Episode 579 (Duration 16:25) What is happening in Illinois with the mistake of law doctrine?
In Re Maurice J.
In re Maurice J., 2018 IL App (1st) 172123 (June). Episode 506 (Duration 8:18)
Officer not knowing the traffic law he says he was enforcing is not the same as being reasonably confused about the law.
The minor respondent was charged in juvenile court and adjudicated for UUW under 21. The minor was sent to JIDOC
Police see a car “go around a speed bump.”
Specifically, the driver went toward the curb so that one set of tires was on the speed bump and the other set was level. Although the driver steered around the bump, he did not swerve.
The Stop & The Gun
After the traffic violation, the officer activated the emergency equipment in order to curb the vehicle.
From 12 to 15 feet away, he “observed the front passenger pass a handgun to the rear passenger.”
The officer could see the gun because the police car was an elevated SUV and illuminated the inside of the car.
The driver and respondent, who was in the front passenger seat, were immediately removed form the car and handcuffed. The officer testified that he knew to look for the firearm “[i]n the direction [that] the offender gave it to the co-offender.”
Moreover, the officers searched the occupants and found a firearm in a purse.
Wells was released with a traffic citation for driving around the speed bump.
On appeal, respondent first asserts that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence because it was not reasonable for an officer to believe that the driver committed a traffic violation.
Specifically, the testimony failed to show that the car drove upon or through private property to avoid a traffic control device.
Under the fourth amendment and the Illinois Constitution of 1970, individuals have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const., amend. IV, and Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 6.
In addition, the stop of a vehicle for a suspected violation of law constitutes a seizure, regardless of whether the seizure is brief and is made for a limited purpose. People v. Gaytan, 2015 IL 116223, ¶ 20. Pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), police officers may conduct a brief, investigatory stop if the officer reasonably believes that the individual in question committed or is about to commit a crime.
Mistakes Of Law
In Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. ___, ___, 135 S. Ct. 530, 536 (2014), the United States Supreme Court held that a reasonable suspicion can be supported by an officer’s misunderstanding of the scope of a law.
Consequently, a police officer does not violate the fourth amendment when he stops a vehicle based on an objectively reasonable, albeit mistaken, belief that the driver’s conduct leading to the stop violated traffic laws.
This reflects that the fourth amendment permits government officials to make some mistakes.
The Court stated in Heien, “an officer can gain no Fourth Amendment advantage through a sloppy study of the laws he is duty-bound to enforce.” Heien, 574 U.S. at ___, 135 S. Ct. at 539.
It’s An Objective Standard
That being said, courts apply an objective standard in determining whether a police officer made a reasonable mistake of law, without examining the particular officer’s subjective understanding.
Respondent essentially contends that, even taking the officer’s account as true, the traffic stop lacked a reasonable articulable basis.
The Traffic Code On Avoiding Traffic Control Devices
Section 11-305 of the Illinois Vehicle Code states, in pertinent part, that
“[i]t is unlawful for any person to leave the roadway and travel across private property to avoid an official traffic control device.”
Thus, section 11-305 clearly applies only where a driver enters private property.
Accordingly, the ordinance unambiguously applies only where the driver enters private property or an alley, or drives on a traffic island.
This Is Pretty Clear
We find the distinction between the street itself and private property, alleys, or traffic islands to be obvious.
The State nonetheless argues that the officer could have reasonably, albeit mistakenly, believed that this was a violation of the ordinance because maneuvering around a speed bump while remaining in the roadway is similar to driving onto a traffic island. While vehicles are permitted to be driven on a public street in most instances, they should almost never be driven on a raised traffic island.
We categorically disagree.
No Mistake Of Law Here
The case before us does not present an officer’s misunderstanding of the law. Instead, it presents an officer’s failure to know the law.
Here the officer’s mistaken belief that the driver committed a traffic violation was unreasonable where Wells never left the street to avoid a speed bump.
