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Defendant was stopped for an improper left turn and received a ticket for driving while his license was revoked (625 ILCS 5/6-303).
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.”
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 duty bound 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)