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People v. Kelly

December 10, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 00-DT-5575 Honorable William I. Ferguson, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice O'malley


Defendant, James J. Kelly, was charged in the circuit court of Du Page County with driving under the influence of alcohol (625 ILCS 5/11--501(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2000)), driving while his license was suspended (625 ILCS 5/6--303(a) (West 2000)), and disobeying a traffic-control device. While defendant's ticket indicates that disobeying a traffic-control device is a violation of section 11--306 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Code) (625 ILCS 5/11--306 (West 2000)), disobeying a traffic-control device is actually a violation of section 11--305(a) (625 ILCS 5/11--305(a) (West 2000)), which provides that a driver shall obey the instructions of a traffic-control device. Section 11--306, in turn, frames section 11--305(a) by providing the instructions for various traffic-control devices. 625 ILCS 5/11--306 (West 2000). Because of the nature of this case, however, this distinction is irrelevant. Defendant moved to quash his arrest and suppress evidence. The trial court denied the motion. Following a stipulated bench trial, the court found defendant guilty of all three offenses and sentenced him to two years' probation. On appeal, defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. We affirm.

At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the arresting officer testified that, while on routine patrol, he encountered a vehicle operated by defendant that was stopped at a red light on Washington Street in Naperville. Defendant was in the left lane and the officer was stopped directly behind him. When the light turned green, defendant's vehicle remained at a standstill. After three vehicles in the adjacent lane proceeded through the intersection, the officer activated his vehicle's emergency lights. The officer testified that, at this point, approximately 20 seconds had elapsed since the light had turned green. Defendant then proceeded through the intersection and pulled over.

Defendant emerged from the vehicle, and the officer observed him swaying slightly. The officer testified that he detected the odor of alcohol on defendant's breath. In addition, defendant's eyes were glassy and his speech was slurred. Defendant admitted that he had been drinking that evening. With defendant's consent, the officer administered field sobriety tests. According to the officer, defendant's performance was unsatisfactory and the officer placed defendant under arrest.

In support of his motion, defendant contended that his "brief" delay in proceeding after the light turned green did not constitute disobeying a traffic-control device. The trial court denied the motion, and defendant moved for reconsideration. In denying the motion for reconsideration, the trial court stated that defendant's conduct violated section 11--1303(a) of the Code (625 ILCS 5/11--1303(a) (West 2000)), which prohibits stopping, standing, or parking in specified places. Following a stipulated bench trial, defendant was found guilty of the charged offenses. This appeal followed.

In reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, we will accord great deference to the trial court's factual findings, and reverse those findings only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. People v. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d 425, 431 (2001). However, we review de novo the ultimate legal question of probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d at 431.

Defendant argues that the arresting officer had no justification to stop him because his "brief" or "momentary" delay in proceeding through the intersection did not constitute disobeying a traffic-control signal under the Code. This argument presents a question of statutory construction. The primary rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature, which is best determined from the plain language of the statute. In re Marriage of Flannery, 328 Ill. App. 3d 602, 605-06 (2002). In determining intent, a court may also consider the reason and necessity of the law, the evil sought to be remedied, and the purpose to be achieved. People v. Hockenberry, 316 Ill. App. 3d 752, 756 (2000).

The offense of disobeying a traffic signal is created and defined by two different Code sections. Section 11--305(a) provides that a driver "shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device." 625 ILCS 5/11--305(a) (West 2000). Section 11--306, in turn, provides the instructions for traffic signals. With respect to green lights it provides: "[v]ehicular traffic facing a circular green signal may proceed straight through or turn right or left unless a sign at such place prohibits either such turn." 625 ILCS 5/11--306(a)(1) (West 2000).

Defendant argues that the legislature did not intend that a "brief" or "momentary" delay in proceeding through an intersection would constitute a violation of the directions set forth in section 11--306(a)(1). Defendant bases this argument largely on the fact that section 11--306(a)(1) does not explicitly set a time limit within which a driver must proceed after a traffic light turns green. According to defendant, it is evident from the fact that drivers must ascertain that it is safe to proceed before entering an intersection that a "brief" or "momentary" delay is permissible. The problem with this argument is that defendant's 20-second delay in entering the intersection was neither "brief" nor "momentary."

We do not quarrel with defendant's general premise that a brief or momentary delay in proceeding through an intersection is permissible under section 11--306(a)(1). While, read literally, section 11--306(a)(1) gives a driver no time to react to a green light because it does not specify any type of grace period for a driver to proceed, that which is implied in a statute is as much a part of it as that which is expressed. Martinez v. County of Stephenson, 268 Ill. App. 3d 427, 430 (1995). We agree with defendant that it is implied under section 11-306(a)(1) that a driver is allowed a reasonable period of time to react to the signal change and ascertain that it is safe to proceed.

That said, 20 seconds is not a reasonable period of time. Defendant characterizes his delay in entering the intersection as "brief" and "momentary." Similarly, the dissent describes defendant's delay as "relatively insignificant." Slip op. at 12. Defendant's argument fails, not because a motorist's "brief" or "momentary" or "insignificant" delay at an intersection necessarily violates the Code, but because none of these terms accurately describe defendant's conduct. Twenty seconds is a long time in the context of a traffic light. As the trial court pointed out, 20 seconds may seem like "a minute and-a-half to five minutes" to cars stopped behind a car that fails to proceed at a green light. Further, except under very unusual circumstances, 20 seconds is much longer than is necessary to check to make sure that it is safe to proceed. The dissent's conclusion that a 20-second delay is "relatively insignificant" is based in its view that a driver who remains stopped at a green light for 20 seconds may be changing a radio station or "glancing" at a map. Slip op. at 12. The problem with this is that the dissent has greatly exaggerated the time necessary to accomplish these two tasks; it takes at most a couple of seconds to change a radio station or to glance at anything. Thus, the fact that changing a radio station or a glancing at a map might be reasonable activities at an intersection does not support the proposition that 20 seconds is a reasonable amount of time to spend stopped at a green light. Moreover, if a motorist wishes to peruse rather than glance at a map or to scan his radio until he finds entertainment to his liking, a green light is not an appropriate place to take such a leisurely sojourn. Accordingly, we see no reason to overturn the trial court's implicit finding that defendant's 20-second delay while facing a green light was unreasonable.

The dissent argues that section 11--306(a)(1) is permissive. In doing so, the dissent goes much further than defendant. The dissent seizes on the word "may" in section 11--306(a)(1), asserting that it denotes that the direction to "proceed straight through or turn right or left" is a suggestion rather than a command. Slip op. at 9. However, "[w]here the rights of the public *** are involved, statutory language importing permission or authority may be read as mandatory *** whenever *** such a construction is made necessary by the evident intention of the legislature." R.L. Polk & Co. v. Ryan, 296 Ill. App. 3d 132, 140 (1998). We believe that it is clear that the legislature intended section 11--306(a)(1) to be mandatory.

Significantly, the dissent's reading of section 11--306(a)(1) directly contradicts the statute's purpose of promoting safety and efficiency because it leads to the absurd result that cars may stop indefinitely at an intersection. The purpose of a traffic-control device is to "promote highway safety and efficiency by providing for the orderly movement of all road users." Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices ยง1A.01 (2000), adopted pursuant to 625 ILCS 5/11--301 (West 2000). Under the dissent's reading of section 11--306(a)(1), a car may stop indefinitely at a green light. This interpretation, rather than promoting orderly movement of traffic, allows stoppage of ...

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