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Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Defendant’s DUI Based on Officer’s Fourth Amendment Violation

This month, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed a defendant’s DUI conviction based on the arresting officer’s Fourth Amendment violation.

The defendant, Katelyn Bozarth, was charged with two counts of DUI after being arrested in a private driveway in Wayne County. She filed a motion to quash the arrest and suppress the evidence obtained against her on the grounds that the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion to seize her. After a hearing, the court denied the motion.

At a bench (non-jury) trial, the court found Bozarth guilty and ordered her to one year of court supervision. The defendant appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying the motion to quash the arrest and suppress the evidence obtained therefrom. The Fifth District Appellate Court agreed with the defendant and reversed her conviction.

The facts elicited at the motion to quash hearing were as follows. In the early hours of January 27, 2012, Trooper Adam Zimmerman was on a routine patrol in an unmarked vehicle in a rural portion of Wayne County. He testified that he was “looking for violations” when he noticed Bozarth’s Pontiac stopped at an intersection.

Zimmerman began following the Pontiac because it was the “only vehicle in the area.” He testified that at this point he “had no real suspicion,” but rather he began following to see if anything “might happen.”

Zimmerman followed the Pontiac for about half a mile before it turned into a long private driveway. The officer followed the vehicle, which parked behind a pole barn with its lights off.

When asked why he followed Bozarth onto the property, Zimmerman testified that it “was just an awkward way to just pull off in a driveway and shut off your lights.” When asked whether Zimmerman had suspicion when he saw defendant parked behind the barn, he responded:  “I didn’t know if there was any foul play going on, if they were trying to hide from me or not whenever they pulled up to the barn.”

Zimmerman pulled up behind the Pontiac and then exited his unmarked car with his gun drawn. At the hearing, he admitted at this point he was not aware of any infraction or violation that had occurred.

As Zimmerman neared the car, Bozarth rolled down her window. Zimmerman asked if the property belonged to her, and Bozarth responded that it did not.

During the conversation, Zimmerman smelled alcohol on Bozarth’s breath. Zimmerman had Bozarth perform several field sobriety tests and, based on her performance, placed her under arrest for driving under the influence.

Under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, warrantless searches and seizures are presumed unreasonable unless there exists an established exception. One such exception includes “Terry stops” — brief, investigatory seizures short of an arrest that are reasonable without a warrant as long as the officer had reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. Here, Bozarth argued that the trial court erred in denying her motion because the officer seized her without the required suspicion.

The test to determine whether a person seated in a car is “seized” under the Fourth Amendment is whether a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have believed she was free to terminate the encounter. “When a police officer, through the use of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen, the court may conclude that a seizure has occurred.”

The appellate court found that when the officer exited his vehicle and approached the defendant’s vehicle with his gun drawn, this “show of authority clearly indicate[d] that the defendant was seized for Fourth Amendment purposes.” The court concluded that Bozarth was legally seized at the point the officer pulled up behind her car.

The court next turned to the issue of whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to justify this seizure. The officer, the court explained, “must be able to point to specific, articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences, reasonably warrant the investigatory stop.”

The court found to the contrary that in this case, “the officer’s uncontroverted testimony establishes that he did not have any suspicion of criminal activity when he initially began following the defendant’s vehicle.” Specifically, the officer testified that he was “looking for violations,” that he was not aware that the defendant had committed an infraction, and that he followed the Pontiac to see what “might happen.” Thus, the evidence at the hearing revealed that the officer could not articulate facts to support a reasonable suspicion that the defendant had committed or was about to commit a crime that would justify the investigatory stop.

For these reasons, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to quash the arrest and suppress the evidence. Since the state could not possibly prevail on remand without the evidence that should have been suppressed, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation for those in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses. 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 Bar Association Seeks to Amend DUI Laws, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, January 7, 2015

Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Felony DUI Based on Judge’s Improper Response to Deliberating Jurors, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, December 2, 2014

Former Chicago Bears Quarterback Sentenced to Prison for DUI, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, December 2, 2014

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