I’m always pleased when I read about the court and prosecutors recognizing that police must adhere to the Constitution in investigating crimes. I can say with first-hand knowledge that this, unfortunately, is a rare occurrence for many individuals arrested on suspicion of DUI. Jesse R. White of Charleston, Illinois who was arrested and charged with driving under the influence is one of the lucky few where justice prevailed.
White was stopped because, according to the arresting Eastern Illinois University police officer, he ran a red light. The traffic stop led the officer to believe that White was driving under the influence. And, in fact, White was subsequently arrested for felony drunk driving charges because White had suffered prior DUI convictions.
In one of my first posts for duiblog.com, I explained why I unreservedly agree with law enforcement equipping squad cars with “dash-cams.” The article can be found here: http://ltduiblog.wpengine.com/2014/04/25/the-use-of-dash-cams-in-dui-stops-2/. The gist of it is that dash-cams (also called MVARS) are an objective capturing of the evidence, unlike the arresting officer’s memory of the events. What’s more, unlike officers, dash-cams can’t lie.
Fortunately for White, the officer who arrested him had a dash-cam attached to his vehicle. A review of the dash-cam video revealed that White had actually run a yellow light, not a red light as the officer had claimed. As such, the officer had absolutely no reason to pull White over.
The United States Supreme Court has held that law enforcement can initiate a traffic stop if they have reasonable suspicion, based on specific and articulable facts, to believe that an offense has occurred. In fact, on several other occasions, the United States Supreme Court has even held that where an officer has observed a traffic violation, the higher standard of probable cause is met.
Without reasonable suspicion, the traffic stop is illegal and any evidence obtain as a result of the illegal traffic stop is inadmissible as evidence.
Because White had only run a yellow light, not a red light, the arresting officer had no reasonable suspicion that White had committed any offense, thus making the stop illegal. Therefore, the evidence obtained as a result of the illegal stop, presumably the telltale signs of intoxication (bloodshot eyes, distinct odor or alcohol, slurred speech), are inadmissible in a DUI trial.
White’s attorney filed a motion to suppress the evidence arguing exactly this.
At the hearing on the motion to suppress the evidence, the judge dismissed the charges against White after the prosecutor, Coles County State’s Attorney Brian Bower, viewed the dash-cam footage and agreed with the motion.
While Bower was correct in agreeing with the motion, he was wrong in justifying the officer’s stop of White’s vehicle. According to Bower, the officer didn’t do anything wrong and likely saw the red light after it had changed from yellow.
Okay, so either the officer made a mistake or was lying about the red light. Either way, at trial the officer would have testified that White had run the red light. Without other evidence, like a dash-cam, how else are we to determine whether White ran the red light? Unfortunately, we can’t.
How many others have been stopped or arrested when the officer was mistaken, or worse, lied about whether a traffic violation occurred?