Several recent United States Supreme Court cases, most notably Heien v. North Carolina (2014) and Utah v. Strieff (2016), have vastly expanded police powers when it comes to detaining motorists whom authorities suspect of driving under the influence or other criminal activity, but in most cases, peace officers still need an independent legal basis for such moves. Challenging the legal basis for the stop is often an effective defense strategy because if the initial stop was illegal, any evidence obtained subsequently, such as BAC breath tests or field sobriety test results, are inadmissible.
Reasonable suspicion is the evidentiary standard that judges use to evaluate the initial stop, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which includes Illinois, just ruled on this issue in United States v. Johnson (2016). In that case, the court upheld an arrest in Milwaukee that began with a very questionable stop for stopping within 15 feet of a crosswalk. In the current environment, almost any facts that point to any possible legal violation are sufficient to uphold a stop.
The officer does not necessarily have to see the possible illegal activity because an informer’s tip may be sufficient. When evaluating a tip, the court will consider the source, the information contained in the tip, and the elapsed time between the tip and the stop. So, a tip from a fellow officer that came in a few minutes earlier that contains some detail is usually considered reliable, while an anonymous tip with few details that officers received several days earlier is often considered unreliable.
Facts must be at the core, but officers are also allowed to use their experience and intuition to help them interpret these facts, at least on a limited basis. Furthermore, they may sometimes draw conclusions based on their observations, and even if these conclusions are erroneous, the stop is often upheld.
Random checkpoints were once legal almost no matter how they were constructed, but in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz (1990) and several other cases, the Supreme Court either approved or independently articulated several requirements in this area. Some of them include:
- Predetermined Setup: Every detail must be planned in advance by supervisory-level officials, and officers at the checkpoint can have absolutely no discretion in how the operation is conducted.
- Advanced Announcement: Motorists must have a reasonable opportunity to avoid the checkpoint; for example, if the officers rely on signage at the checkpoint, it must be far enough away that motorists have the chance to safely and legally alter their routes. Law enforcement is also required to notify the public in advance via publication in media outlets, not by press release alone.
- Minimal Detention Time: There is no hard and fast rule, but any delay longer than three or four minutes, which includes the amount of time that motorists are stacked up in line waiting to be checked, is probably unreasonable.
- Systematic Criteria: Officers must pull over every vehicle, every other vehicle, or every third vehicle, or whatever.
Any noncompliance with any of these rules, no matter how seemingly insignificant, may invalidate the checkpoint and therefore invalidate the basis for a subsequent arrest.
Rely on Experienced Attorneys
If the officer did not have a legally sufficient basis for the stop, the case may be thrown out. For prompt assistance in this area, contact an aggressive criminal defense attorney in Schaumburg from Glasgow & Olsson. We routinely handle matters in Cook County and nearby jurisdictions.
(photo courtesy of Kevin Connors)