Although driving is considered a privilege in the state of Illinois, that doesn’t mean police can pull over any driver they choose in order to conduct a traffic stop. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures, and we’ve won many cases challenging the constitutionality of a search. Below, we take a closer look at when police are legally allowed to conduct a traffic stop and what you can do if you believe you were unconstitutionally stopped in Illinois.
Legal Right To Stop A Driver
There are a few factors that allow a police officer to legally stop a driver. The most common instance is when the officer witnesses a driver commit a driving infraction. It doesn’t matter whether the driver is knowingly breaking the law (like speeding) or unknowingly breaking the law (driving with a broken tail light). If they are in violation of a driving law, an officer can conduct a traffic stop.
It’s also worth noting that the reason for the traffic stop does not need to be related to the eventual charges the driver faces. For example, if you were pulled over for expired license plates and the officer realizes after speaking with you that you may be under the influence of alcohol, you can still face DWI charges even though the basis for the stop was for an unrelated matter.
Witnessing a driving infraction is the leading reason for a traffic stop, but that is not the threshold that needs to be met in order for a traffic stop to take place. As the law is written, a police officer only needs to have reasonable suspicion that a law has been broken in order to conduct a traffic stop. So if a bartender calls in your license plate after watching you drink for a couple hours and then get in your car, police may not need to witness a traffic violation because they have probable cause that you’re in violation of the law.
Similarly, if police get a dispatch about a theft that occurred at a jewelry store and the robbers are fleeing in a black Toyota Camry, police can pull you over if you are driving that type of vehicle in or around the area at the time of the incident. They can’t charge you with theft if it’s clear that you didn’t rob the bank, but if they smell marijuana, you can face charges even though the initial stop was for a completely different reason that met the threshold of probable cause.
Finally, and although this represents a rare scenario, it’s worth noting. Police can pull you over by accident and charge you with a crime so long as they were acting in “good faith” at the time of the traffic stop. What this means is that a mistake of fact does not automatically mean that evidence will be suppressed. If the mistake by the officer is reasonable, you can still face charges. Here’s an example.
Let’s say you’re driving down the road when an officer spots you and types your license plate into his computer system. He enters one digit wrong on your plate and the system suggests you have a warrant out for your arrest. With time being of the essence as you are driving away, the officer zooms off to conduct a traffic stop without looking to see if the information they typed in was correct. Had they taken a moment to review the data, they would have seen that the license plate didn’t match the vehicle description in their system. Regardless, they believe they have correct information and they conduct a traffic stop and you blow a 0.12. You’ll face DWI charges even though there was no reason to stop you in the first place other than an accidental mistake of the facts. This is just one example, but it speaks to the larger point that if the officer believes they are acting in good faith, you can still be legally stopped even though there was a mistake of fact.
If you believe you’ve been unconstitutionally stopped and are now facing charges, or you just want assistance with your traffic case, reach out to Brett Appelman and the team at Appelman & Lloyd today to set up a free case evaluation.