3/28/2014Illinois Supreme Court: Cop Cannot Pull Over A Man Looking For A Woman
Top court in Illinois rules that police must have a valid reason for stopping a motorist before asking for identification.
A police officer who pulls over a car he believes is driven by a wanted woman must end the traffic stop once he realizes the driver is actually a man. The Illinois Supreme Court came to this conclusion last week in deciding 5 to 2 that Derrick A. Cummings had his constitutional rights violated when he was stopped and arrested on January 27, 2011.
Cummings had been driving a van that belonged to Pearlene Chattic through the city of Sterling. Although Cummings violated no traffic laws, Officer Shane Bland pulled behind and decided to run the van's license plate.
"It appeared that the registration on the vehicle had expired," Bland testified.
The registration, in fact, was perfectly valid, but Chattic, the vehicle's owner, had an outstanding warrant for her arrest. Officer Bland tried looking in the van's window while driving, but he could not tell whether a woman or man was behind the wheel. He hit his emergency lights and conducted a stop. As he approached the car on foot, he immediately realized his mistake. He proceeded with the stop anyway, asking Cummings for his license and registration.
Cummings did not have a license, and he was arrested. Prosecutors insisted that asking for a license during every traffic stop is "standard operating procedure" and that briefly continuing the traffic stop to ask Cummings to show identification was reasonable. The high court disagreed, saying just because it is legitimate to ask for ID in most cases does not mean it is acceptable to do so in all cases.
"To pass constitutional muster, a request for identification must be tethered to, and justified by, the reason for the stop," Justice Mary Jane Theis wrote for the court majority. "Here, Officer Bland had reasonable suspicion that the van's registration was expired, but that suspicion disappeared when he conducted a computer check. The check, however, revealed the outstanding arrest warrant for Chattic, the registered owner of the van, whom Bland knew was a woman. Officer Bland could not determine whether the driver of the van was a woman, so he had reasonable suspicion that the driver was subject to seizure. That suspicion, like the first, disappeared when he saw that the defendant was not a woman and, therefore, could not be Chattic. Requesting the defendant's license impermissibly prolonged the stop because it was unrelated to the reason for the stop."
The high court majority acknowledged that other state and federal courts have leaned toward the proposition that asking for papers during a traffic stop is automatically acceptable, but the practice will not take hold in Illinois.
"Such a broad rule, however attractive in its simplicity and valuable in its potential to detect crime, stands on weak constitutional footing," Justice Theis wrote. "Simply put, unless a request for identification is related to the reason for the stop, it impermissibly extends the stop and violates the Constitution."
The justices explicitly overturned three lower court rulings that came to a different conclusion. Chief Justice Rita B. Garman dissented, arguing police have a hard job and should not have to justify asking for papers in every instance.
A copy of the decision is available in a 90k PDF file at the source link below.