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Misworded 'Stop a School Bus' Statute Temporarily Allows Reckless Driving in Virginia

Busstop As a Virginian with a bunch of school bus-riding kids, I'm pleased to say that like most states, we have a statute prohibiting motorists from whizzing by stopped school buses that have their lights flashing as they drop off and pick up children. Unfortunately, a recent case held that the law is drafted improperly, which led to a motorist, who admittedly whizzed by such a school bus, being acquitted of reckless driving charges.

The Washington Post reports that the statute, last amended in 1970, reads as follows:

A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children.

Read literally, the statute provides, as The Post put it, that "drivers must stop a school bus which is, er, stopped." Apparently the 1970 revision of the statute deleted a key "at" for some reason, leading Judge Marcus D. Williams to rule that defendant John Mendez "can only be guilty if he failed to stop any school bus. And there's no evidence he did." Unless an emergency bill is passed, The Post reports, the "stop a school bus" law will remain in effect until January 2011, when the Virginia legislature reconvenes.

The defendant acquitted under this bizarre statutory mishap said his attorney "did a lot of work and investigation into the statutes ... This is the greatest moment ever." The attorney, Eric Clingan, provided Judge Williams with "a grammatical analysis" by a professor of English at George Mason University in support of his argument.

Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh told The Post that he respectfully disagrees with the decision, quoting a U.S. Supreme Court case that states, "If a literal construction of the words of a statute be absurd, the act must be so construed as to avoid the absurdity."

Or, as Mr. Bumble stated it another way in Dickens' Oliver Twist, "If the law supposes that ... the law is a ass."

Posted by Bruce Carton on December 3, 2010 at 11:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)


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