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Criminal Nuggets


Feb 20, 2017

People v. Biagi, 2017 IL App (5th) 150244 (January). Episode 297 (Duration 8:23)

Trial court errored in granting this petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension in this drug based DUI arrest.

Facts

Defendant is driving really slow when he pulls over and stops. There is, of course, a State trooper following him. 

The trooper pulls in behind him because he thinks defendant has car trouble.

- Right away the trooper notices the defendant really can’t follow instructions is acting kinda spacy.
- His speech was slow.
- He said “good afternoon” when it was just after midnight.
- He was slumped down in his seat.
- His movements were deliberate and delayed, and...
- his pants are also undone and falling down to his thighs.

He fails the FST’s including the HGN.

The trooper is trained in detecting drugged driving.

After he is arrested, police find some pills in his pocket.

There is no odor of alcohol and defendant denied taking any narcotics or prescription pills.

Trial Court Ruling

Here, the circuit court found that the trooper activated his “take down” lights, being white lights to illuminate the area, and exited his vehicle. These actions would be seen by a defendant as a command to stay put.

Therefore, defendant was detained by the trooper.

Reversed

The appellate court said otherwise. In People v. Luedemann, the Illinois Supreme Court held that shining a light on a vehicle is not a seizure where there is no coercion or a threat of coercion present.

Accordingly, this trooper’s use of the flashlight and takedown lights did not constitute a seizure of the defendant without the presence of some form of coercion.

Coercion

In determining whether coercion is present–thereby resulting in a seizure–courts examine the following factors, which were established by the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980):

"(1) the threatening presence of several officers;
(2) the display of a weapon by an officer;
(3) some physical touching of the person of the citizen; and
(4) the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer's request might be compelled."

The Mendenhall factors "are not exhaustive and *** a seizure can be found on the basis of other coercive police behavior that is similar.

The Video

A review of the video in the record reveals...

  • no other officers present
  • no display of a weapon
  • no physical touching of the defendant's person, and
  • no language or tone of voice to indicate that compliance was compelled.

Regarding the Mendenhall factors, there must be some such evidence; otherwise, any inoffensive contact between a citizen and a police officer cannot, as a matter of law, constitute a seizure of the citizen.

There was no coercive behavior by the trooper, nor any threat thereof, nor was there any physical force or show of authority to restrain the defendant's liberty.

For these reasons, we find the encounter between the defendant and the trooper prior to the observation of signs that the defendant was under the influence–was consensual and not a seizure, thereby rendering inapplicable any fourth amendment implications.

As a result, the circuit court erred by finding that a seizure had occurred.

Community Caretaking

Additionally, this encounter legitimately began as a community caretaking function.

More Than Just Crime Investigation

The United States Supreme Court established that local law enforcement officers 'frequently investigate vehicle accidents in which there is no claim of criminal liability and engage in what, for want of a better term, may be described as community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.

Most people who appear to be in distress would welcome a genuine offer of police assistance.

But permitting police to search or seize whenever they might be pursuing community-caretaking goals risks undermining constitutional protections.

Thin Line

The challenge of the community-caretaking doctrine is to permit helpful police to fulfill their function of assisting the public, while ensuring that searches for law enforcement purposes satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.

The Standard

There are two general criteria a court must find in determining whether the community caretaker exception applies.

First, law enforcement officers must be performing some function other than the investigation of a crime. In making this determination, a court views the officer's actions objectively.

Second, the search or seizure must be reasonable because it was undertaken to protect the safety of the general public.

Balancing

The court must balance a citizen's interest in going about his business free from police interference against the public's interest in having police officers perform services in addition to strictly law enforcement.

For Example

Community caretaking tasks include but are not limited to

  • helping children find their parents
  • mediating noise disputes
  • responding to calls about missing persons or sick neighbors
  • helping inebriates find their way home
  • or approaching a vehicle that is pulled over on the side of the road to offer assistance.

Cars Stopped in Traffic

The public has a substantial interest in ensuring that police offer assistance to motorists who may be stranded on the side of a highway, especially after dark and in areas where assistance may not be close at hand.

Moreover, an officer has the right to make a reasonable investigation of vehicles parked along roadways to offer such assistance as might be needed and to inquire into the physical condition of persons in vehicles because the occupant of a parked vehicle may be intoxicated, suffering from sudden illness, or may be only asleep.

The court held that, under such circumstances, it is within a responsible law enforcement officer's authority to determine whether assistance is needed.

Finding

Therefore, any alleged seizure was reasonable under the community caretaking doctrine and resulted in no fourth amendment violation.

In applying the actual established law to the fact of this case, first, the evidence shows that the trooper was performing a function other than the investigation of a crime.

Defendant was traveling over 20 miles per hour under the speed limit.

The defendant parked on the shoulder of a rural road in the middle of the night.

The road was poorly lit and sparsely populated. These facts could prompt any reasonable police officer to have genuine concern for the welfare of the defendant. There was also a public safety concern. Because defendant stopped in a place that could have caused an accident. He stopped at the top of a hill making it difficult to see around him.

The facts in the record fall under the community caretaking exception to the fourth amendment, thereby making any alleged seizure of the defendant reasonable.

Holding

Trial court’s decision to grant the petition to rescind the SSS and the motion to suppress were reversed.