|Legal Opinion: |
Text of Document: March 10, 2006
You have two questions related to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court judge:
1. What options does the juvenile court judge have relative to disposing of juvenile traffic cases, besides disposing of such cases himself?
Tennessee Code Annotated, § 37-1-146, appears to authorize the juvenile court judge to do two things with respect to juvenile traffic cases:
(A) Dispose of such cases “nonjudicially under the supervision of the judge; in any case however, the child or the child’s parents may request and shall be granted a hearing before the judge.”
Years ago, the Knox County Juvenile Court authorized the juvenile bureau of the Knoxville Police Department to non-judicially dispose of juvenile traffic cases. Officers in that bureau could dispose of cases provided the juvenile traffic offender was willing to plead guilty. If the offender wanted to plead not guilty or otherwise requested a hearing before the juvenile court, his or her case was sent to that court. Presumably it was under the above provision that the Knox County Juvenile Court Judge authorized the Juvenile Bureau to non-judicially dispose of such cases. The member of the Juvenile Bureau who heard the juvenile traffic cases had the authority to suspend the offenders’s driver license for some period, or pay a fine of up to $50. I do not know whether any juvenile court judge in Tennessee is today using a similar system for nonjudicially disposing of juvenile traffic offense.
(B) In the case of juveniles over 16, to waive jurisdiction over such violations in favor of the adult courts.
My research discloses no other Tennessee statues that authorize the juvenile My research discloses no other Tennessee statues that authorize the juvenile court judge to either non-judicially dispose, or to waive jurisdiction over, state law or ordinance violations of any other kind committed by juveniles. You point to the possibility that the phrase "traffic law or ordinance" in Tennessee Code Annotated, § 37-1-146 contemplates violations of ordinances other than traffic ordinances. However, the opening sentence of that statute says “(a) All cases of alleged traffic violations by children....” For that reason, I think the referenced in other places in that statute to “traffic law or ordinance” applies only to violations of state traffic laws, and to violations of municipal traffic ordinances.
2. Is skateboarding in public ways other than highways and streets a traffic violation?
Tennessee Code Annotated, § 55-8-173(c) provides that:
No person shall play on a highway other than upon the sidewalk thereof, within a city or town, or in any part of a highway outside the limits of a city or town, or use thereon roller skates, coasters or any similar vehicle or toy or article on wheels or a runner, except in such areas as may be specially designated for that purpose by local authorities.
The term "highway" is defined for the purpose of the rules of the road contained in Tennessee Code Annotated, § 55-8-101 et seq., as "the entire width between the boundary lines of every way when any part thereto is open to the use of the public for the purposes of vehicular travel." (subsection 22) (The definition of "street" for the purposes of the rules of the road is exactly the same as the definition of "highway." (Subsection 62))
That statute appears to me broad enough to cover skateboards. If police officers cite the juvenile to juvenile court for a violation of that state law, it appears that the juvenile judge can authorize the non-judicial disposition of such cases under Tennessee Code Annotated , § 37-1-146, or if the offender is over 16, waive jurisdiction over that offense to the adult court. The same appears to be true if the city adopts as a municipal ordinance violation the same statute
under its authority to adopt state laws as municipal ordinance violations under Tennessee Code Annotated, § 55-10-307, which provides that:
Any incorporated municipality may by ordinance adopt, by reference, any of the appropriate provisions of section 55-8- 101--55-8-180...., and may by ordinance provide additional regulations for the operation of vehicles within the municipality, which shall not be in conflict with the provisions of such sections....
Because the state law offense is a Class C misdemeanor, carrying a fine of $50, its adoption by municipalities does not appear to trigger problems with the Municipal Court Reform Act, which appears to prohibit municipal courts from hearing cases where the state fine exceeds that amount.
But obviously, such a statute or ordinance would not prohibit skateboarding in other public places, such as on sidewalks. That fact raises this question: In light of Tennessee Code Annotated, § 55-8-173(c), can a municipality adopt an ordinance prohibiting skateboarding on sidewalks and in other public places, considering that statute almost appears to allow the "toys" at issue to be used on sidewalks, and considering that Tennessee Code Annotated, § 55-10-307 permits municipalities to by ordinance adopt those rules of the road, and “additional regulations for the operation of vehicles within the municipality which shall not be in conflict with the provision of such sections"?
I have concluded that while a municipality has the police power by ordinance to regulate and even prohibit skateboarding on sidewalks and on other public ways and places, unless the regulation or prohibition applies to "highways" and "streets" designed for vehicular traffic, it would not qualify as a “traffic ordinance” under Tennessee Code Annotated, § 37-1-146. Like most people, I have personally witnessed skateboarders using all kinds of paved places for skateboarding, such as drainage ways and walking trails. But it is difficult to see such persons as violating traffic laws or ordinance, as those terms are commonly understood. None of the “Rules of the Road” contained in Tennessee Code Annotated, § 55-8-101 et seq., appear to embrace skateboarding as a “traffic offense” unless it is done on a highway or a street.
Sidney D. Hemsley
Senior Law Consultant