Appeal from the Circuit Court of Stephenson County. Honorable Michael P. Bald, Judge, Presiding. No. 08-CF-313
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Burke
JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justices Zenoff and Schostok concurred in the judgment and opinion.
A police officer saw defendant, Abe Haywood, driving his car with the right turn signal activated. Defendant drove past three opportunities to turn, and the officer stopped him based on the belief that defendant's use of the turn signal was a traffic violation. Defendant admitted to the officer that his driving privileges had been suspended. Defendant was arrested, a search allegedly disclosed heroin on his person, and he was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. See 720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 2008).
Defendant moved to quash the arrest and suppress the evidence, arguing that he had not violated any traffic law and, therefore, the stop was not justified. The trial court granted the motion, and the State appeals. The State argues that "the traffic stop had been objectively justified by reasonable suspicion that defendant's conduct violated traffic law." We affirm.
On February 5, 2009, defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance in that he knowingly possessed less than one gram of a substance containing heroin. 720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 2008). On April 16, 2009, defendant moved to quash the arrest and suppress the evidence, asserting that he was not violating any law at the time of the traffic stop and, therefore, the stop was unauthorized at its inception.
The parties stipulated to the following facts. On August 27, 2008, Deputy Lillge was driving east on Route 20 in Stephenson County when he observed defendant driving west in a 1998 Chrysler. The vehicle caught the officer's attention because the right turn signal was flashing as the car drove past a driveway. The officer turned his squad car around and began following defendant. With the turn signal still activated, defendant drove past two other opportunities to turn: a driveway and a road to the right.
The officer activated his emergency lights, and defendant slowly pulled to the shoulder and stopped. After notifying dispatch of the stop, the officer walked to defendant's driver's-side door. The officer asked defendant for his driver's license, and defendant responded, "I'm not going to lie to you, I don't have a license because it would be suspended." Defendant handed the officer a state-issued identification card. When asked why he was driving without a license, defendant said he had to get to Freeport to get a tattoo.
The officer verified the suspension of driving privileges and returned to the Chrysler to ask defendant if he knew why he had been stopped. Defendant replied, "probably my blinker," and explained that he was aware that it had been blinking but he had ignored it. The officer handcuffed defendant and told him that he was under arrest for driving with a suspended license. The officer issued two traffic citations: one for driving with a suspended license (see 625 ILCS 5/6-303 (West 2008)) and one for improper use of a turn signal (see 625 ILCS 5/11-804(d) (West 2008)). A search incident to the arrest disclosed evidence that led to the charged offense.
On November 10, 2009, the trial court entered a written order quashing the arrest and suppressing the evidence. The court recited the stipulated evidence that defendant's turn signal had remained activated as he drove past "various opportunities" to turn right. The court found United States v. McDonald, 453 F.3d 958 (7th Cir. 2006), to be "on all fours" with the facts of this case in that section 11-804(d) was invoked incorrectly to justify a traffic stop. Specifically, the court noted that an officer's mistaken belief that a statute has been violated does not authorize or justify a traffic stop or any subsequent actions. In other words, the court concluded, the State could not claim a good-faith exception to justify the stop.
The trial court found the State's reliance on People v. Sorrells, 209 Ill. App. 3d 1064 (1991), to be misplaced. The court noted that Sorrells "essentially stands for the idea that there can be other justification for stopping a vehicle than what is given at the time of the issuing of a ticket." See Sorrells, 209 Ill. App. 3d at 1069 ("An officer may always warn of a traffic violation or reprimand the driver without citing him, and the officer need not charge a minor violation when, after a stop, a more serious violation is discovered."). The court concluded that Sorrells did not authorize the stop because, at the time of the stop, defendant had no outstanding warrants and his inadvertent activation of the turn signal, rather than another traffic violation, was the reason for the stop.
On December 4, 2009, the trial court denied the State's motion to reconsider. On December 18, 2009, the State timely filed a notice of appeal and a certificate of impairment.
The burden of proof is on the defendant at a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence. 725 ILCS 5/114-12(b) (West 2008); People v. Lampitok, 207 Ill. 2d 231, 239 (2003). If the defendant makes a prima facie case that the evidence was obtained through an illegal search, the State can counter with its own evidence. Lampitok, 207 Ill. 2d at 239.
When reviewing a trial court's suppression ruling, this court applies a two-part standard of review. People v. Luedemann, 222 Ill. 2d 530, 542 (2006) (citing Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699 (1996)); People v. Cosby, 231 Ill. 2d 262, 271 (2008). The trial court's factual findings are entitled to great deference, and we will reverse them only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Cosby, 231 Ill. 2d at 271. However, a reviewing court " 'remains free to undertake its own assessment of the facts in relation to the issues,' " and we review de novo the trial court's ultimate legal ruling as to whether suppression is warranted. Cosby, 231 Ill. 2d at 271 (quoting Luedemann, 222 Ill. 2d at 542-43). Because the facts are not disputed and the trial court did not make any credibility assessments, our review of the suppression order in this case is de novo. See People v. Mitchell, 355 Ill. App. 3d 1030, 1032 (2005).
A vehicle stop constitutes a "seizure" of "persons" within the meaning of the fourth amendment. People v. Close, 238 Ill. 2d 497, 504 (2010) (citing Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 255 (2007)). Accordingly, vehicle stops are subject to the fourth amendment's reasonableness requirement (Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996)), which we analyze under the principles set forth in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). Close, 238 Ill. 2d at 505. Terry permits a police officer to conduct a brief, investigatory stop of a person where the officer ...