Wednesday, January 05, 2011

DUI Appeal of the Day - Improper Lane Usage

In Illinois v. Hackett, --- N.E.2d ----, 2010 WL 5420188 (Ill.App. 3 Dist.), the trial court granted the motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The testimony revealed that the defendant crossed over the lane divider between the northbound lanes at least twice. He argued that he may have been avoiding potholes, although the officer (Blouin) testified that he didn't see any potholes. Upholding the trial court's ruling, the majority stated:
There are too many innocent circumstances that might cause a motorist to momentarily and inadvertently inch across a lane divider to find that such action, without more creates probable cause to arrest.
In this case, by Blouin's own admission, defendant's tires only slightly crossed the lane divider for mere seconds before defendant continued to operate his vehicle entirely in the left-hand lane of traffic. Instructive and in stark contrast is Smith, where the defendant drove with his wheels straddling the lane dividers by six inches on opposite sides of the street on two separate occasions, effectively driving in three lanes of traffic for approximately 150 yards each time. With regard to the second requirement of the statute, nothing in Blouin's testimony provides any bases to find that if defendant did change from the left lane of traffic to the right, however briefly, he did not do so without first determining that it was safe. The evidence does not provide grounds upon which to find that defendant's driving endangered himself, pedestrians, or other vehicles at any time.
The fun part of this opinion involves the unusually course banter between the majority and the dissent.

The majority wrote the following:
FN1. The dissent, typically and predictably, resorts to ridicule, hyperbole, personal anecdotes and observations, assaults on positions not taken by the majority, quotes taken out of context, and facts outside the record to attack a legal analysis with which he does not agree. If the majority decision is indeed wrong, it should be possible to demonstrate that error in a mature and professional counteranalysis.
The dissent countered with:

This opinion would not standup to a Vinny Gambini cross-examination. I can only think of that renowned trial lawyer's cross-examination of witness Mr. Tipton regarding the time it took to cook grits on Tipton's stove. Vinny Gambini would undoubtedly ask whether the law of physics cease to exist on highways in the Third District allowing a vehicle to travel for four seconds with its tires in two separate lanes and yet not be “actually driving in more than one lane of traffic.” Was this a magic pickup truck? Did the defendant buy his truck from the same guy that sold Jack his beanstalk beans? If the defendant was not actually driving in more than one lane of traffic, what was he “actually” doing? Just what is a reasonably appreciable distance? How does an officer decide? The majority leaves no workable rule.

I could write a four-volume dissent on this case, picking apart one silly sentence after another in the majority opinion. However, I will stop here. The thrust of the majority opinion is that the majority believes that police should not be able to stop people for minor traffic violations. I suppose we all feel that way when we are stopped for one. This is the appellate court; we do not get to rewrite the law based upon our feelings about it. The supreme court and the legislature have that power. We do not. Clearly, the officer had probable cause to stop the defendant for improper lane usage. The supreme court's decision in Smith is not ambiguous. Whether the defendant inadvertently or intentionally swerved twice across the lane divider lane is irrelevant. The majority opinion stands the law on its head and creates a totally unworkable scheme for traffic law enforcement. Do we apply the same analysis to speeding? Must one speed for a “reasonably appreciable distance” to violate speed laws?

*10 Illinois has five appellate courts and one supreme court. Our supreme court does not have the resources to correct every wrongly decided appellate decision. The majority undoubtedly is banking on the fact that the court will have more pressing matters before it and not grant a petition for leave to appeal on this matter. With all due respect, the majority opinion is nonsense, plain and simple. Even worse, it endangers the lives of the motoring public by limiting the ability of police officers to stop erratic drivers. I dissent.
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