A police officer can stop you if he or she has probable cause. An unlit headlight may be cause enough. But once stopped, an officer needs either your consent or a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to search your car.
What is a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing? The answer depends on how a judge sees the specific facts of your situation.
A recent Illinois case provides a good example. In People v. Thomas, the defendant was stopped because of an obstructed windshield. An officer warned the defendant and returned his license. At that point, defendant’s first detention was over. However, the officer continued to question him, then brought a dog to sniff defendant’s car. This created a second detention which required the officer to have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing beyond the obstructed windshield.
The officer testified that the defendant was excessively nervous and drove under the speed limit. Defendant’s route appeared to be out of the way to his intended destination. There was evidence of hard travel (energy drinks and junk food). Defendant drove instead of flew across country but only intended to stay a few days and had no luggage. Finally, defendant had a criminal history of drug trafficking.
The court held that the officer lacked a reasonable suspicion to search defendant’s car. Neither nervousness, a criminal history, nor driving a couple miles under the speed limit by themselves was enough to create reasonable suspicion. Defendant’s route was suggested by Google Maps. While drug couriers also avoid overnight stops and rely on energy drinks and junk food, so do many innocent drivers. It was not unusual for people to drive long distances, even where flying was cheaper, and not everyone owned luggage.
If you have been charged with DUI or a similar offense, contact an experienced attorney immediately. Was the police search of your car illegal? If so, an attorney may be able to petition the court to suppress the results of your arrest. In limited situations, this could result in dismissal of your case or at least make it harder for the prosecution to convict you. Be aware, however, that different judges may view the facts differently. An attorney who is respected and familiar with the courthouse may have a better chance of persuading your particular judge.
If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)