Illinois case finds extension of traffic stop unlawful

Asking for driver’s license and registration is not always allowed in a Illinois traffic stop.

Before a law enforcement officer can stop a vehicle, he or she needs to have a suspicion of unlawful activity. Expired registration or a broken headlight might justify a stop. More often, the reason for the stop relates to a traffic violation, such as speeding or rolling through a stop sign.

The officer may write a ticket or give a warning, but sometimes these stops lead to arrest on suspicion of DUI or possession of drugs.

Fourth Amendment violation

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable search or seizure. Reasonableness is sometimes a balancing act between a simple black and white rule and one that has some gray area that requires a case-by-case review of unique facts.

Prosecutors in a recent case argued for a simplistic rule that would allow Illinois police officers to ask for a driver’s license in all traffic stops. However, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the request to see a driver’s license impermissibly extended a stop and violated the driver’s fourth amendment rights.

The high court agreed with the trial court decision to dismiss a citation for Class 4 felony driving with a suspended license. The facts developed at a pre-trial hearing to suppress evidence in the case are important.

In January 2011, a man was driving a van owned by a friend named Pearlene Chattic. He saw a squad car following him and stopped when it activated its lights. Officer Shane Bland testified that he initially thought the vehicle had expired registration. Registration turned out to be valid, but the owner had a warrant. He knew that the owner was a woman.

As he approached the window, Officer Bland saw that the driver was a man. His initial suspicion was satisfied, but he still asked for driver’s license and registration. He explained it was “standard operating procedure.” The man had no license with him. If he could have shown a license and proof of insurance, he could have left. The only reason for the stop was the warrant violation.

A step too far

The trial court judge held that asking for the license after determining that the man was not Pearlene Chattic went a step beyond what was lawful. The state appealed the decision to the Illinois Court of Appeal and Illinois Supreme Court, but lost its main argument that the request for driver’s license and registration was “brief, minimally invasive and related vaguely to officer safety.”

The Illinois Supreme Court found this broad rule while simple to apply did not fully protect an individual’s constitutional rights. Thus extending a stop to ask for identification and registration based on standard procedure or curiosity is generally not allowed.

Criminal procedure is a complicated area of the law. Each case is slightly different and depending on the conduct of the law enforcement officer there could be defenses available. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise how the law applies in your unique circumstances and help build the strongest possible defense.

Deboer Law