Illinois Police Conduct Unlawful Search and Seizure in Traffic Stop

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unlawful searches and seizures. Yet it is the most frequently violated civil right, and on March 20th the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that yet another police officer violated that right by conducting an illegal search and seizure. If a police officer violated your Fourth Amendment rights, it may be possible to get evidence tossed out, or the charges completely dismissed. That is why following an arrest you should immediately meet with an experienced Chicago search and seizure attorney who can help determine whether the police exceeded their authority during the arrest.

Illinois Stop, Search and Seizure Law

Illinois law permits a police officer to stop any person he reasonably believes is about to commit, is in the process of committing, or has committed, a crime of any nature. You are not required to answer any questions the police may ask, nor are you required to show identification. The officer may also perform a limited search of the person for evidence of the suspected crime. These are known as Terry stops.

The Terry stop rules apply to vehicles as well, and the police are usually permitted to ask to see the driver’s license. But not every traffic stop allows the police to request the driver’s identification. And in People v. Cummings, the Illinois Supreme Court laid out another example of when requesting the driver’s identification becomes an unlawful search and seizure.

Search and Seizure During Illinois Traffic Stop

In People v. Cummings, a police officer driving behind Mr. Cummings suspected that the vehicle’s registration had expired. A quick computer check showed that the registration was valid. However, it also showed that the car’s registered owner – a female – had an outstanding warrant. The officer pulled the vehicle over and, upon approach, immediately realized that Mr. Cummings was male. The officer asked for Mr. Cummings’ identification anyway, at which point he discovered that Mr. Cummings had a suspended license. Cummings was later charged with a Class 4 felony.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the officer violated Mr. Cumming’s right against unlawful search and seizure. Pulling the car over was valid, since the computer check showed that the car’s registered owner had an outstanding warrant. However, the search also showed that the registered owner was a female. Once the police officer realized that the car’s driver was a male, the stop should have ended immediately.

By asking Mr. Cummings for his identification, when he had no reasonable suspicion to believe that Mr. Cummings had committed, or was in the process of committing, a crime, the officer violated Mr. Cummings’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure. The court stated that “unless a request for identification is related to the reason for the stop, it impermissibly extends the stop and violates the Constitution.”

In this case, the purpose of the stop was to arrest the car’s registered owner on the outstanding warrant. Requesting Mr. Cummings’ identification, when he clearly was not the car’s registered owner, extended the stop beyond what the Fourth Amendment allows. If the driver had been female, requesting identification would have been acceptable – the officer did not know what the car’s registered owner looked like, and thus would have needed identification to verify her identity.

Chicago Search and Seizure Attorney

The ruling in People v. Cummings is specific to the facts of the case, which makes it very important that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if you were arrested following any type of police stop. If the officer’s actions exceeded their Fourth Amendment authority, it is possible to have the evidence tossed out, which may result in the charges against you being dropped.

The Law Offices of David L. Freidberg has more than a decade of experience handling cases involving unreasonable stops, searches and seizures. With offices in Chicago, Skokie and Oakbrook Terrace, feel free to call us at 312-560-7100 or contact us today for a free consultation.  We are available 24/7 for your convenience.