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Illinois Appellate Court Holds Reasonable Suspicion Justifies Traffic Stop

Last month, the Illinois Court of Appeals for the First District affirmed the circuit court’s suspension of a defendant’s driving privileges, holding that the defendant’s weaving between lanes provided reasonable suspicion for the stop.

Defendant Michael Magnant appealed a Cook County circuit court order denying his petition to rescind the statutory suspension of his driving privileges. On appeal, Magnant argued that the court erroneously denied his petition because the police officer unlawfully seized him in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. He also contended that the officer lacked probably cause to arrest him and charge him with DUI.

In March 2014, a Hoffman Estates police officer stopped Magnant, placed him under arrest, and charged him with improper lane usage, DUI, and resisting a police officer. Magnant refused to submit to a blood, urine, or breath test to determine his blood-alcohol content, and consequently he was subjected to a statutory summary suspension of his driving privileges, pursuant to section 11-501.1 of the Illinois Vehicle Code.

In April 2014, Magnant filed a petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension. At a hearing on his petition, Magnant testified that on the morning of the incident, he was driving to work when the officer pulled him over and told him that he was “swerving all over the place.” Magnant testified that he was not swerving and was upset that he had been pulled over.

Magnant testified that the road was in terrible condition, and it included potholes, sunken manhole covers, road debris, road kill, frost heaves, and heat buckles. He further testified that he’d paid hundreds of dollars to repair damage to his vehicle and tried to avoid such hazards as much as possible. He presented a bill from an automotive repair shop dated 10 months before his arrest in this case. Magnant also presented a video of the traffic stop recorded by the camera in the police car.

The circuit court rejected Magnant’s claims, reasoning that the video clearly showed him swerving. The circuit court further credited the officer’s testimony that he saw Magnant weaving between lanes, and after pulling Magnant over, he smelled alcohol on his breath and observed that he had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. The court found that the officer had probable cause to arrest Magnant and denied his petition to rescind the statutory suspension.

On appeal, Magnant first contended that the court erred in denying his petition because the officer lacked reasonable suspicion that Magnant engaged in any criminal activity or wrongdoing. Magnant further argued it was necessary for him to deviate from the lane to avoid vehicle damage. Finally, Magnant argued that the State did not submit any evidence to rebut his testimony regarding the road conditions.

The appeals court held that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Magnant had violated the lane usage statute, which provided constitutional justification for the initial traffic stop. Vehicle stops are subject to the Fourth Amendment reasonableness requirement. When a police officer has a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a traffic violation has occurred, an investigative stop is constitutional, regardless of whether it is supported by probable cause. When an officer can point to specific facts that reasonably warrant the intrusion, he is justified in conducting an investigatory stop.

The Michigan Supreme Court has held that “when a motorist crosses over a lane line and is not driving as nearly as practicable within one lane, the motorist has violated the [lane usage] statute.” The court further explained that when “a police officer observes multiple lane deviations, for no obvious reason, an investigatory stop is proper.” Although additional evidence is necessary to establish probable cause, the officer’s observation of apparent lane violations is sufficient to justify the initial stop.

Here, the officer’s testimony that he observed Magnant crossing over the left and right lane lines alone was sufficient to justify the investigatory traffic stop. In addition to the officer’s testimony, the circuit court viewed the police car video and found that Magnant was swerving.

Regarding Magnant’s argument that the roads were damaged, and he tried to avoid hazards as best as he could, he did not testify that he swerved to avoid specific hazards on this particular occasion. But even if he had, his testimony would not have eliminated the justification for an investigatory stop. Based on the officer’s testimony and its own video observations, the circuit court found that the officer had sufficient reason to stop Magnant for committing lane violations. The appeals court deferred to these factual findings and held that the traffic stop in this case did not violate Magnant’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Magnant next argued that the officer lacked sufficient evidence to arrest him and charge him with DUI. Magnant contended that he was not weaving in his lane of travel, but instead he was maneuvering around potholes, and the officer stopped him based on a mere suspicion. He further argued that weaving alone is not a sufficient basis for stopping a vehicle, and there was no other suggestion that he was intoxicated.

The appeals court disagreed, finding that the record showed that Magnant exhibited several indicators of intoxication sufficient to provide probable cause. The officer first testified that he observed the defendant weaving, which, as discussed above, gave him a reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop. The officer further testified that when he approached Magnant, he smelled a strong odor of alcohol and observed bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. This testimony was corroborated by the police car video. Magnant further refused numerous requests to submit to a field sobriety test. These facts established a reasonable belief that Magnant was driving under the influence and also provided probable cause for his arrest.

For these reasons, the appeals court concluded that the circuit court properly denied Magnant’s petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension. It therefore affirmed the lower court judgment.

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 at 217.525.0520.

More Blog Posts:

Illinois Appellate Court Upholds DWLS Because Officer Had Reasonable Suspicion, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, February 12, 2016.

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.

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