People v. Veal, 2017 IL App (1st) 150500 (May). Episode 350 (Duration 4:30)
When a driver is arrested does that then mean that the passengers are free to leave and go on their way?
Veal was charged with four counts of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, two counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and one count of armed habitual criminal after an officer recovered a gun on Veal’s seat during a traffic stop.
Police pulled up next to a Honda Civic at a red light, at which time officers observed that the rear two passengers of the car were not wearing seatbelts.
Defendant was the rear seat passenger and was seen making movements toward his waist, as though he was trying to cover something.
Specifically, the officer testified that Veal moved his hands towards his waist on the right side of his body and pushed his waist down.
The driver was ordered out and arrested.
He then ordered Veal out of the car and opened the door for him.
As Veal exited the car, Officer Kanski saw a handgun underneath where Veal had been sitting, and he immediately secured Veal and took possession of the weapon.
The issue on appeal is whether or not the traffic stop had ended once the driver was arrested.
Specifically, the parties dispute whether Officer Kanski’s command for Veal to exit the car occurred while the stop was in progress. Veal contends that following the arrest of the driver, the stop had concluded and he was free to leave.
Illinois courts have not squarely confronted the issue presented in this case, which is whether a traffic stop ends when, instead of returning papers to the driver, the officers arrest or restrain him.
There are several exceptions to the warrant requirement, including the circumstance where a police officer briefly stops a person for questioning when the officer reasonably believes that person has committed, or is about to commit, a crime—colloquially known as a Terry stop.
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A motor vehicle stop is akin to a Terry stop (Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U.S. 113, 117 (1998)), and as such, we analyze the reasonableness of such stops under Terry principles (Jones, 215 Ill. 2d at 270).
And both parties agree that following a lawful traffic stop police may, as a matter of course, order the driver and any passengers out of the vehicle pending completion of the stop.
Traffic Stop & No Seat Belts
A traffic stop is reasonable when the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred.
Here, Veal does not challenge the legality of the stop based on the fact that both Veal and his fellow rear-seat passenger were not wearing seatbelts. See 625 ILCS 5/12-603.1(a) (generally requiring rear-seat passengers to wear safety belts).
According to Veal, the order to step out of the car constituted a new police-citizen encounter requiring separate justification under the fourth amendment.
The reviewing court disagreed.
We have considered the question of when a traffic stop “ends” for purposes of determining the legality of a later search of the automobile or the defendant. As a general matter, we have held that the return of paperwork—e.g., a driver’s license, vehicle registration, or proof of insurance—signifies the conclusion of the stop as it conveys to the driver that he is free to leave, and any ensuing search must be supported on grounds independent of the initial violation prompting the stop.
In this case, we do not believe the arrest of the driver would lead a reasonable person in Veal’s position to believe that he was free to leave.
Significantly, the stop was prompted by the fact that neither Veal nor the other rear-seat passenger was wearing a seatbelt, which is a petty offense subject to a fine. 625 ILCS 5/12-603.1(d).
While Officer Kanski began the encounter by restraining the driver, that alone did not suggest that Veal would escape ticketing. In other words, Officer Kanski’s action of handcuffing the driver did not convey to the passengers that they were then free to leave, particularly where two of those passengers had also committed traffic violations.
In sum, because we conclude that the stop was ongoing at the time Officer Kanski ordered Veal out of the car and because an officer may routinely order a passenger out of a car during a lawful traffic stop (Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d at 433), the court held that Veal’s search and seizure did not run afoul of the fourth amendment.