People v. Bowden, 2019 IL App (3d) 170654 (February). Episode 591 (Duration 11:29)
Mistake of law case; Theus is under attack. The traffic stop here was based on crossing a painted line.
Was this traffic stop an innocent mistake of law or just an improper and unconstitutional traffic stop?
The officer was following defendant’s vehicle, in Carthage, Illinois, in the westbound lane of Highway 136.
The westbound lane was defined with a solid white fog line on the right and two solid yellow lines on the left. The officer testified that the single westbound lane of Highway 136 became two lanes that were divided by a white dashed line.
He observed that defendant had continued to follow along the right-hand white fog line and crossed over the white dashed line that originated from the right-hand fog line without using a turn signal.
The officer stated, “I think he continued a little bit with the left lane before moving back towards the fog line if I remember correctly.” He initiated a traffic stop, discovered defendant’s driver’s license had been suspended, placed defendant under arrest, and found methamphetamine when searching defendant’s person incident to the arrest. Defendant’s vehicle was subsequently towed.
During an inventory search of defendant’s vehicle, additional methamphetamine was found.
The juncture of Highway 136 at issue was “a white dashed line that starts at the white fog line on the right-hand side of the westbound lanes that moves out into the center of the roadway as the lane—the single lane splits into two lanes.”
There were essentially two fog lines where the single lane splits into two lanes, one solid and one dashed line. Defendant crossed over the white dashed line and proceeded in the right-hand lane without signaling a lane change. By doing so, the officer believed that defendant violated section 11-804(d) of the Vehicle Code (id. § 11-804(d)). The officer pulled defendant over for failure to signal the lane change because he believed defendant had moved from the left lane into the right lane.
Trial Judge Ruling
After viewing the video the trial judge stated:
“The Court can honestly say that it has probably driven this roadway a thousand times over the course of living in this area. And I don’t think any of those times, not only have I traveled the exact same way that the defendant traveled, staying next to the fog line, the Court has never considered that to be a lane change. It’s not a lane change until such time that you would actually be in a lane and then if you go either way, that becomes a lane change. This is confusing at best. But I don’t believe that a signal was required by defendant.”
The trial court also found that the traffic stop was not objectively reasonable because defendant did not commit any traffic violation.
The trial judge stated, “I did not see any violation that the defendant made.”
When Turn Signal Required
Section 11-804(d) of the Illinois Vehicle Code, in pertinent part, provides:
“(d) The electric turn signal device must be used to indicate an intention to turn, change lanes or start from a parallel parked position…”
Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-804(d)).
Our review of the video shows that defendant did not move from the left lane into the right lane.
Rather, the video shows that defendant continued to proceed alongside the right-hand white fog line, when a white dashed line abruptly appeared from the right-side white fog line and continued toward the middle of the westbound lane, eventually dividing the single lane into two separate lanes. Defendant crossed the white dashed line as the dashed line appeared on the road in front of him, with the single lane eventually becoming two lanes that were separated by the white dashed line.
At the point defendant crossed over the white dashed line, however, he was continuing along the right-side fog line and did not make any abrupt movements in either direction. Thus, there was no evidence presented indicating that defendant had changed from one lane to another lane.
Instead, the evidence showed that two separate lanes had not yet been formed at the point defendant crossed over the white dashed line. See 625 ILCS 5/1-136 (West 2016) (defining a “[l]aned roadway” as a “roadway which is divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for vehicular traffic”). Therefore, the trial court’s finding that defendant did not execute a lane change was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Decline To Follow Theus
We decline the State’s request for this court to follow Theus.
First, we hold that section 11-804(d) is not ambiguous. Section 11-804(d) is clear in its requirement that a turn signal “must be used to indicate an intention to *** change lanes.” 625 ILCS 5/11-804(d).
Despite its eventual holding that section 11-804(d) was ambiguous in its requirement of turn signal when a single lane divides into two separate lanes, the Theus court acknowledged that the signal requirement of 11-804(d) when changing lanes was unambiguous. See Theus, 2016 IL App (4th) 160139, ¶ 34.
Second, we believe that the issue of whether a lane change occurred is a factual determination. The trial court in Theus found that “there was no movement made from one marked lane to another” to require a lane change. ¶¶ 9, 18. Based on that factual determination in Theus, the trial court had found there was no violation of section 11-804(d) of the Vehicle Code.
Third, the facts in Theus are distinguishable from this case. In Theus, the single lane widened with white dashed markings appearing, almost without warning, “in front of” the driver’s vehicle, forming two separate lanes, and the officer testified that the driver had made an abrupt lane change without activating a turn signal. In this case, the single westbound lane of Highway 136 widened, with the white dashed marking originating from the right side of the road toward the center of the road and those white markings abruptly crossing in front of defendant’s vehicle.
The officer said defendant had continued in the newly forming left lane before moving back toward the right-hand fog line, the video showed that defendant continuously followed along the right-hand fog line with no abrupt movement in either direction.
Therefore, the officer’s belief that defendant committed a traffic violation for failing to signal a lane change was not objectively reasonable where no lane change had occurred.
Defendant crossed the white dashed lines as he continued traveling in the single westbound lane, prior to the dash marks establishing two separate lanes. Given these circumstances, Officer Glenn’s belief that defendant had changed lanes was not objectively reasonable.
Accordingly, the officer’s belief that a lane change occurred to require a turn signal was not objectively reasonable where the evidence showed that defendant continued following along the right-side fog line and could not have changed lanes at that particular juncture of the road because the white dashed road markings had not yet divided the single lane into two separate lanes.
Therefore, the trial court did not err in granting defendant’s motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence.