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Illinois Appellate Court Upholds DWLS Because Officer Had Reasonable Suspicion

Following a bench trial, defendant Brandon Little was convicted of felony driving while license suspended or revoked (DWLS) and was sentenced to one year of conditional discharge and 60 days in county jail. Little appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his pretrial motion to suppress evidence. The appeals court held that the motion was properly denied because the arresting officer had reasonable suspicion to effectuate the investigatory stop.

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Little was arrested and charged with DWLS in August 2011. Prior to trial, he filed a motion to suppress evidence. At the evidentiary hearing, Deputy Pilat testified that at about 11 pm on the evening of the arrest, he was dispatched to the property of Stanford O’Hern in McDonough County regarding a criminal trespass complaint. Upon arriving, O’Hern told Pilat he heard someone across the road trespassing and training their dogs to hunt raccoons.

Concerned that Pilat’s squad car would not make it down the road in that area, O’Hern took Pilat to the location in his own truck. When they were almost there, they passed a pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction. Pilat noticed the truck contained a metal crate used to carry animals in the back. Pilat asked O’Hern to turn around so that Pilat could run the truck’s license plate. Turning around, Pilat could see the shine of an animal’s eyes coming from inside the crate. Pilat flashed his flashlight to signal the driver to stop. Little pulled over and exited the vehicle.

O’Hern pulled up beside Little. Pilat told Little of the trespassing complaint. When asked for his drivers’ license, Little responded that he didn’t have one, and he believed it had been revoked. Little told Pilat that he had permission to be in the area where he was running his dogs. The defendant was subsequently arrested for DWLS.

At the hearing, Little testified that he had permission to be running dogs. He also said that the direction from which he was coming was nowhere near the alleged trespass. Finally, Little testified that Pilat would not have been able to see inside his dog crate, and that on any given night, four or five people are raccoon hunting in that area.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. The judge found that Pilat made a valid investigatory stop for a possible criminal trespass and that the stop had been supported by reasonable suspicion. The trial court noted that the defendant’s vehicle was the only car in that area and that it happened to have dogs in the back. Little changed attorneys and renewed his motion to suppress. The trial court again denied the motion, finding that Pilat had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant and that “no trespassing” signs were not required for the stop to be valid. Following a bench trial, Pilat was found guilty.

On appeal, Little argued that his motion should have been granted because Pilat did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that he had trespassed. The defendant reasoned that:  (1) no one saw Little trespass onto the property; (2) more than 30 minutes had passed between the alleged trespass and the traffic stop; (3) Little was not in the area where the alleged trespass occurred; and (4) no evidence of notice was presented.

The appeals court held that Deputy Pilat had reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop for a possible criminal trespass. First, the evidence suggested that Pilat was responding to a complaint of a very recent criminal trespass. The evidence further showed that O’Hern took Pilat to the exact location of the trespass, and that while at or near that location, they came across a sole vehicle with a dog crate in the back. Based upon these specific, articulable facts, and the applicable law, Pilat had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant and to inquire further about the possible trespass violation. Following the valid investigatory stop, Pilat learned that Little’s driver’s license was suspended or revoked and appropriately arrested Little. Since both the investigative stop and the subsequent arrest were proper, the trial court correctly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence.

The appeals court also rejected Little’s assertion that evidence of notice was required for the police officer to have reasonable suspicion to believe a criminal trespass had occurred. The court reasoned that the Illinois Supreme Court has repeatedly held that a police officer may conduct a lawful investigatory stop without first determining whether the circumstances he observed would satisfy each element of a particular offense. Applying that rule to Little’s case, the court reasoned that Pilat was not required to have evidence that the notice element of criminal trespass was satisfied before he could conduct an investigatory stop of Little’s vehicle. While evidence of notice may be required for a person to be found guilty of some forms of criminal trespass, it is not required for a police officer to have reasonable suspicion to investigate whether such a trespass occurred.

For these reasons, the appeals court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court of McDonough County.

The same principles of the Fourth Amendment concerning investigatory stops, reasonable suspicion and similar concepts apply to a DUI arrest just as they do to an arrest for DWLS. If the stop is ruled unconstitutional, all evidence gathered as a result is also thrown out as being “fruit of the poisonous tree”. This generally results in the prosecution being unable to prove its case, resulting in dismissal of the charges.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, or you need a driver’s license, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation to people in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses and representing revoked drivers before the Illinois Secretary of State. To learn more and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us toll-free at 1-800-829-8513.

More Blog Posts:

Illinois Court Upholds Nine-Year Sentence for Aggravated DUI, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, February 1, 2016.

New York DWI Charge Dismissed Because Defendant’s “Body is a Brewery,” Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, January 11, 2016.

New Illinois Law Lets Recent DUI Arrestees Drive, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, January 4, 2016.

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