, as i never went over the limit, never even remotely lost control, and didn’t endanger anyone else because the road was deserted. I ended up walking away with a warning for failure to stop or yield for a traffic control device. Totally made up, but it was just a warning.

  • avatar

    @Contrarian, in 2002 I got an ‘unnecessary acceleration’ citation for whipping my BRIGHT RED ’87 Camaro sideways at a T-intersection in front of a cop. She cut me a break as opposed to a careless driving (a felony in MN) because, and I quote, ‘you weren’t a cocky little f***’.

    That one cost my then minimum wage-sustained self $130. I heard its pushing $200 now.

    I need to move to Alaska. It’s the only chunk of America left, well, except Texas….

  • avatar

    Here in regulation-happy Ontario we have a Regulation that defines a stunt under Section 172 of the Highway Traffic act as:

    – Driving a motor vehicle in a manner that indicates an intention to cause some or all of its tires to lose traction with the surface of the highway while turning.

    The problem with this is that intent is difficult to prove and it is purely at the discretion of the officer. Try starting up in snow, ice, or rain with a manual transmission and no traction control. I agree that burnouts are anti-social and inconvenient to bystanders and other road users, but they do not seem to be a hazard. It is even difficult to interpret the wording. Is the “while turning” at the end intended to apply to the vehicle or the tires?

    The same regulation has some other clangers. The one intended to capture wheelies could be applied to an (maybe not quite) inadvertent wheel skip over a speed bump.

    • 0 avatar

      That law is full of holes and open to millions of interpretations. They really have us all by the neck if they really wanted to.

      I think the line you quoted is lawyer speak for capturing “the art of drifting”…hehe.

      I will say though, I was pulled over once for said loss of traction around a corner in the rain. I thought I was going to be slammed by the book. Got let off with a “aren’t you too old to be driving like that??” and a warning. Maybe he was being nice, maybe he knew that it would be hard to prove intent when it was a RWD V8 in the rain…

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