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People v. Leyendecker

April 03, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CONNIE K. LEYENDECKER, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jo Daviess County. No. 00--TR--4874 Honorable Victor V. Sprengelmeyer, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Hutchinson

PUBLISHED

Following a traffic stop, defendant, Connie K. Leyendecker, was charged with the offense of driving while her license was suspended (625 ILCS 5/6--303(a) (West 2000)). She moved to suppress the fruits of the stop, arguing that the police did not have a reasonable suspicion that she had committed a traffic offense prior to stopping her vehicle. The trial court granted that motion, and the State appeals. We affirm.

At the hearing on defendant's motion, the only witness was Keith Brandel, a Jo Daviess County deputy sheriff. On defendant's direct examination, Brandel testified that on October 6, 2000, at approximately 2:40 p.m., he was on stationary patrol observing traffic on U.S. Route 20 near the bottom of what is known locally as "Sand Hill." The highway was a two-lane, two-way roadway, and the eastbound lane had a white fog line on the right side. Brandel observed defendant's vehicle pass his location traveling eastbound on Route 20. Brandel followed defendant's vehicle at an interval of three to four car lengths for a distance of approximately two miles. As defendant maneuvered her vehicle through a curve to the left, Brandel observed defendant's vehicle cross the fog line. Brandel estimated that defendant's vehicle crossed the fog line by a width of one foot. Brandel testified that the speed limit on this stretch of the highway was 65 miles per hour. Brandel also testified that the road had many curves and that it had "poor visibility around the curves."

Brandel testified that after he stopped defendant he "told her the reason why [he] had stopped her." Brandel testified that he recognized defendant from a previous encounter when she had been involved in "a domestic situation." Brandel asked defendant whether she had a driver's license, and she replied that it was suspended. After issuing defendant a ticket for driving while her license was suspended, Brandel asked defendant the whereabouts of Tony Peacock. Peacock was defendant's boyfriend or ex-boyfriend, and he was "wanted on a warrant."

On cross-examination, Brandel described defendant's crossing of the fog line as "single" and "momentary." Brandel testified that he had observed no obstructions on the roadway that would have caused defendant to cross the fog line. Brandel claimed that he stopped defendant only because her vehicle crossed the line. Brandel denied that the stop had anything to do with Peacock's whereabouts. The record contains no traffic citation for defendant's alleged crossing of the fog line.

The trial court entered a written order granting defendant's motion to suppress. In its order, the trial court made several factual findings. The trial court found that Brandel was on stationary patrol observing traffic on U.S. Route 20 near the bottom of "what is known locally as 'Sand Hill.' " The trial court found that Brandel observed defendant's vehicle pass his location traveling eastbound ascending "Sand Hill" into "curves and hilly territory." The trial court found that Brandel "briefly" crossed the fog line by a distance of one foot as she drove through "a curve to the left."

Based on these factual findings, the trial court explained its ruling as follows:

"[I]t is not reasonable for a policeman to effect a traffic stop of a motorist for a single, brief crossing of a lane 'fog line' on the hilly and curvy eastbound lanes of Highway Number 20. This was mid-afternoon (not early morning) and no erratic driving of any kind was observed. A policeman must have more than mere suspicion or a hunch to exercise his authority to intrude on a motorist who is presenting absolutely nothing in the way of dangerous or menacing or illegal conduct. This officer may have had other reasons to effect the traffic stop in this instance, but the record is silent as to any other than the single, brief crossing of the 'fog line,' described in his testimony." (Emphasis in original.)

In denying the State's motion for reconsideration, the trial court stated that crossing a fog line "is not a traffic violation per se." The State timely appeals.

In general, a trial court's ultimate determination regarding the legality of a traffic stop is subject to de novo review. People v. Perez, 288 Ill. App. 3d 1037, 1043 (1997). However, a trial court's determination concerning factual matters, including the reasonable inferences to be drawn from the witnesses' testimony, is entitled to deference by the reviewing court. Perez, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 1043. The United States Supreme Court has described our standard of review in these cases as follows:

"[D]eterminations of reasonable suspicion and probable cause should be reviewed de novo on appeal. *** [However,] a reviewing court should take care both to review findings of historical fact only for clear error and to give due weight to inferences drawn from those facts by resident judges and local law enforcement officers." Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699, 134 L. Ed. 2d 911, 920, 116 S. Ct. 1657, 1663 (1996).

A traffic stop requires reasonable suspicion that the vehicle or occupant is subject to seizure for a violation of law. People v. Rush, 319 Ill. App. 3d 34, 39 (2001). An officer may make a valid investigatory stop provided the officer's decision is based upon specific and articulable facts and reasonable inferences therefrom that warrant the investigative intrusion. Village of Lincolnshire v. DiSpirito, 195 Ill. App. 3d 859, 863 (1990). A mere suspicion or hunch is insufficient. Rush, 319 Ill. App. 3d at 39. The officer must have knowledge of specific, articulable facts which, when combined with the rational inferences from them, create a reasonable suspicion that the person in question has committed or is about to commit a crime. DiSpirito, 195 Ill. App. 3d at 863. We review the propriety of a traffic stop using an objective standard: whether the facts available to the officer would warrant a reasonable person to believe that the action that the officer took was appropriate. DiSpirito, 195 Ill. App. 3d at 863.

On appeal, the State argues that defendant's crossing of the fog line gave Brandel a reasonable suspicion that defendant had violated section 11--709(a) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (the Code) (625 ILCS 5/11--709(a) (West 2000)). The State asserts that even a single, momentary crossing of a fog line constitutes a violation of ...


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