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Illinois Appeals Court Holds Dog Sniff Unreasonably Prolonged Traffic Stop

The State of Illinois appealed from the lower court’s granting of three co-defendants’ motions to suppress contraband found following a dog sniff of their car. This fall, the Illinois Court of Appeals for the Second District held that the dog sniff violated the Fourth Amendment because the traffic stop was illegally prolonged. This case’s analysis of the Fourth Amendment is relevant to Illinois DUI law.

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The three defendants were charged with armed violence, unlawful possession of heroin with the intent to deliver, and unlawful possession of heroin. The defendants moved to suppress the evidence seized from the car that defendant 1 drove and in which defendants 2 and 3 were passengers.

One afternoon in November 2015, an Illinois officer noticed a car with Minnesota license plates closely following a tractor-trailer. In addition, some of the car’s windows were tinted heavily. Thus, the officer effectuated a traffic stop.

Reasoning that he was the only officer present, there were three people in the car, and two occupants seemed nervous, the officer asked defendant 1 to exit the car. He explained why he had pulled her over and then asked her to sit in his squad car while he prepared a written warning.

As the officer was talking with defendant 1, he requested a K-9 handler for back-up. The officer left the completed ticket in the car and told defendant 1 to wait while he went to speak to defendant 2 about the insurance card.

The officer described defendant 2 as “overly nervous.” He obtained consent to search from defendants 2 and 3, but he found nothing. He then explained he would perform a K-9 sniff of the vehicle and asked defendants 2 and 3 to exit the car. The dog was trained to alert to drugs by sitting down. During the K-9 sniff, however, the dog never sat down. Instead, the dog excitedly tried to jump through the car’s window.

The K-9 handler explained that even though the dog did not sit down, its behavior indicated that it smelled drugs. The officer then searched the car. He found cannabis, two loaded handguns, $8,000 in cash, and heroin.

In granting the defendants’ motions to suppress, the trial court ruled that there was a valid basis to stop the car for following too closely, but it found that the stop was unduly prolonged. The court of appeals agreed.

The court reasoned that the traffic stop’s purpose was completed when the officer finished writing the warning. As the state conceded, since Illinois law did not require the driver to provide proof of insurance because the car was properly registered in Minnesota, the officer mistakenly believed that he was authorized to ask defendant 2 for proof of insurance. The officer’s unjustified return to the car, the court held, unduly prolonged the traffic stop.

The state argued that the officer’s mistake of law was objectively reasonable. The court of appeals disagreed, concluding that the officer’s mistaken belief that Illinois’ insurance requirements applied to a Minnesota-registered car was not objectively reasonable. The law was unambiguous, and therefore the officer’s return to the car to ask defendant 2 for insurance did not further any legitimate purpose for the stop.

Finally, the court held that there was no probable cause independent of the dog sniff to search the vehicle. The only other facts relevant to the issue of probable cause were defendant 1’s claim that they were traveling from Minnesota to Chicago, and defendant 2 and 3’s apparent nervousness. The trial court found, however, that the officer’s testimony that Minnesota is a destination for, and Chicago a source of, illegal drugs was insufficient to establish probable cause. The appeals court agreed.

Even with more evidence of drug trafficking related to those cities, the court reasoned, merely driving from Chicago to Minnesota could not alone support probable cause to search for evidence of drug trafficking. The court further found that defendant 2 and 3’s mere nervousness was insufficient to provide probable cause to search the vehicle. On the whole, the evidence was insufficient to provide probable cause to believe that the three defendants were involved in drug trafficking.

For these reasons, the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

If there was an unreasonable search and seizure in your Illinois DUI case, you should speak with an experienced DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC will fight zealously on your behalf. To learn more, and to set up a free initial consultation, contact the office online or call 217.525.0520.

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Illinois Supreme Court Reverses Grant of DUI Defendant’s Suppression Motion, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blog, February 1, 2018

Washington Supreme Court Holds Random Urine Testing of DUI Probationer is Constitutionally Sound, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blog, November 2, 2017.