Before police can stop your car, they must have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation is occurring.  If  the officer develops a reasonable, articulable suspicion that you are doing something wrong, the officer may investigate as long as he or she does not unreasonably prolong your stop. The officer must be able to point to facts that support his or her suspicion and may not simply rely on a hunch.  Further, the officer cannot rely on evidence found during a search to retroactively justify his or her suspicion.

The definitions of “probable cause,” “reasonable, articulable suspicion,” and “unreasonably prolong” leaves much room for interpretation by your particular judge.  That is why an attorney who is familiar with the personnel at your courthouse can be critical. Your attorney’s job is to persuade the judge to interpret those terms favorably in your defense.

For example, if you failed your DUI field sobriety tests, an attorney can argue any facts that support an alternative explanation.  What if you failed because you are elderly or overweight?  Was it cold outside? Were you wearing high heels?  Did you have a previous injury? Were you exhausted from working a double shift?  What if the officer said you slurred your words?  Are you a non-native speaker with an accent?  Or again, perhaps you were exhausted from a double shift.

Perhaps the officer became suspicious of wrongdoing during the stop and found contraband in your car.  An attorney can argue that the officer’s suspicion did not justify further action. Were you simply looking nervous?  Did you place something under your seat without more?  Was the stop unduly prolonged?  Perhaps the officer kept you waiting for the narcotics dog well after he or she finished writing up your tickets.

People v. Patel provides an example of how different judges see things differently.  An officer stopped a defendant for speeding. The parties did not dispute the officer’s probable cause.  On approaching defendant, however, the officer smelled alcohol. The defendant said he had drank 2 ½ India pale ales.  The trial court did not believe the facts as a whole supported the officer’s reasonable suspicion to justify investigating the defendant for DUI. The appellate court disagreed, and said that the odor of alcohol along with defendant’s admission was in fact enough.

Even if the evidence against you is overwhelming and your stop was brief, an attorney who is respected in the courthouse may still be able to negotiate a more favorable plea agreement than you could on your own.

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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