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People v. Wunderlich

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

August 27, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JEFFREY A. WUNDERLICH, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Whiteside County, Illinois. Circuit No. 17-TR-2144 Honorable Theodore G. Kutsunis, Judge, Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: Patrick Delfino, David J. Robinson, and Luke McNeill, of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of Springfield, for the People.

          Attorneys for Appellee: James W. Mertes, James E. Fagerman, Gary L. Spencer, and Cristina M. Buskohl, of Mertes & Mertes, P.C., of Sterling, for appellee.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE SCHMIDT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          SCHMIDT PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The State charged defendant, Jeffrey A. Wunderlich, a Whiteside County sheriffs deputy, under the Illinois Vehicle Code with failure to yield while turning left (625 ILCS 5/11-902 (West 2016)), driving in the wrong direction (id. § 11-708), and improper lane usage (id. § 11-709(a)), following an accident involving defendant and a motorcycle. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charges, which the trial court granted. The State appeals. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. FACTS

         ¶ 3 An accident occurred while defendant, who was off duty but in his marked squad car, responded to a call for officers to assist in looking for a patient that had gone missing from a nearby mental health facility. After receiving the call, defendant performed a left turn. The road he was turning onto was a one-way street meant for traffic traveling in the opposite direction. While executing the turn, defendant collided with a motorcycle.

         ¶ 4 The State filed multiple petty traffic offenses against the defendant. Defendant responded by filing a motion to dismiss the charges pursuant to section 114-1(a)(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/114-1(a)(3) (West 2016)). Defendant asserted he was entitled to unqualified immunity from prosecution of violations of regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions pursuant to section 11-205(c)(4) of the Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-205(c)(4) (West 2016)). His argument was based on the fact that he was the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle responding to an emergency call.

         ¶ 5 The trial court held a hearing on defendant's motion to dismiss. Lieutenant John Booker of the Whiteside County Sheriffs Department was the only witness who testified at the hearing. Booker stated that on the evening in question, the Whiteside County Sheriffs Department responded to a call for assistance regarding a missing person. A mentally ill patient from a mental health facility had escaped. Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the call and began to setup a perimeter. Once Booker arrived on the scene, he assumed control of the search. As part of his command, he ordered all available sheriffs deputies to join the search. This included off-duty deputies. Booker testified that the call was an emergency and required an immediate law enforcement response. Booker also inquired as to whether an airplane was available to aid in the search for the missing patient. He further stated that defendant was driving a fully marked squad car and was responding to the emergency call when the collision with the motorcycle occurred.

         ¶ 6 The trial court found that defendant was the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle and was responding to an emergency call when the commission of the acts charged occurred. In granting defendant's motion to dismiss, the trial court stated:

"The Court finds that *** the situation [defendant] faced in the search and rescue was properly characterized as an emergency situation. The Court also finds the charges brought against Defendant are those which regulate the movement or turning of traffic and that the Defendant was responding to an emergency at the time of his accident thereby invoking the protection of 11-205(c)(4) for the Defendant."

         ¶ 7 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 8 On appeal, the State argues that the trial court erred in granting defendant's motion to dismiss. The State attempts to support this contention by stating that section 11-205 of the Vehicle Code does not confer absolute authority to disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning. See id. § 11-205. Additionally, the State argues that the defendant's actions constituted a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Alternatively, the State asserts that the trial court erred in finding that defendant was responding to an emergency situation at the time of the accident.

         ¶ 9 Before engaging the merits of the State's arguments, we note that the parties disagree on the standard of review to be applied. The State argues for a de novo standard because the facts are not disputed and the question presented is one of statutory construction. Defendant maintains that the trial court's ruling was based on both a finding of fact and the interpretation of a statutory section necessitating a bifurcated standard of review. We agree with defendant. "The trial judge based his decision on both a finding of fact and a legal ruling. We review the legal ruling de novo, and we review the finding of fact to determine ...


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