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The City of East Peoria v. Bradford Palmer

November 20, 2012

THE CITY OF EAST PEORIA,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BRADFORD PALMER, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Tazewell County, Illinois Circuit No. 11-DT-23 Honorable Lisa Y. Wilson, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Carter

JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Lytton and Holdridge concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 The defendant, Bradford Palmer, was charged with driving under the influence (DUI) pursuant to section 11-501(a)(2) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Code) (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(2) (West 2010)). He filed a petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension of his license, which the circuit court granted after finding that the arresting officer lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the traffic stop. Shortly thereafter, the defendant filed a motion to quash his arrest. After a hearing, the court granted the motion to quash. On appeal, the municipality of East Peoria argues that: (1) the court erred when it found that the arresting officer lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to stop the defendant's vehicle; (2) the arresting officer had probable cause to arrest the defendant for DUI; and (3) the court erred when it refused to admit into evidence an audio recording of a call from Par-A-Dice casino security to the East Peoria police. We affirm.

¶ 2 FACTS

¶ 3 On January 16, 2011, at around 11 p.m., East Peoria police officer Jason Ernst pulled over a dark green Ford sport-utility vehicle (SUV) driven by the defendant. Ernst issued a DUI citation to the defendant. In the accompanying paperwork, Ernst wrote the following: "complaint of possible DUI, improper lane usage, improper stopping, strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on breath, slurred speech, swayed while standing still, staggered while walking, slow motor movements, red - glassy eyes, admitted to consuming alcohol." The defendant refused to perform field sobriety tests, and Ernst gave the defendant paperwork on the statutory summary suspension of his driver's license. The Secretary of State later confirmed the summary suspension of the defendant's license.

¶ 4 On February 23, 2011, the defendant filed a petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension of his license. After a hearing on the petition, during which Ernst testified, the circuit court granted the defendant's petition. In so ruling, the court found that "[a] review of the video and Officer Ernst's testimony demonstrates to the court that there was a lack of reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop the Defendant's vehicle." The State filed a motion to reconsider, which the court later denied via written order. In that order, the court questioned Ernst's credibility.

¶ 5 On April 21, 2011, the defendant filed a motion to quash his arrest, alleging that "the arrest, detention and seizure of the defendant" violated his constitutional rights and requesting the circuit court to dismiss the case.

¶ 6 On October 13, 2011, the circuit court held a hearing on the defendant's motion to quash his arrest. Ernst testified that he was on patrol on January 16, 2011, when the police received a call from the Par-A-Dice casino about a possible drunk driver leaving the premises. The casino gave the police a description of the vehicle and a license plate number. Ernst stated that the dispatcher also told him that the casino had cut off an individual from drinking.

¶ 7 Ernst, who parked in the parking lot of the casino, was waiting for a follow-up call from dispatch because the casino was supposed to call back when the suspect vehicle was going to leave the premises. During this time, Ernst saw a vehicle drive past his location that matched the general physical description of the suspect vehicle. Ernst pulled out and followed the vehicle, although there was a vehicle in between the suspect vehicle and Ernst's vehicle. Ernst could not see any occupants when the suspect vehicle passed.

¶ 8 As Ernst caught up to the vehicle behind the suspect vehicle, Ernst claimed that he observed the suspect vehicle "obstruct traffic as it had stopped partially obstructing the right turn lane and the eastbound [through] lane." Ernst said that the violation occurred within 500 feet after he began following the suspect vehicle, which was the approximate distance from the driveway off which he turned and the stoplight at an intersection.

¶ 9 Ernst stated that he initially cited the defendant for disobeying a traffic control device, but said that he wrote that citation in error as it was the incorrect statute. Ernst testified that "[t]here was also a violation of obstructing traffic, I believe possibly improper lane usage."*fn1

¶ 10 When asked more questions regarding the alleged violations, Ernst stated that the suspect vehicle was initially within its lane, but then "partially stopped in the right hand turn lane and the eastbound lane." Ernst admitted that the suspect vehicle was moving slowly at this time. Ernst also stated, "[t]he vehicle was actually obstructing the right turn lane and the straight lane, which basically is obstructing the traffic behind it. If you review the video you can actually see where the vehicle [behind the suspect vehicle] has to stop for the action that the suspect vehicle was committing."

¶ 11 Ernst activated his emergency lights when the suspect vehicle merged into the through lane. The suspect vehicle stopped at the red light. When the light changed, the suspect vehicle continued straight into a gas station parking lot, where Ernst also pulled in and positioned his vehicle so the ensuing encounter would be in view of his vehicle's camera. This was the first point at which Ernst was able to verify that the license plate number of the suspect vehicle matched the number given to him by the dispatcher.

¶ 12 Defense counsel asked Ernst whether there were any lane markings in the area. Ernst said yes, but said that they were faded, which he realized after reviewing the videotape of the stop. Ernst admitted that it would be difficult for someone to commit illegal lane usage if the lane markers were not fully developed.

¶ 13 Ernst stated that during the encounter in the gas station parking lot, he observed the defendant as having bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. The defendant was also allegedly swaying as he stood outside his vehicle. Based on these observations, Ernst suspected the defendant was intoxicated. The defendant refused to perform field sobriety tests, and Ernst arrested the defendant for DUI.

ΒΆ 14 The video recording from Ernst's vehicle was entered into evidence. The video showed Ernst pull out of a parking lot after a dark-colored SUV and another vehicle passed from the left of the screen to the right. The vehicles passed out of sight of the camera, and Ernst turned right out of the parking lot. The road curved around to the right, and those vehicles first came into view as they approached an upcoming red stoplight while driving on the right side of the road near the curb. The in-between vehicle had its brake lights activated, but did not have to stop, while the suspect vehicle moved at a slow rate of speed to ...


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