It follows that the seizure of respondent as an occupant in Wells’s car, which occurred when the police activated their lights and siren, was also unreasonable. Consequently, respondent was entitled to the suppression of such evidence.
Accordingly, we reverse the adjudication of delinquency outright.
People v. Mueller
People v. Mueller, 2018 IL App (2d) 170863 (December). Episode 572 (Duration 8:47)
Jeep touches he traffic lines 3 times and gets stopped, reasonable?
Defendant, Amy Lynn Mueller, was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(1), (a)(2)) and improper lane usage (ILU) (625 ILCS 5/11-709(a)).
Innocent Left Turn
Defendant’s Jeep was stopped in the left-turn lane at a light at the intersection at 1:40 am on a rural rode. When the light turned green, she turned left onto Route 31. There was nothing unusual in the turn.
The sheriff’s deputy followed defendant. She was not speeding.
Then Jeep’s driver’s-side tires rolled onto the yellow center line and touched it for a few seconds. The vehicle did not cross the line but returned to its lane.
Did It A Second Time
Then a second time after traveling some distance, the Jeep’s passenger’s-side tires touched the white fog line but never crossed over it. The Jeep never left the lane. The Jeep moved back toward the center of the lane without doing anything unusual.
Happened A Third Time
Then a third violation was when the Jeep’s passenger’s-side tires again rode on the white fog line. This was “momentary.” The tires never crossed over the line. Other than the three incidents of what he regarded as ILU, the sheriff’s deputy did not see defendant violate any traffic laws.
He acknowledged that the stretch of road on which he followed defendant was not straight and had “some twists and turns.” Also, he acknowledged that the video system in his squad car had been inoperable since October 2016 and that he had not requested any repair.
Based on the three incidents alone, he stopped the Jeep nearly a mile from where he first saw it.
Trial Court Findings
The trial court said the sheriff’s deputy’s testimony had been “problematic. He either didn’t remember important details or was flippant with defendant’s attorney. The sheriff’s deputy never saw the Jeep’s tires cross over either the yellow center line or the white fog line, nor did he observe any jerky or erratic driving corrections.
The three lane-line touches occurred over a mile-long twisting and turning stretch of road.
The trial court noted that, current law required evidence that defendant’s tires crossed over the lane lines to create a reasonable suspicion of ILU.
That had not occurred.
She moved to quash her arrest and suppress evidence, contesting the initial stop of her vehicle for ILU.
Question: Was there sufficient reasonable suspicion justifying the traffic stop? Does a vehicle have to cross the line or does merely touching it register as an improper lane usage?
Illinois Traffic Code on Lane Usage
Section 11-709(a) states that,
“Whenever any roadway has been divided into 2 or more clearly marked lanes for traffic,..vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”
Crossing The Lane Will Get You Stopped
Although the statute requires a driver to remain entirely within a single lane only as nearly as practicable, it is settled that an officer may stop a vehicle for driving outside its lane for no obvious reason, without further inquiry into practicability. Hackett, 2012 IL 111781, ¶¶ 27-28.
To be clear what we are asking here is if the sheriff’s deputy had a reasonable suspicion that defendant failed to drive “entirely within a single lane” (625 ILCS 5/11-709(a)), when (1) her driver’s-side tires touched, but did not cross, the yellow center line or (2) her passenger’s-side tires touched, but did not cross, the white fo
Trial Court’s Ruling
The trial court relied on
- People v. Hackett, 2012 IL 111781, ¶ 9
- People v. Smith, 172 Ill. 2d 289, 297 (1996)
- People v. Flint, 2012 IL App (3d) 110165, ¶¶ 8, 17 and
- People v. Leyendecker, 337 Ill. App. 3d 678, 680, 682 (2003)
…which, it stated, all held that a person commits ILU only when his or her vehicle crosses the center line or the fog line.
However, in none of those cases did the defendant merely touch the line without crossing it. Each motorist crossed the line. In each case the court held that crossing the line is ILU, but in no case did it explicitly hold that only crossing the line is ILU.
What Is A Traffic Lane?
