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People v. Manders

November 30, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Ogle County. No. 99--DT--18 Honorable Michael T. Mallon, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Galasso

On January 26, 1999, defendant, Nicole A. Manders, was charged with driving under the influence (DUI), in violation of section 11--501(a)(4) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Code) (625 ILCS 5/11--501(a)(4) (West 1998)). Subsequently, defendant filed a petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension of driving privileges (petition) and a motion to suppress evidence. On July 19, 1999, after an evidentiary hearing on both matters, the trial court granted both defendant's petition and her motion to suppress evidence. On the same date, two separate orders granting the petition and the motion to suppress were filed. On July 21, 1999, the State filed a notice of appeal, and it subsequently filed an amended notice of appeal on November 22, 1999. The certificate of impairment was filed contemporaneously with the State's brief.

On appeal, the State raises three issues: (1) whether the trial court erred in granting defendant's petition; (2) whether this court may exercise its appellate jurisdiction over the issue of whether the trial court erred in granting defendant's motion to suppress; and (3) whether the trial court erred in granting defendant's motion to suppress.

The following facts are taken from the record on appeal. At the hearing on the petition and the motion to suppress, defendant testified that on the evening of January 26, 1999, she was driving a 1992 Grand Am through Polo, Illinois. She was alone in the car. Defendant drove through Polo's downtown and was heading eastbound on Pines Road. She stated that she was vaguely familiar with that route. According to defendant the road surface was dry and consisted of two lanes, with a marked center line. The weather was "extremely windy, cold." She was driving at 55 miles per hour. At approximately 9:13 p.m., defendant was located about five to eight miles east of Polo. (Defendant's testimony as to the time of the subject incident conflicts with that of the arresting officer, who stated that it occurred at 7:13 p.m.) Farmland was on each side of the road. She drove up behind a semi-trailer truck (truck) that, in her estimation, was traveling at 50 miles per hour.

Defendant stated that she slowed down and "weaved" over several times to look around the truck in preparation to pass it. She saw the overhead lights of a police vehicle and pulled over on the shoulder. The arresting officer told her that he pulled her over because she was following too close to the truck. She estimated that she had maintained a distance of two to three car lengths behind the truck. On cross-examination, defendant denied that, if she were a "good distance back" of the truck, she would be able to look around the truck without having to pull over to the edge of the lane. Defendant further denied ever driving to the right side of the lane to look around the truck. She further stated that she did not have her turn signal on because she was not ready to pass the truck. Defendant reiterated that she "went to the left part of [her] lane on three separate occasions." She testified that she was not sure whether the portion of the road in which she was traveling behind the truck was a no-passing zone. Further, defendant thought that she had told the arresting officer that she was intending to pass the truck.

Kevin Culloton testified that he was a deputy sheriff in the Ogle County sheriff's department. He stated that at approximately 7:13 p.m. on the evening of January 26, 1999, he was on duty and traveling westbound on Pines Road. Deputy Culloton passed the subject truck and the defendant's car going in the opposite (eastbound) direction. He thought defendant's car was "way too close" to the rear bumper of the truck. He estimated the distance to be 20 feet. Deputy Culloton turned his vehicle around and, traveling eastbound on Pines Road, drove up behind defendant. He did not immediately activate the overhead lights. Rather, he observed defendant's car and saw it "weave back and forth within its own lane." Deputy Culloton estimated that defendant's vehicle came within three to six inches of the center line and the "fog line" on the right side of the lane. He further estimated that it was traveling at between 50 and 55 miles an hour. According to Deputy Culloton, the area in which the three vehicles were traveling was a no-passing zone. During this time, he observed no turn signal on defendant's vehicle. Shortly thereafter, Deputy Culloton activated his overhead lights, and defendant pulled over. According to Deputy Culloton, the stop occurred at a point at which a passing zone began. He testified that at no time during the traffic stop did defendant indicate to him that she was attempting to pass the truck.

In ruling for defendant, the trial court stated:

"I think in this particular case the defendant's arguments are well-taken. I think 11-703 and 11-705 dictate that Miss Manders has to do what she was doing. She didn't begin a pass in a no-passing zone. I'll find that there was no probable cause as to make this stop as in this particular fact situation and grant the motion to suppress and the petition to rescind."

We first address the arguments related to the order granting defendant's petition. Initially, the State maintains that the trial court commingled the question of whether defendant was properly preparing to pass the truck with the "real issue at hand," namely, whether defendant was traveling too closely behind the truck. The State further argues that, based on Deputy Culloton's observations, he would have been remiss in his duties had he not further investigated "what appeared to represent a traffic violation." In response, defendant contends that the order granting the petition was not against the manifest weight of the evidence and should be affirmed.

The determination of the witnesses' credibility, of the weight to be given the witnesses' testimony, and of the reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence is the responsibility of the trial court, as is the resolution of conflicts in the evidence. See People v. Fortney, 297 Ill. App. 3d 79, 85-86 (1998). A reviewing court should not disturb a trial court's decision regarding a petition unless the decision is against the manifest weight of the evidence. People v. Smith, 172 Ill. 2d 289, 294-95 (1996).

Initially, we note that the vast majority of the testimony at the hearing dealt with the allegations that defendant was weaving in her lane. Specifically, Deputy Culloton stated that, when traveling in the opposite direction of defendant's vehicle and the truck, he noticed that defendant appeared to be traveling too close to the truck. He then testified that he turned around and followed the two vehicles. Subsequently, Deputy Culloton's testimony only relates to the alleged weaving of defendant's vehicle. With no more evidence regarding the allegations of following too close, we determine that the trial court properly concluded that the evidence did not support an investigatory stop by Deputy Culloton based on defendant's following the truck too closely.

We next address the allegation that defendant's vehicle was weaving prior to the stop. During Deputy Culloton's testimony, he characterized defendant's driving within her lane of traffic as "weaving." Section 11--709(a) of the Code (625 ILCS 5/11--709(a) (West 1998)) recognizes that a vehicle cannot be driven in a perfectly straight line. It states, "A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane ***." (Emphasis added.) 625 ILCS 5/11--709(a) (West 1998).

Moreover, "weaving" has been defined as "the action of a vehicle that alternately diverges from and merges into traffic flows moving in the same direction, shifting from one lane to another, and repeatedly crossing the paths of other vehicles." (Emphasis added.) Webster's Third New International Dictionary 2591 (1986). Deputy Culloton clearly testified that defendant's vehicle did not cross the yellow line on her left or the white line on her right. Given the definition above, such conduct cannot be termed weaving and cannot be the basis of a valid investigatory stop.

We find that there was no valid basis for Deputy Culloton's stop of defendant's vehicle. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court's granting of the petition was not ...

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