Quick take on Friday's Illinois Supreme Court opinion in People v. Hackett

Our panel of leading appellate attorneys review Friday's Illinois Supreme Court opinion in the Criminal case People v. Hackett.

People v. Hackett

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

In 2008, Dennis Hackett was stopped by a Will County deputy for improper lane usage as defined at 625 ILCS 5/11-709(a).  Ultimately, he was charged with aggravated DUI and aggravated driving while license revoked. The trial court granted a motion to quash and suppress because the deputy testified that defendant’s vehicle’s passenger-side tires “barely” or “slightly” crossed from the left lane into the right lane on two occasions and that “those momentary crossings” did not provide reasonable grounds to make the stop.

The appellate court affirmed, holding that for a driver to violate the improper lane usage statute, he or she must drive “for some reasonably appreciable distance in more than one lane of traffic.”

The Supreme Court rejected the appellate court’s position, finding that the appellate court had misinterpreted the earlier decision in People v. Smith, 172 Ill. 2d 289 (1996). In Smith, the Court held that there is no “endangerment” requirement for a violation of section 11-709(a); the violation is established where “a motorist crosses over a lane line and is not driving as nearly as practicable within one lane.” There is no distance requirement imposed by the statute, and any reference to the distance in Smith was not significant to the outcome.

The Court went on, however, to clarify that the decision in Smith was too broad in that it suggested that an officer’s observation of a driver’s deviation from his established lane of travel is sufficient to establish probable cause to arrest for a violation of section 11-709(a). It is not. Section 11-709(a) is not a strict liability offense. It must also be established that it was “practicable” for the driver to remain in his lane.

Simply stated, an officer has reasonable suspicion to effect a lawful investigatory stop for improper lane usage where he observes a driver deviate from his established lane of travel. To establish probable cause for a violation, though, the officer must also point to facts showing that it was “practicable” for the driver to have remained in his proper lane.

Notable is that the Court’s decision seems to impose an affirmative obligation on the officer “to inquire further into the reason for the lane deviation” either by questioning the driver or verifying the condition of the road where the deviation occurred.  Presumably, if the inquiry reveals that it was not practicable for the motorist to remain within his lane, the purpose for the stop has dissipated and the driver should be released to go on his way.

Finally, the Supreme Court was critical of the “tone” taken by both the dissenting appellate justice and the majority, stating that while forceful argument is to be expected, “personal disparagement diminishes the force of the argument.”

Posted on July 6, 2012 by Chris Bonjean
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