You like driving late at night.  It’s quiet, and it lets you think.  One night, you pulled over to eat in a store’s parking lot.  The store had been closed for several hours, and the area was deserted.  An officer spotted you and came over to investigate.  He smelled alcohol and pretty soon you were out of your car and under arrest. Can they do that?

The answer depends on the facts of your situation.

An officer can see if you need help as part of his or her community care taking function.  Were you sleeping in the car or did you have a heart attack?  If the officer sees something suspicious, the officer may then question and arrest you. But if the officer stopped you only because you were in the parking lot late at night, then any resulting search or arrest is probably illegal.

To justify a stop, the officer must have observed unusual conduct which lead to a reasonable, articulable suspicion that you have committed or are about to commit a crime.  The officer’s suspicion must be more than a hunch and cannot be justified after the fact.

For example, in People v. Gallagher, the defendant was in a gas station parking lot around 12:45 a.m.  The officer became suspicious due to the gas station’s having been previously burglarized, the lateness of the hour and the two individuals sitting inside the car in a darkened area. The court held that this evidence merely amounted to a hunch and that the lateness of the hour, without more, did not rise to a reasonable articulable suspicion.

If you have been charged with a criminal or traffic offense, contact an experienced attorney immediately. Did the officer have probable cause both to stop you and to search your car?  If not, an attorney may be able to petition the court to suppress any evidence resulting from the stop or search.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(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.)


About mdkeenan

A criminal and school law attorney with over 17 years of experience, I have successfully represented clients all over the Chicago area. My practice includes DUI, felony, criminal, misdemeanor, homicide, internet crime, retail theft, traffic offenses, cyberstalking, drug crimes, weapons violations, domestic battery and juvenile crime. I also represent families involving school cases. My clients come from all over the Chicago area including Skokie, Wilmette, Niles, Northbrook, Glenview, Evanston, Winnetka, Highland park, Northfield, Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Mount Prospect. I am a member of the ACLU and the Illinois State Bar Association. I serve as a volunteer for First Defense Legal Aid. Se habla espanol.
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