2013 IL App (2d) 120788; 2013 Ill. App. LEXIS 228
In analyzing whether a stop is proper, a Court is not limited to bases cited by the Officer for effectuating the stop. Defendant’s failure to signal her turn, although the Arresting Officer never issued her a citation for this violation, and testified that the sole basis for stopping Defendant was based upon another disputed violation, provided the Arresting Officer a proper basis to stop Defendant.
At the Hearing on Defendant’s Petition to Rescind and Motion to Quash and Suppress, the Arresting Officer testified that he was in his squad car, positioned on the Deerfield Road overpass observing southbound traffic on Route 41. The Officer saw Defendant driving on Route 41. Defendant’s car did not have a light illuminating the rear license plate. The Officer left his position on the overpass and followed Defendant’s car. The Arresting Officer positioned his squad car behind Defendant’s car. Defendant’s vehicle was having difficulty operating on the roadway, “weaving within the lane”. Defendant’s car, however, “never went out of its lane”. The Officer stopped Defendant’s car.
The Arresting Officer testified that the basis for the traffic stop was because Defendant’s license plate was not illuminated. The Arresting Officer observed that Defendant’s license plate light was not illuminated when he followed and when he approached her car after the stop. The Arresting Officer did not issue any citations for illegal lane usage or speeding, or for Defendant’s failure to illuminate her license plate.
A video of the traffic stop revealed that when the Arresting Officer followed Defendant’s car, Defendant did not activate her turn signal as she exited Route 41 and proceeded onto the exit ramp. While driving up the ramp, Defendant’s car swerved to the right side of the road, touching or crossing the fog line. The Officer activated his Mars lights, and Defendant stopped her car. The Officer approached Defendant’s car, and asked for her driver’s license and registration. Defendant asked the Officer if he stopped her for speeding. The Officer advised her that he stopped her because her license plate light was out, and she was “bouncing around a little bit” in her lane. The Court noted that the video did not make clear whether or not the rear plate light was out, due to the illumination from the squad car headlights.
Defendant testified that she had no knowledge of her rear license plate light being off on the night of this incident. Although Defendant claimed that while she was outside of her car after the stop, she never looked at the license plate light, the video revealed, however, that Defendant did look at the light while she was standing at the back of the car, and asked the Officer if he intended to issue her a citation for no rear registration light. Defendant testified that she took photographs of her rear license plate, showing the light above the plate was illuminated. The photographs, taken at night at a close distance, and admitted into evidence, depicted a dim light above the license plate of Defendant’s car. Defendant testified that she made no changes to the license plate light from the time of the incident until she took the pictures.
The Trial Court granted Defendant’s petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension of her driving privileges and her motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The Trial Court reasoned that although Defendant may have committed other traffic violations, such as failure to use a turn signal or weaving within the lane, since the Officer testified that the sole basis for stopping Defendant’s vehicle was because there was no rear registration light, and since Defendant entered photographs into evidence which showed that the rear license plate was unobstructed, the Court would grant her petition and motion.
The City argued for the Court to reconsider, arguing that other traffic violations gave the Officer reason to stop the Defendant. The Trial Court maintained that since the Officer testified that the sole basis for the Officer stopping Defendant’s vehicle was because there was no rear registration light, the Court would grant the motion and petition.
The City later filed a written motion to reconsider, arguing that the Officer observed other traffic violations in addition to no rear registration light. The City argued that because the video depicted that Defendant did not use a turn signal when she exited Route 41, the Officer’s stop of Defendant’s car was proper. The Trial Court denied the motion to reconsider, again finding that the sole basis for the Officer stopping Defendant’s vehicle was because there was no rear registration light. The Trial Court also reasoned that based upon the credibility of the witnesses, the Trial Court did not find that Defendant’s rear registration plate was not illuminated. The City questioned the Court regarding its ruling. The Trial Court acknowledged that the video revealed that Defendant did not use her turn signal, but the Trial Court maintained that the Officer testified that the sole basis for the Officer stopping Defendant’s vehicle was because there was no rear registration light.
The City then appealed. At issue in the City’s appeal was whether the stop of Defendant was proper. In addressing that issue, the Appellate Court, citing People v. Hackett, 971 N.E.2d 1058, 361 Ill. Dec. 536 (2012), noted that vehicle stops are subject to the fourth amendment’s reasonableness requirement.
Writing for the Appellate Court, Justice Jorgensen noted that the Trial Court found that the only basis that the Arresting Officer gave for stopping Defendant was that the rear license plate light on Defendant’s car was out. The Appellate Court found that the record rebutted the Trial Court’s finding. According to the Appellate Court, the record, including the video, explicitly indicated that the Officer provided two reasons for stopping Defendant: (1) failing to have an operational rear license plate light and (2) “bouncing around a little but in her lane” of traffic.
The Appellate Court noted that the Trial Court found that the rear license plate light was working. The Appellate Court noted that although there were several things that suggested that the light was not working properly, the Appellate Court could not conclude that the trial Court’s finding on this issue was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
The Appellate Court reasoned, however, that even if Defendant’s rear license plate light was not a proper basis for the Officer to stop Defendant, that was not the only reason the Officer provided for stopping Defendant’s vehicle. The Appellate Court noted that the Officer testified, and the video depicted, he also stopped Defendant because she was “bouncing around in her lane”. Citing People v. Greco, 336 Ill.App.3d 253, 270 Ill. Dec. 626 (2nd Dist. 2003), the Appellate Court found that this gave the Arresting Officer a proper basis to stop Defendant.
The Appellate Court further reasoned that even if these two violations did not provide the Arresting Officer with a valid basis for stopping Defendant, her failure to signal her turn when she left Route 41 at Skokie Valley Road gave the Officer a valid reason for the stop. The Appellate Court stated that it did not matter that the Arresting Officer did not testify that this was one of his reasons for stopping Defendant. The Appellate Court maintained that in analyzing whether a stop is proper, a Court is not limited to bases cited by the Officer for effectuating the stop. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996). The Appellate Court noted that when Defendant was exiting Route 41 onto Skokie Valley Road, she violated 625 ILCS 5/11-804)(a) of the Illinois Vehicle Code by failing to signal her turn, thereby providing the Arresting Officer a proper basis to stop her car.
Citing People v. Houlihan, 167 Ill.App. 3d 638, 118 Ill.Dec. 209 (2nd Dist. 1988), the Appellate Court observed that an Officer need not actually witness a violation in order to establish reasonable ground for a traffic stop. If an Officer need not witness a violation of the law for that violation to justify a stop, the Appellate Court maintained, then, that in the matter at bar, an Officer certainly does not need to articulate that that same violation provided a reason for the stop. According to the Appellate Court, the facts presented in the matter at bar were stronger than those presented in Houlihan, and the Appellate Court concluded that the stop of Defendant was proper. In the matter at bar, the Arresting Officer indicated that he saw Defendant fail to signal her turn from Route 41 onto the exit ramp; yet, he did not include that violation as a basis to stop Defendant. The Appellate Court reasoned that while it might not have been a subjective reason for the Arresting Officer to stop Defendant, “it certainly formed a purely objective one”. The Appellate Court found that Defendant’s failure to signal her turn constituted a valid basis for the stop.
The Appellate Court reversed the judgment of the Trial Court, and remanded the cause for further proceedings.
David B. Franks
Lake in the Hills, IL