Traffic Stop Case Highlights the Importance of Reasonable Suspicion

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The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. When the Fourth Amendment is referenced in a criminal case, it is often used to challenge the legality of a police search of a person’s property or the seizure of evidence found during such a search.

What you may not realize, however, is that a traffic stop is considered a seizure for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. This means that a police officer can only initiate a traffic stop when there is a justifiable legal reason for doing so. A recent case from McLean County, Illinois shows how important it is for the police to avoid making unreasonable stops.

The Undisputed Facts

In July 2017, a man was driving on Hershey Road in Bloomington as he approached the Empire Street intersection. He was in the leftmost lane, and he stopped at the red light at the intersection. When the light turned green, he turned left onto Empire street, choosing the right lane (of two) as he exited the intersection. The man was immediately stopped by a local police officer for an improper left turn. During the stop, the officer checked the driver’s license and found that it had been revoked. The driver was then cited for driving while his license was revoked.

The Driver’s Claim

The driver challenged the citation on the basis that the officer lacked the justification to initiate the traffic stop. An officer must have reasonable, articulable suspicion that an offense is being or has been committed. The officer admitted in court that he pulled the driver over because he exited the turn in the right line instead of exiting the turn in the nearest lane—which would have been the left lane.

The trial court determined that the law did not require the driver to exit his turn in the left lane. Thus, the officer on the scene had misunderstood the law, meaning that the suspicion was not reasonable for the purposes of conducting the stop. As a result, the trial court suppressed the evidence that led to the driving while license revoked citation.

The state appealed, but the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision. The appellate court referenced an Illinois Supreme Court decision from 2015 that held when a statute or judicial order is written in plain language—such as the one addressing left turns in the Illinois Vehicle Code—an officer who substitutes “his own erroneous interpretation of the statute or decision cannot be considered as acting in an objectively reasonable manner.”

Were You Stopped Without Cause?

If you were stopped by police without reasonable suspicion that you were committing an offense and you received a traffic citation as a result, we can help. Contact an experienced Illinois traffic violations attorney to explore your available options. Call the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba at 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.