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MAR 16 2023
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE THIRTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
GRUNDY COUNTY, ILLINOIS
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
-vs- BENJAMIN A. ROBINSON,
) Case NO. 2021 CF 263
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SUPPRESS
THIS MATTER, having come before the Court for hearing on Defendant’s written Motion to Suppress, the Court having considered testimony of the arresting officer, the submissions of both parties and having considered arguments of Counsel;
THE COURT HEREBY FINDS AS FOLLOWS;
The Defendant was charged in a two-count Bill of Indictment on November 3, 2021, with unlawful possession of controlled substance with intent to deliver (Class X), and unlawful possession of a controlled substance (Class I).
Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress seeking (1) the suppression of 900 grams or more of a substance allegedly containing cocaine, including the suppression of any other physical evidence; and (2) suppression of any statements of the Defendant.
Defendant’s motion was related to a stop of a vehicle he was driving on Interstate 80 in Grundy County on October 23, 2021, by lllinois State Police. Specifically, Defendant alleged that the initial stop of the Defendant’s vehicle lacked any lawful basis and that the officer’s detention of the Defendant was prolonged beyond the original mission of the traffic stop and was, therefore, unconstitutional. Defendant argued that both acts independently and collectively violated Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.
This Court agrees with the Defendant’s argument that the Trooper lacked reasonable articulable suspicion or probable cause for the initial traffic stop, and grants Defendant’s motion on that basis for the reasons set forth herein. Because Defendant’s motion can be decided on the basis for the stop, the Court declines to decide the issue of whether the stop was unreasonably extended beyond the mission of the traffic stop.
An evidentiary hearing was held and concluded on March 10, 2023. Audio and video of the hearing was recorded electronically through the Court’s electronic recording system. The only witness called was Illinois State Trooper, Nick Schoen. Additionally, a single exhibit was admitted into evidence by the parties, Petitioner’s Exhibit 1, which was the patrol car dash camera video and audio from Trooper Schoen’s on-person audio.
Trooper Schoen testified that on October 23, 2021, at approximately 4:27 p.m. he was employed with District 5 State Police and was engaged in stationary patrol on interstate 1-80 just west of Morris at milepost 111. Interstate 80 at that location is a controlled access highway with 2 eastbound lanes and 2 westbound lanes. Trooper Schoen was in a marked patrol car and was in uniform, and had been employed with the Illinois State Police for a period of approximately two years prior to the stop.
Trooper Schoen testified that the sole basis for the traffic stop was an alleged violation of 11- 701 of the Illinois Vehicle Code, which prohibits persons from traveling in the left lane, subject to certain exceptions. Trooper Schoen testified on questioning by the Court that the alleged violation occurred when the Defendant’s car was directly in front of his patrol vehicle, and that is when the officer made his decision to stop the Defendant.
SECTION 11-701 OF THE ILLINOIS VEHICLE CODE
Section 11-701 of the Vehicle Code states, in relevant part, as follows:
(a) Upon all roadways of sufficient width a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the
roadway, except as follows:
* * *
(d) Upon an Interstate highway or fully access controlled freeway,
a vehicle may not be driven in the left lane, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle. (emphasis added).
MOTION TO SUPPRESS STANDARD
Pursuant to appellate authority interpreting 725 ILCS 5/114-12, the defendant bears the initial burden of production of evidence to establish unlawfulness as a prima facie matter. People v. Statham, 209 Ill. App. 3d 352, 362 (1st Dist. 1991). Aprimafacie showing means defendant must provide some evidence to establish (1) there was a search and/or seizure; and (2) the initial stop was not supported by reasonable, articulable suspicion, or the arrest was not supported by probable cause. People v. Berg, 67 Ill. 2d 65, 68 (1977). If a prima facie case is made, the burden of production shifts to the State to demonstrate legal justification. Id. The defendant bears the ultimate burden of proof on the unlawfulness of the search and/or seizure. 725 ILCS 5/114-12(b); People v. Cregan, 2014 Ill. 113600,, 23.
Here, the Court finds that the Defendant met his burden, and that the State has failed to rebut with any evidence to demonstrate a legal justification for the stop.
Both the United States Constitution and the Illinois Constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures by police. US. Const., amend IV; Ill Const. 1970, art. I§ 6.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” As the Illinois Supreme Court explained in People v. Caballes, 221 Ill. 2d 282, 304-14 (2006), “this court has adopted.a ‘limited lockstep’ approach to interpreting the Illinois search and seizure clause.
This approach recognizes that the drafters of the 1970 constitution and the delegates to the constitutional convention intended the phrase ‘search and seizure’ in Article I, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution to mean, in general, what the same phrase means in the federal constitution.” Id. at 314.
REASONABLE ARTICULABLE SUSPICION; PROBABLE CAUSE
In Terry v. Ohio, 392 US. 1 (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court provided an exception to the warrant and probable cause requirements. “Pursuant to Terry, a police officer may conduct a brief, investigatory stop of a person where the officer reasonably ·believes that the person has committed, or is about to commit, a crime.” People v. Timmsen, 2016IL118181, , 9. A stop “must be justified at its inception, and the police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, when taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant a constitutionally permitted intrusion.” People v. Colyar, 2013 IL 111835,, 40.
The officer’s level of suspicion must be more than an inarticulate hunch. “The officer’s conduct is judged by an objective standard, which analyzes whether the facts available to the officer at the moment of the stop justify the action taken.” People v. Hill, 2019 IL App (4th) 180041, , 17.