The Illinois statute does not define “lane” and does not specify whether either a center line or a fog line is part of the “lane” in which the driver is traveling.
Although the Code does not specifically define “lane,” it defines “laned roadway” as
“a roadway which is divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for vehicular traffic.”
625 ILCS 5/1-136.
As a matter of established usage, a “lane” is “a strip of roadway for a single line of vehicles.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 652 (10th ed. 2001). As these definitions suggest, in common practice, a traffic “lane” is one in which vehicles legally and customarily are driven toward their destinations.
Dividing lines or boundary lines, by contrast, are legally and customarily used only to change lanes, turn, or make other maneuvers (see 625 ILCS 5/11-709(a) (vehicle “shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety”)).
If a line’s purpose is to divide two lanes, then a vehicle has not changed lanes until it has crossed the line.
Moreover, this interpretation is consistent with the official rules of the road, in Illinois and elsewhere. “Yellow center lines separate lanes of traffic moving in opposite directions.” Ill. Sec’y of State, 2018 Illinois Rules of the Road 76 (Mar. 2018)), https://www.cyberdriveillinois .com/publications/pdf_publications/dsd_a112.pdf. [https://perma.cc/3GA7-MJGH].
Not Ambiguous Either
We conclude that the statute is unambiguous. Therefore, Heien and Gaytan do not apply and the stop cannot be validated as based on a reasonable mistake of law.
In any event, we note that a stop for ILU is valid when “a police officer observes multiple lane deviations, for no obvious reason.” Hackett, 2012 IL 111781, ¶ 28.
Here, even if defendant’s multiple touches could be considered “lane deviations,” the road’s “twists and turns” provided an innocent (and obvious) explanation for those brief touches.
Thus, under any construction of section 11-709(a), the trial court correctly granted defendant’s motion to quash and suppress. We affirm the order of the circuit court of McHenry County.
People v. Walker
People v. Walker, 2018 IL App (4th) 170877 (September). Episode 536 (Duration 10:58)
Turns out we’ve been misreading the “proper turn” statute all along.
Defendant was stopped for an improper left turn and received a ticket for driving while his license was revoked (625 ILCS 5/6-303 (West 2016)).
He filed a motion to suppress evidence from the stop, asserting the police officer who stopped him lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion defendant had violated the law.
The State argued defendant was required to turn into the nearest westbound lane pursuant to section 11-801 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Vehicle Code) (625 ILCS 5/11 801). Because defendant did not do so, the traffic stop was valid.
According to the State, section 11-801(a)(2) unambiguously required defendant to enter the leftmost lane legally available when he executed the left turn in this case. In the alternative, the State argues section 11-801(a)(2) is ambiguous.
Around 12:30 a.m. on defendant drove his car out of a gas station by making a right turn onto Hershey Road in Bloomington, Illinois. Defendant then proceeded north on Hershey Road, eventually moving into the left turn lane as he approached the intersection of Hershey Road and Empire Street.
The traffic light was red, and defendant stopped at the intersection.
When the light turned green, defendant made a left turn onto Empire Street, exiting the intersection into the farthest available westbound lane, which was the northernmost lane. After making his left turn, defendant was proceeding in a westerly direction on Empire Street, which had two lanes for westbound traffic.
Immediately after defendant exited the intersection, an officer stopped defendant for making an improper left turn because defendant did not exit the intersection into the nearest westbound lane of traffic on Empire Street.
Required Position And Method Of Turning
Section 11-801(a)(2) provides the following:
“(2) The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left at any intersection shall approach the intersection in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of such vehicle, and after entering the intersection, the left turn shall be made so as to leave the intersection in a lane lawfully available to traffic moving in such direction upon the roadway being entered. Whenever practicable the left turn shall be made in that portion of the intersection to the left of the center of the intersection.”
