DUI TRAFFIC STOP - Illinois Supreme Court decision may allow momentary inadvertent inching across highway lane divider as basis for law enforcement investigatory stop. First Paragraph: On Friday, July 6, 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court overruled the Hackett opinion of the Third District Appellate Court. People v. Hackett, 2012 IL 111781
Prior to the Supreme Court's opinion, Hackett stood for the rule that a police officer was not justified in stopping a driver who crossed over a lane line unless it was for some reasonably appreciable distance. The Appellate Court had ruled that there are too many innocent circumstances which may cause a driver to inadvertently and momentarily inch across a highway lane divider.
In Hackett, the driver was driving in the left, or passing, lane of a four-lane highway. The officer testified that Hackett went slightly over the black and white striped line between the two northbound lanes twice, 4 or 5 seconds apart.
The Circuit Court (trial court) had held that Hackett's driving did not give the officer reasonable grounds to stop him. The appellate court agreed.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Illinois lane usage statute does not differentiate between driving a long or short distance over the centerline, so distance is not a dispositive factor in determining whether the stop was justified.
The Court agreed that vehicle stops by police officers are subject to the fourth amendment's reasonableness requirement. As a general matter, it held that where the police have probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred, they may stop the driver but the Court also held that the less exacting standard of a "reasonable, articulable, suspicion" that a traffic violation had occurred, will justify a traffic stop. That is, the officer's belief need not rise to the level of probable cause to believe a traffic violation had occurred.
The Court noted that the lane usage statute creates an exception for violation because it requires driving only as near as "practicable" in one lane. Thus, whether there is "probable cause" or not to support charge of violation of the lane law statute requires a fact specific inquiry regarding, for instance, weather, road conditions, visibility, and obstacles which may be present. However, for the purpose of a traffic stop, the officer need not make all of these inquiries and rule out the exceptions - in judging a police officer's conduct, courts should apply an objective standard, considering whether the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure justify the actions taken. It may be a fair summary of Hackett that - if there are not readily apparent circumstances showing why driving in the same lane is not practicable - the officer may stop a vehicle to inquire further into the reason for the lane deviation.
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