A “Terry stop” has been extended to the stopping of motor vehicles in Illinois. People v. Greco, 336 lll.App.3d 253 (2d Dist. 2003). An officer can make an investigatory traffic stop without probable cause to arrest. For a traffic stop to be valid, however, the police officer must have reasonable, articulable suspicion that “the vehicle or occupant is subject to seizure for a violation of the law.” Although the stop must be based on more than a mere hunch, “generally, an officer’s observation of a traffic violation or erratic driving provides a sufficient basis for a traffic stop.”
Below is a still image taken from the dash camera video of the Trooper’s vehicle (Petitioner’s Exhibit 1), at 0:00:39 which depicts, along with the corresponding video, that the Defendant’s vehicle (silver sedan) was clearly passing a semi-truck at the time the officer testified he observed the alleged traffic infraction. Trooper Schoen testified that he did not see the vehicle driven by the Defendant before it passed his patrol car. The dash video and Trooper Schoen’s testimony reflect that the Defendant’s car had completed passing the semi truck and had returned to the right driving lane seconds after the Trooper began pursuing the Defendant and caught up to him.
Moreover, on examination by the State Trooper Schoen testified that he did not recall seeing the semi-truck depicted in the image below before stopping the Defendant. However, Trooper Schoen later testified on examination by defense counsel that he did, in fact, see the semi-truck before stopping the Defendant.
The Court finds the trooper’s testimony inconsistent on these critical issues, and therefore questions the credibility of the officer, including his motivations for the stop.
Considering the totality of the circumstances, and applying an objective analysis to the Trooper’s testimony, this Court finds that the Trooper’s observations, or lack thereof, fail to substantiate or articulate the reasonable suspicion necessary to lawfully justify the stop of the Defendant. In fact, the video depicts the opposite conclusion – that the Defendant’s conduct was expressly authorized by Section 11-70l(d) of the Vehicle Code.
Considering the Court’s finding that the Trooper lacked reasonable articulable suspicion to make an investigatory stop, it logically follows that the Trooper also lacked probable cause to effectuate a traffic stop. The Court, therefore, finds that the initial stop of the Defendant’s vehicle was unconstitutional, and the Court finds that Trooper Schoen acted on no more than an inarticulate hunch when he stopped the Defendant. Under these circumstances, the Court does not find that Trooper Schoen, or any reasonably trained police officer, could have objectively believed that a violation of 625 ILCS 5/11-701 occurred.
OFFICER’S MISTAKE OF FACT
The State argued at the hearing that, despite the video depiction of the Defendant’s car driving in a passing lane while actively overtaking a semi-truck, the Trooper made a mistake of fact.
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is “reasonableness.” Riley v. California, 573 US. 373 (2014). To be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them “fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.” Brinegar v. United States, 338, US. 160 (1949).
Even if an officer is mistaken in believing that a violation of the Illinois Vehicle Code occurred, his mistaken belief of a violation may form the basis for a constitutionally valid vehicle stop. People v. Gaytan, 2015 IL 116223 (citing Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 530 (2014)).
In 2014, the U.S Supreme Court examined whether the Fourth Amendment is violated when a police officer pulls over a vehicle based on an “objectively reasonable, although mistaken, belief’ that the traffic laws prohibited the conduct which was the basis for the stop. Heien v. North Carolina, 584 US. 54 (2014). The Court in Heien explained:* * Reasonable suspicion arises from the combination of an officer’s understanding of the facts and his understanding of the relevant law.
The officer may be reasonably mistaken on either ground. Whether the facts turn out to be not what was thought, or the law turns out to be not what was thought, the result is the same: the facts are outside the scope of the law. There is no reason, under the text of the Fourth Amendment or our precedents, why this same result should be acceptable when reached by way of a reasonable mistake of fact, but not when reached by way of a similarly
reasonable mistake of law.” Id. Likewise, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that ” [w]hen an officer makes a stop based on a mistake of fact, we ask only whether the mistake was reasonable.” United States v. McDonald, 453 F3d 958, 962 (7th Cir. 2006).
Applying the holding of the U.S. Supreme Court in Riley and the Seventh Circuit holding in McDonald, this Court must determine whether the Trooper’s mistake of fact was reasonable. The term “reasonable” is defined as “fair, proper, or moderate under the circumstances.” Black’s Law Dictionary at 1293 (8th ed. 2004). An officer “who mistakenly believes a violation occurred when the acts in question are not prohibited by law is not acting reasonably.” People v. Johnson, 384 Ill.App.3d 409 (4ᵗʰ Dist. 2008).
Consistent with the above authority, this Court declines to agree with the State that the Trooper’s mistake was reasonable. To do so would defy reality. To the contrary, the Court finds the Trooper’s apparent mistake of fact unreasonable.
SUPPRESSION OF EVIDENCE
The Defendant has asked in his motion that all evidence seized and statements subsequently made as a result of the traffic stop be suppressed. The U.S. Supreme Court had directed that “all evidence obtained by an unconstitutional search and seizure [is] inadmissible in court.” Mapp v. Ohio, 367 US. 643, 654 (1951). This exclusionary rule is supplemented by the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, which bars the admissibility of evidence that police derivatively obtain from an unconstitutional search or seizure. See Wong v. United States, 371 US. .471, 488 (1962). The Court finds that all physical evidence and statements obtained as a result of the traffic stop of the Defendant on October 23, 2021, must be suppressed.
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED AS FOLLOWS:
DATED this 16ᵗʰ day of March 2023.
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