625 ILCS 5/11-801(a)(2) (West 2016).
The first sentence of section 11-801(a)(2) is a compound sentence and states (1) the law as to what lane—“the extreme left-hand lane”—a driver must be in when approaching an intersection to make a left turn and (2) the law as to what lane—“a lane lawfully available to traffic moving in such direction upon the roadway being entered”—the driver should use when exiting the intersection.
The second sentence of subsection (a)(2), which is the focus of the State’s argument, states the law as to what the driver should do within the intersection: “Whenever practicable the left turn shall be made in that portion of the intersection to the left of the center of the intersection.”
Pursuant to a plain reading of section 11-801(a)(2), which we do not find to be ambiguous, defendant did not violate the law by exiting the intersection into the farthest westbound lane of traffic on Empire Street. For this court to agree with the State’s interpretation of this subsection, we would have to depart from the plain language of the statute by reading into the statute exceptions, limitations, or conditions the legislature did not express, and we would have to deem other parts of the statute superfluous.
This court would have to determine the legislature intended (1) for the last sentence of subsection (a)(2) to be read to restrict what lane a driver could exit an intersection—without any language in the sentence to that effect—and (2) for language in the first sentence—“the left turn should be made so as to leave the intersection in a lane lawfully available to traffic moving in such direction” (emphasis added)— to be ignored.
We will not interpret this statute in the manner suggested by the State.
Mistake Of Law
The United States Supreme Court in Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. ___, ___, 135 S. Ct. 530, 536, 539 (2014), did hold reasonable suspicion justifying a traffic stop “can rest on a mistaken understanding of the scope of a legal prohibition” as long as the mistaken understanding of the law was objectively reasonable. With regard to the objective standard, the Court stated, “We do not examine the subjective understanding of the particular officer involved.” Heien, 574 U.S. at ___, 135 S. Ct. at 539.
In addition, the Court declared, “[A]n officer can gain no Fourth Amendment advantage through a sloppy study of the laws he is dutybound to enforce.” Heien, 574 U.S. at ___, 135 S. Ct. at 539. According to Justice Kagan: “A court tasked with deciding whether an officer’s mistake of law can support a seizure thus faces a straightforward question of statutory construction. If the statute is genuinely ambiguous, such that overturning the officer’s judgment requires hard interpretive work, then the officer has made a reasonable mistake. But if not, not. As the Solicitor General made the point at oral argument, the statute must pose a ‘really difficult’ or ‘very hard question of statutory interpretation.’ [Citation.] And indeed, both North Carolina and the Solicitor General agreed that such cases will be ‘exceedingly rare.’ ” Heien, 574 U.S. at ___, 135 S. Ct. at 541.
Based on the evidence and a plain reading of the unambiguous language of section 11-801(a)(2), defendant did not violate any statute justifying the traffic stop by exiting the intersection in the farthest westbound lane of Empire Street. As we have concluded section 11-801(a)(2) is not ambiguous, the State’s alternative argument “the traffic stop was still lawful due to the ambiguity of the statutory language” also fails.
In this case, the plain language of section 11-801(a)(2) does not present a difficult or hard question of statutory interpretation. The statute clearly allows a driver making a left turn to exit the intersection into any available lane of traffic moving in the proper direction. The officer’s misunderstanding of section 11-801(a)(2) was not objectively reasonable. As a result, the officer’s stop of defendant’s vehicle was not justified. As we have found the stop of defendant’s vehicle was not constitutionally justified, we next turn to the State’s argument the exclusionary rule should not be applied under the circumstances in this case.
For the reasons stated, we affirm the circuit court’s judgment.
Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 530 (2014), (truck stopped because of broken tail light)
Episode 232 – People v. Lubienski, 2016 IL App (3d) 150813 (September) (Crossing The Line One Time Justifies A Traffic Stop)
Episode 434 – People v. Lomeli, 2017 IL App (3d) 150815 (December) (Traffic Stop Based On Dangling Rosary Is Legal)
Episode 142 – People v. Little, 2016 IL App (3d) 130683 (February) (Reasonable Suspicion Does Not Require Ruling Out All Innocent Behavior)