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 from 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.
Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 530 (2014), (truck stopped because of broken tail light)