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Court rules in favor of government in traffic case involving seat belt

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SUPERIOR Court Presiding Judge Roberto Naraja on Tuesday found Cristobal Inos not in compliance with the CNMI seat belt law.

The judge said Inos’s manner of wearing his seat belt under his arm did not conform to the manufacturer’s design and thus was not in compliance with 9 CMC § 4108 (d).

Inos was ordered to pay a $25 fine no later than 30 days from the issuance of the judgment order.

The judge said if Inos pays the fine, the court will set aside the conviction upon confirmation from the clerk of court that the citation has been paid.

At the bench trial on Aug. 27, 2019 at the Rota courthouse, the court heard testimony from Officer Harvey Atalig and from the defendant.

Officer Atalig testified that when he was traveling east, he passed Inos who was driving west. The officer said he witnessed the defendant driving without his seat belt.

“Specifically, he observed that the seat belt was hanging straight down, as opposed to crossing above [the] defendant’s shoulder and down across his chest.”

Inos testified that he was wearing his seat belt, “but it was in a manner that did not agitate a preexisting health condition.” He said the left side of his body was “susceptible to a great amount of pain.”

He added that “he was experiencing excruciating pain, so he had the seat belt straight down his left side and then across his waist to the buckle on the other side of his body. His medical testimony was that at one time, the left side of his body ‘died,’ and further, the accompanying pain would come and go.”

The judge said the question before the court was whether the seat belt positioned by the defendant was in compliance with 9 CMC § 4108(d), which states that “[e]very person, during transit, in a passenger motor vehicle, except a motorcycle, moped, or motor bus, shall wear a passenger restraint system as defined in 9 CMC § 1103(f).”

9 CMC § 1103(f) defines “passenger restraint system” as “the seat belt assembly required to be in the motor vehicle under the federal motor vehicle safety standards issued pursuant to the federal National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, as amended [15 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq.], unless original replacement seat belt assemblies are not readily available, in which case seat belts of federally approved materials with similar protective characteristics may be used. Such replacement seat belt assemblies shall be permanently marked by the belt manufacturer indicating compliance with all applicable federal standards.”

The CNMI government represented by Chief Prosecutor John Bradley argued at the bench trial that “the seat belt should be worn per the manufacturer’s design.”

The judge agreed and noted that Inos, who represented himself, did not present any evidence from his doctor regarding his medical condition, such as a letter excusing him from wearing a seat belt or providing documentary proof of his medical condition.

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