Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Whiteside County, Illinois No. 01-CF-70 Honorable Dan A. Dunagan, Judge, Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Homer
Following a traffic stop, the defendant, Jack L. Phillips, was arrested for obstructing justice by furnishing false information to a police officer (720 ILCS 5/31--4 (West 2000)), and the unlawful possession of more than 2.5 grams, but not more than 10 grams, of cannabis (720 ILCS 550/4(b) (West 2000)). His motion to quash the arrest and suppress the evidence was granted on the grounds that the officer did not have reasonable grounds to make the traffic stop. On appeal, the State argues that the trial court erred by granting the motion because the police officer had reasonable grounds to stop the defendant. We affirm.
The witnesses at the hearing on the motion to quash and suppress were the arresting officer and the defendant. Illinois State Trooper Clint Thulen testified that at about 10 a.m. on March 8, 2001, he was parked in his patrol car in a "crossover" of Interstate 88 (I-88) monitoring traffic coming from both directions. He said that the traffic was moderate at that time.
Thulen stated that he noticed the defendant's car, which was traveling eastbound, because it displayed a "registration applied for" sticker. The officer testified that the sticker appeared to be faded. Thulen wanted to examine the sticker more closely to learn if it had been counterfeited or altered.
Thulen said that when the defendant's car passed the crossover, it was following a semitruck, which was "some distance ahead" of the defendant's car. He acknowledged that when the defendant's vehicle passed his location, the car was a safe distance behind the truck.
The officer pulled his patrol car out of the crossover and onto the left of the two eastbound lanes. He accelerated so that he could better examine the sticker in the defendant's rear window. He stated that it took him approximately three-fourths of a mile to a mile to catch up to the defendant's car.
The defendant testified that he was in "the fast lane" when he drove past the officer's location because he was in the process of passing a truck. The defendant said he saw that the officer's car "hurried" just after the defendant's car got past the truck. He stated that he was starting to catch up to a second truck that was in the right lane to pass it when he saw the officer's vehicle approach rapidly from the rear.
Thulen stated that he did not recall seeing two trucks, only the truck in front of the defendant's vehicle. The officer said that he did not activate his overhead lights immediately, but first got close enough to the defendant's vehicle so that he could more closely examine the sticker.
The defendant testified that the officer's vehicle was "flying up on" his vehicle, so he moved into "the slow lane." He said that he was going to let the officer's vehicle pass because "maybe [the officer] had a call or something."
The defendant stated that when he got into the right lane, he was between two trucks. He said that after he got into the right lane, the officer's car pulled up in the left lane near the rear of his car. Thulen stated that when he caught up to the defendant's car while the patrol car was in the left lane, the officer could estimate that the defendant's car was about two car lengths behind the truck. The officer testified that in his opinion being two car lengths behind another vehicle at the legal speed limit on the interstate was not a reasonable and prudent distance to be following another vehicle. The officer stated that traveling that close to another vehicle violated the "rule of thumb" that a vehicle should not be closer than three seconds in time behind another vehicle. The defendant, however, said that he was not as close as two car lengths behind the truck.
The defendant testified that as the officer's vehicle approached from the rear, the truck in front of the defendant's vehicle slowed down, the defendant slowed down, and then the officer's vehicle slowed down and got behind the defendant's vehicle in the right lane, but in front of the trailing truck. According to both the defendant and the officer, the defendant then turned on his left turn signal. The defendant testified that he turned his left turn signal on because he was going to pass the truck after the patrol car was behind his car in the right lane.
Thulen acknowledged that when he approached the defendant's car in the left lane, the defendant moved into the right lane, and it would have been unsafe for the defendant to have moved back into the left lane to pass the truck because the officer's vehicle was traveling faster than the defendant's vehicle. The officer testified that the defendant, however, should not have pulled within two car lengths of the truck ...