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Can a “Consensual” Encounter With Police Lead to a DUI Charge?

Court Reinstated Driver's License SuspensionNormally an Illinois police officer must have probable cause to stop you on suspicion of a DUI. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects all individuals against “unreasonable” seizures by the police. However, what if an officer stops to speak with you for another reason and subsequently discovers evidence that suggests drunk driving?

Court Reinstated Driver's License Suspension

The Fourth Amendment does not apply to “consensual encounters” with the police. In other words, if you speak to the police voluntarily, and not under coercion or detention, you cannot later invoke the Fourth Amendment to claim any evidence obtained against you was an illegal search. Of course, it may not be obvious to you at the time that an encounter was “consensual.” Consider the following case in point.

Recently, an Illinois appeals court had to decide whether to reinstate a suspended driver's license. A trial court previously decided to exclude evidence of DUI obtained by a police officer on Fourth Amendment grounds. The appeals court said the judge applied the law incorrectly and reinstated the suspension.

In early January 2015, an Illinois State Police officer was on routine patrol when he noticed the defendant's vehicle slowing down and pulling over to the side of a narrow road. At this point the officer did not suspect DUI, merely a motorist in distress.

The officer parked his car and activated his headlights for illumination (it was after midnight and the road was dark). The officer then spoke with the defendant. The officer soon suspected DUI based on the defendant's appearance and speech. Next, the officer conducted various field sobriety tests, which the defendant failed. Finally, the officer arrested and searched the defendant. The search revealed the defendant had amphetamine pills in his pocket.

As mentioned, the trial court ruled the officer's actions unconstitutional. However, the Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court disagreed. The appeals court said the officer's actions were legal for two reasons:

  1. The initial encounter was “consensual and not a seizure,” even though the defendant thought he was being detained. The court noted there was a dashcam video of the officer's stop, which revealed no evidence of any “show of authority,” i.e. a display of the officer's gun or any physical contact with the defendant. It was only in the course of this consensual encounter that the officer came to suspect DUI.
  2. Even if the encounter was not consensual, the appeals court said the officer's actions were still reasonable under a legal rule known as the “community caretaking doctrine.” This applies to situations where the police initiate an encounter for some reason other than gathering evidence of criminal activity, such as helping a lost child find his or her parents or, in this case, stopping to render aid to an apparently distressed motorist. The fact there was nothing actually wrong with the defendant's car did not matter; the officer's actions were “reasonable” under the circumstances.
Do You Need Help From an Illinois DUI Lawyer?

If you are stopped by the police, you are probably not going to get into an extended discussion with the officer over the finer points of the Fourth Amendment. Just remember you also have a constitutional right—under the Fifth Amendment—not to speak to the police. You should always assume that anything you say may be used against you, even if you have not been properly advised as such. Additionally, if you are arrested and charged with DUI, you should exercise your right to speak with an experienced Orland Park criminal defense attorney. Contact the Fotopoulos Law Office to speak with an attorney right away.

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