DUI Case Summary: People v. Geier

407 ILL.APP.3D 553, 348 ILL.DEC. 552 (2ND DIST. 2011)

Initial probable cause did not dissipate merely because Arresting Officer continued to follow motorist for 2-4 miles, after observing traffic violation, before stopping motorist.

The State charged defendant with driving under the influence of alcohol. 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(2) (West 2008). The traffic citation described the road conditions as dry with clear visibility. Defendant was issued a notice of summary suspension of her driver’s license for 12 months. 625 ILCS 5/11-501.1 (West 2008). Prior to trial, defendant moved to quash her arrest and suppress evidence obtained when a sheriff’s deputy stopped her vehicle.

Defendant petitioned to rescind the statutory summary suspension, alleging that the Arresting Officer stopped her vehicle without reasonable grounds to believe that she was operating her vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Following a hearing, the trial Court granted defendant’s petition. The trial Court found that the Arresting Officer did not have sufficient cause to effect a traffic stop.

Defendant then moved to quash her arrest and suppress evidence, arguing that the Arresting Officer lacked probable cause to make the initial stop of her vehicle prior to her arrest. At hearing on Defendant’s motion, the Arresting Officer testified that he was traveling south on Route 76 approaching Woodstock Road and observed defendant’s silver Chevy Blazer a little more than a quarter-mile away on Woodstock Road. Defendant’s vehicle was moving “a little fast” as it approached the intersection, and it abruptly stopped at the intersection. The intersection was controlled by a stop sign and located on a downhill curve.

After Defendant’s vehicle stopped, it turned left onto southbound Route 76. The Arresting Officer then observed the vehicle cross over the white fog line on the right-hand side of the road. At one point, all four tires passed over the fog line. The vehicle next turned right onto Spring Creek Road. The Arresting Officer observed no problems with that turn. The vehicle then turned north onto Riverside Road. The vehicle continued to travel within its lane. However, after the vehicle passed Olson Road, the vehicle’s left front wheel crossed over the center line. The Arresting Officer did not recall whether or not the tire completely crossed over the center line. The Arresting Officer then stopped Defendant’s vehicle.

The Arresting Officer testified that the distance between Woodstock and Olson Roads is about two miles, but that it could be four to five miles. The Arresting Officer was unable to run his radar. When he paced Defendant’s vehicle, it exceeded the speed limit. He had not caught up to Defendant’s vehicle before he reached Spring Creek Road, but caught up to the vehicle by the time it reached Riverside Road.

The Arresting Officer did not issue defendant a ticket for crossing the center line, but he did issue her a ticket for driving over the fog line. 625 ILCS 5/11-709(a). Addressing why he did not pull over defendant between Spring Creek and Olson Roads, the Arresting Officer testified that since there were curves and hills, there was no safe place to stop a car in that area. He was concerned for both defendant’s and his own safety. The Arresting Officer did not activate his take-down lights while there was a significant distance between himself and Defendant. The Arresting Officer testified that he preferred to have a short distance between his squad car and a motorist before activating his take-down lights because, if a car was too far ahead, the driver would not necessarily know that the officer is trying to effect a stop. The Arresting Officer acknowledged that the shoulder on southbound Route 76 is the width of a car.

Following arguments, the trial Court granted defendant’s motion to quash and suppress. The court noted its familiarity with People v. Leyendecker, 337 Ill.App.3d 678, 787 N.E.2d 358, 272 Ill.Dec.543 (2nd Dist. 2003), which defendant’s counsel had cited. The trial Court found that defendant crossed the fog line at Woodstock Road and Route 76 and, therefore, violated the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-709(a). Addressing probable cause, the trial Court found, however, that there were between two and four miles from the point of the violation to where the Arresting Officer stopped defendant. The trial Court stated that the testimony showed that defendant’s vehicle passed several intersections before the Arresting Officer stopped her. The trial Court found that the Arresting Officer was credible but did not have probable cause to stop defendant. The court stated that a “significant” factor in its ruling was that the Arresting Officer delayed in pulling over defendant.

The State filed a Motion to Reconsider, arguing that a peace officer is not required to effect a traffic stop immediately after witnessing a traffic violation and that there is no requirement that a peace officer issue a traffic ticket on the same day as the cited offense. The trial Court denied the State’s motion, reiterating its prior findings and stating that the Arresting Officer waited too long to issue the ticket.

The State filed a certificate of impairment and appealed pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 604(a)(1).

On appeal, the State argued that the trial Court erred in granting defendant’s motion to quash and suppress. The State challenged two aspects of the trial Court’s ruling, arguing that the trial Court erred by (1) relying on Leyendecker, because that case was distinguishable and limited to its unique facts; and (2) not placing more weight on the Arresting Officer’s assessment of the circumstances surrounding his delay in stopping Defendant. The Appellate Court agreed with the State’s argument that the trial Court erred in granting defendant’s motion.

The Appellate Court reviewed Leyendecker and concluded that Leyendecker was distinguishable from the matter at bar. The Appellate Court noted that in the instant case, defendant’s driving error—all four wheels of her vehicle crossed the fog line—was for more egregious than the error that occurred in Leyendecker—a momentary crossing, by a width of one foot, of the fog line while maneuvering in a 65-mile-per-hour zone into a curve. In the matter at bar, the Appellate Court maintained that there were no special conditions such as the poor visibility in Leyendecker that would have accounted for defendant’s driving error. Although the Arresting Officer testified that the approach to the Woodstock Road and Route 76 intersection was a downhill curve, the Arresting Officer testified that defendant’s vehicle crossed over the fog line after she stopped at the intersection, and the Arresting Officer wrote in the DUI citation that the road conditions were dry with clear visibility. Unlike Leyendecker, the Arresting Officer testified that defendant’s vehicle crossed over at least one of the roadway’s center lines.

The Appellate Court then addressed the State’s second argument, that, although the trial Court expressed no concern as to the Arresting Officer’s credibility, it nevertheless appeared to disregard the Arresting Officer’s explanation as to why he did not stop defendant earlier.

The Appellate Court noted that the Arresting Officer testified that, after he observed a traffic violation, he followed defendant’s vehicle for two to four miles before stopping Defendant because he did not feel there was a safe place to stop. The Appellate Court noted that the trial Court found there was no probable cause because the Arresting Officer waited too long to stop Defendant, and the Appellate Court also pointed out that the trial Court did not explain how the initial probable cause dissipated merely because the Arresting Officer continued to follow defendant for two to four miles after observing the traffic violation. Mere delay does not dissipate probable cause to arrest. People v. Shepherd, 242 Ill.App.3d 24, 29-30, 610 N.E.2d 163, 182 Ill.Dec. 739 (4th Dist. 1993).

In addition to relying on Shepherd, the Appellate Court cited Section 107-2(1)(c) of the Code of Civil Procedure of 1963 which states, in part, that a “peace officer may arrest a person when” the officer “has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is committing or has committed an offense”. (Emphasis added). 725 ILCS 5/107-2(1)(c). The Appellate Court concluded that this statute has been construed to mean that an officer has discretion to arrest a person “immediately, later, or perhaps never”. Shepherd, 242 Ill.App.3d at 29.

The Appellate Court ruled that the trial Court erred in granting defendant’s motion to quash and suppress. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment of the Circuit Court and remanded the cause for further proceedings.

 

David B. Franks
Lake in the Hills, IL