Supreme Court Summaries

Opinion filed July 6, 2012

People v. Hackett, 2012 IL 111781

Appellate citation: 406 Ill. App. 3d 209.

JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

This decision arises from the State's appeal from the granting of a motion to suppress evidence in a Will County DUI case. No trial has yet occurred.

Based on events which occurred in the summer of 2008 in Joliet, Dennis Hackett was charged with aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol and aggravated driving while license revoked. He filed a motion to suppress evidence, claiming that the evidence gathered after an "improper stop" by a county deputy constituted the fruit of an illegal search. The officer, Hackett claimed, lacked probable cause to make the traffic stop, which was purportedly based on improper lane usage. The circuit court granted the motion to suppress evidence, finding that defendant's "momentary crossings" of a highway lane line did not provide "reasonable grounds" for a traffic stop. The State appealed. The appellate court, stating that it "acknowledge[d] that Hackett was drunk" and that "the confirmation of his inebriation was the basis for his motion to suppress," nevertheless agreed with the suppression. The State appealed again.

Hackett was seen traveling north on a divided highway whose two northbound lanes were marked by a line. The arresting officer testified that he first saw defendant driving in the right-hand lane and then saw him move to the left. Subsequently, he saw defendant move over slightly to the right so as to be partially in the right-hand lane on two separate occasions before turning left onto another street just prior to his arrest. The arresting deputy observed no practicable reason why Hackett could not have driven within his own lane, such as potholes or obstructions. Hackett, who admitted he had been drinking, offered no affirmative testimony to the contrary, merely speculating that potholes might possibly have accounted for his lane deviation. No one was endangered in the course of these events.

The supreme court reversed the appellate court and held that the motion to suppress should not have been granted. A traffic stop may be justified on something less than probable cause, and the less exacting standard of "reasonable, articulable suspicion" justifying an investigative stop will suffice for purposes of the fourth amendment. That standard was met here.

In People v. Smith, 172 Ill. 2d 289 (1996), the supreme court held that a motorist is engaged in improper lane usage when he "crosses over a lane line and is not driving as nearly as practicable within one lane." The supreme court held here that its 1996 decision in Smith was misinterpreted by the appellate court in this case when it ruled that a motorist must drive "for some reasonably appreciable distance in more than one lane of traffic" for there to be a statutory lane violation. The appellate court erred when it attached a distance requirement because the distance a motorist travels is not a dispositive factor. The supreme court stood by its Smith ruling and held that where, as here, an officer observed multiple lane deviations for no obvious reason, an investigatory stop was proper. Because the circuit court's suppression order had been improper, the cause was remanded there for further proceedings.