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People v. Synnott

June 03, 2004

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES SYNNOTT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 02-DT-1775. Honorable Peter J. Dockery, Judge, Presiding.

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

PUBLISHED

Following a bench trial in the circuit court of Du Page County, defendant, James Synnott, was found not guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(2) (West 2002)), but was found guilty of speeding (625 ILCS 5/11-601(b) (West 2002)), failure to wear a seat belt (625 ILCS 5/12-603.1 (West 2002)), and obstructing a peace officer (720 ILCS 5/31-1 (West 2002)). On appeal, defendant challenges his conviction of obstructing a peace officer, arguing that the charging instrument and the evidence of guilt were both insufficient because the State neither alleged nor proved that he committed a physical act. We affirm.

The complaint charging obstructing a peace officer alleged that defendant "knowingly obstructed the performance of Kevin Driscoll Sr. of an authorized act within his official capacity, being the investigation of a potential intoxicated driver, knowing Kevin Driscoll Sr. to be a peace officer engaged in the execution of his official duties, in that he repeatedly refused to exit the car he was driving when ordered by Kevin Driscoll Sr. to do so."

At trial, Officer Driscoll testified that he stopped defendant's vehicle after observing it traveling about 20 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Officer Driscoll noticed indicia of intoxication. After obtaining defendant's driver's license and evidence of insurance, Officer Driscoll asked defendant to shut off his vehicle's engine and then walked back toward his squad car. Defendant did not comply, and Officer Driscoll returned to defendant's vehicle and repeated the request and asked defendant "if he would prefer to sit on the curb."

According to Officer Driscoll, the following exchange ensued:

"He then asked me if he was under arrest, and I asked him if he would prefer that. He said no.

I asked him again then to shut off the engine. He shut off the engine. I thanked him and walked back to my car."

Officer Driscoll then summoned assistance, returned to defendant's vehicle, and asked defendant to step out of the car. Defendant again asked if he was under arrest. Officer Driscoll replied, "no, you are not under arrest, but I need you to step out of the car." Defendant protested that his lawyer had told him "to never get out of the car." Officer Driscoll advised defendant that he had a right to ask him to step out of the car and that defendant had no right to refuse. Defendant again cited his lawyer's advice and refused to step out of the car. Once more, Officer Driscoll asked defendant to step out of the vehicle and warned him that if he refused he would be arrested for obstructing a police officer. Defendant then grabbed the steering wheel with both hands. On direct examination, Officer Driscoll testified, "I then grabbed him by the left arm and started pulling on him; and within a matter of seconds, he let go of the steering wheel and exited the car." However, on cross-examination, Officer Driscoll testified that defendant exited the vehicle within a "split second" after he grabbed defendant's arm.

In finding defendant guilty of obstructing a peace officer, the trial court stated as follows:

"[T]he officer four times told the defendant to exit the vehicle, the defendant repeatedly refused to do so. He grasped the steering wheel firmly at one point in an obvious indication he was refusing to leave the vehicle and after four occasions did not remove himself, and then momentarily did not comply with the officer pulling his arm; although he then immediately did comply.

I believe that this many times refusing to comply with the officer's instructions does constitute the knowing instruction [sic] of the officer's performance of a duty, that is the instruction to step out [sic] the vehicle when the defendant was lawfully detained for a traffic violation and subject to being so directed by the officer to step out of the vehicle."

The trial court sentenced defendant to a one-year term of conditional discharge. The trial court denied defendant's posttrial motion, and this appeal followed.

Defendant argues that a conviction of obstructing a peace officer requires proof of a physical act and that merely refusing to comply with an officer's orders does not constitute obstruction. Accordingly, defendant contends that both the allegations of the charging instrument and ...


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