Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Circuit, Knox County, Illinois, Circuit No. 11-CF-217 Honorable Scott Shipplett, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McDADE
JUSTICE McDADE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Lytton concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Justice Wright concurred in part and dissented in part, with opinion.
¶ 1 Defendant, Odell P. Tramble, was charged with unlawful possession of ammunition by a felon (720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(a) (West 2010)). Prior to trial, defendant filed two motions to suppress evidence. The trial court suppressed the evidence after finding that the police officers lacked sufficient grounds to stop defendant's vehicle. The State appeals, arguing that the officers had probable cause to believe that defendant violated section 11-804(a) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Code) (625 ILCS 5/11-804(a) (West 2010)). We reverse and remand.
¶ 3 Following a traffic stop, defendant was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of ammunition by a felon (720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(a) (West 2010)). On August 9, 2011, defendant filed two motions to suppress evidence, arguing that the police officers made an unlawful stop and search of his vehicle. The State filed a written response to both motions, arguing that defendant had violated section 11-804(a) of the Code and that the subsequent stop and search of his vehicle was lawful. The cause proceeded to a hearing on defendant's motions.
¶ 4 At the hearing, defendant testified that he was driving his girlfriend's car with Deandre Brown and DeJuan Irons as passengers. The three individuals were returning from a McDonald's restaurant when defendant missed the turn back to Brown's apartment. Defendant noticed that two marked police squad cars were following his vehicle. Defendant then turned onto a road that went behind Brown's apartment. At the end of the road was a yield sign. Defendant stopped right before the yield sign to let Brown and Irons out. At this point, the police officers activated their lights and made a traffic stop.
¶ 5 Defendant further testified that the road he was stopped on was very narrow and did not contain a shoulder. Instead, the road ran alongside a ditch. When defendant stopped, he did not use his turn signal because he was not making a turn. In fact, defendant testified that he did not turn the steering wheel at all. The officers then asked defendant for his license and registration, and a K-9 unit was dispatched to walk around the vehicle. Despite a protest by defendant and Brown, the officers searched the entire vehicle, including the trunk of the car. In the trunk, officers found ammunition.
¶ 6 Brown testified that he had asked defendant to drive him to McDonald's the night of the stop. On their way back to his house, defendant missed the turn to his apartment, and Brown instructed defendant to take the back way. They noticed two marked police squad cars following them. The police initiated a traffic stop on the vehicle after defendant had stopped behind Brown's apartment to let him and Irons get out. Brown testified that defendant simply stopped and did not turn. Brown described the road as a concrete street with a gravel ditch and no room to move to the side.
¶ 7 Officer Christopher Hootman testified that he and another officer observed defendant's vehicle near an address where there had been heavy drug trafficking. When the vehicle began to move, Hootman decided to follow it. He did not have any specific reason to follow the vehicle; he just "wanted to." He testified that as he followed the vehicle, it pulled over sharply without signaling and came to a complete stop. The road on which it pulled over had a slight shoulder and a small ditch. When defendant stopped he was 50 feet from a yield sign. Hootman then initiated a traffic stop. During the stop, a police canine walked around defendant's vehicle and alerted to the presence of contraband. The officers then searched the vehicle and found ammunition in the trunk. Hootman also testified that there was no video of the stop because the camera in his squad car was not working.
¶ 8 The trial court found that the officers lacked sufficient grounds to stop defendant's vehicle. The court concluded that defendant did not violate any traffic laws because a turn signal is not required when a vehicle moves right or left upon a roadway. The court interpreted section 11-804(a) of the Code as requiring a turn signal only when a vehicle turns from a direct course. The court found that defendant did not turn, so therefore he did not violate section 11-804(a). Based on its finding, the court suppressed all of the evidence obtained as a result of the stop. The State appeals.
¶ 10 The State argues that the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence obtained from the stop when it found that the police lacked sufficient grounds to initiate a traffic stop of defendant's vehicle. We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence pursuant to a two-part test. People v. Absher, 242 Ill. 2d 77 (2011). First, we will uphold the court's factual findings unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Id. Second, we assess the established ...