You noticed the officer’s car behind you. You’d had a few drinks but your driving was really spot on. Then you made a left turn into the far lane of an intersection. The officer signals you to pull over. He smelled the alcohol on your breath and now you’re charged with DUI. Is the stop legal?
According to one recent Illinois case, the answer is no.
Under the Fourth Amendment, police may not stop your car unless they have a reasonable articulable suspicion that you have committed or are about to commit a crime. (Police may also stop you under exigent circumstances or as part of their community caretaking duties.) Violating a traffic law is generally enough to justify the stop. But what if your driving doesn’t really fit the definition of that law?
In People v. Walker, the defendant was stopped for making a left turn into the far lane. The defendant argued that such a turn was in fact legal and therefore, the traffic stop was not justified. The court agreed. The law merely requires that a driver turning left should leave an intersection in a lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction upon the roadway being entered. The defendant had not violated the law by turning left into the far lane. Therefore, the evidence from the traffic stop was suppressed.
A court may uphold a traffic stop if the police officer had a good faith basis for the mistake, such as the traffic law itself could be interpreted in more than one way. However, the court held that the Illinois law on traffic turns was clear, and the officer therefore could not substitute his mistaken understanding.
If you have been charged with DUI or a similar offense, contact an experienced attorney immediately. An attorney can review your case for its best possible defense. Did the officer actually witness a traffic violation? If the stop was not legal, an attorney may be able to petition the court to suppress the results of the stop.
(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.)