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Chicago Unlawful Vehicle Stop Attorney

Were You Stopped Without Cause?

Unlawful Vehicle Stop in ChicagoWe attorneys who defend criminal and traffic cases often come across this situation: a client comes into the office with a single ticket issued for the alleged offense of Driving While License Suspended or Revoked, pursuant to section 6-303(a) of the Illinois Vehicle Code. Sometimes, there may also be a ticket for Driving without Proof of Liability Insurance, under section 3-707 of the same Code.

The point is that in such cases, no moving violation was issued, no equipment violation issued, and no written warnings of any such moving or equipment violations were issued along with the suspended/revoked license charge. The client insists to you that he or she did nothing wrong in the presence of the officer, violated no laws in the presence of the officer, and should not have been stopped in the first place.

Reasonable Suspicion Usually Required

Normally, before a police officer is empowered to curb a vehicle, the officer must have observed some objective violation of the Illinois Vehicle Code, or have other information specific to the situation that would give the officer an reasonable suspicion that criminality was "afoot." The courts have held that where an officer does have such objectively reasonable suspicion, or has witnessed a violation of the law, the stop is justified. When the officer lacks any reasonable suspicion, and has not witnessed a violation, the courts usually find that the stop was unlawful, and will likely suppress evidence gained from the unlawful stop.

So, one would think that when a person was operating his vehicle in a perfectly lawful manner (except for his driving privileges being suspended/revoked, or not having insurance, or both) and the officer didn’t witness a traffic or other violation, then the stop is illegal, and the case should get thrown out of court. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Our courts have carved out an exception to that rule, in the case of People v. Barnes.

Random License Plate Checks Allowed

The Barnes case involved the above scenario: the officer witnessed nothing wrong, but for whatever reason, decided to run a check on the vehicle license plate registration. As a result of the check, the officer was advised that the vehicle was registered to the defendant, and that his driving privileges were currently suspended. The officer noted that the driver of the automobile matched the general physical description of the suspended motorist to whom the car was registered. Believing that he was witnessing a violation of 6-303, the officer curbed the vehicle. His suspicions being confirmed, the defendant was arrested.

In court, the defendant’s motion to quash his arrest and suppress the identification evidence, and all other evidence obtained from the stop, was denied by the trial court. On appeal, that decision was upheld and the court reasoned that there is a presumption that the owner of a vehicle is operating the vehicle at any given time. So when the officer has information that the registered owner’s driving privileges are suspended or revoked, and the driver matches that general physical description, then the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the driver is in fact the owner, and the stop is justified.

The key question in these situations then, is this: did the driver match the general physical description of the registered owner? In cases where the driver clearly does not match, such as where a male is driving a car registered to a female (or vice versa), or where there is a different race involved, or vastly different ages, or other characteristics that, upon observation, would lead one to conclude the driver is not the registered owner, then the stop is not justified. An officer is obliged to make the effort to observe the driver for purposes of comparison to the registered owner’s description before stopping the vehicle.

Discuss Your Questions with an Experienced Traffic Defense Team

Driving while one’s driving privileges are either suspended or revoked is a serious traffic offense, usually a misdemeanor, but in some circumstances a felony. Depending on one’s driving record, criminal history, and the basis for the stop against the license, one can receive a lengthy jail sentence, or even be sent to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

If you, or someone you know, has been charged with this, or any other criminal or traffic violation, then that person needs strong, dedicated, experienced lawyers to help fight in court. The lawyers here at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC are well-versed in the defense of these matters - we have years of experience, and get results. Call today to schedule an appointment to meet with us at either our Chicago or Arlington Heights office. Call (800) 996-4824 today.

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