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Woman's Peculiar, But Not Illegal, Driving Patterns Not Enough to Warrant Stop by State Trooper

A woman's DUI conviction was recently overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court because the state trooper who stopped her did not have the appropriate legal grounds to do so. Although the woman engaged in some odd driving, including pulling onto a private lane, turning off her lights, and parking behind a barn, the trooper could not point to anything the driver did that made him believe that she had committed a crime or was about do so.

A woman's DUI conviction was recently overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court because the state trooper who stopped her did not have the appropriate legal grounds to do so. Although the woman engaged in some odd driving, including pulling onto a private lane, turning off her lights, and parking behind a barn, the trooper could not point to anything the driver did that made him believe that she had committed a crime or was about do so.

Illinois State Trooper Adam Zimmerman was on patrol in Wayne County in the early morning hours of Jan. 27, 2012. The hour being late and Wayne County being a relatively quiet place, few cars were on the roads. The trooper, who was "looking for violations," decided to follow a red Pontiac driven by Katelyn Bozarth because, apparently, hers was the only car on the road.

Perhaps spotting the trooper's unmarked squad car turn around to follow her, Bozarth hastily pulled into a private drive, shut off her car's lights, and then drove behind a barn and parked. The trooper pulled behind Bozarth, parked, and approached her, gun and flashlight drawn. When the trooper approached Bozarth's window, he detected the strong odor of alcohol. The trooper arrested Bozarth for DUI.

Bozarth was convicted and appealed. The main issue in the appeal was whether Zimmerman had made a legal stop. The court decided he had not. The state's characterization of the stop as one that was consensual at first and then became custodial once the trooper smelled Bozarth's breath was not a persuasive argument. When a state trooper approaches your car with his weapon drawn, it rarely seems like a "consensual" encounter. The court stated that Zimmerman's show of force "clearly indicates that the defendant was seized for Fourth Amendment purposes." This conclusion was backed up by the trooper's own testimony. Zimmerman stated that the driver was initially free to go, but that, had she chosen to do so, he would have resumed following her and initiated a non-consensual stop.

Having concluded that Bozarth was the subject of a Fourth Amendment seizure from the moment Zimmerman exited his car, the court also had to address the reasonableness of the stop. The law requires the police to present "specific, articulable facts" to support the action taken. In Bozarth's case, Zimmerman could only offer that he began following the woman because hers was the only car on the road and that the woman had committed no traffic violations. While Bozarth's decisions to pull onto a private drive, turn off her lights, and park behind a barn might seem peculiar on some level, they did not "support a reasonable suspicion that the defendant had committed, or was about to commit, a crime," which the law requires before an officer may make an investigatory stop.

In short, your decisions behind the wheel, even if they may seem odd, do not give the police the right to stop you unless you've also committed a crime or appear on the verge of committing one. Bozarth had done neither, so the court concluded that the stop was improper and threw out her conviction.

A DUI conviction can be a serious impediment to your life. You should take a DUI charge seriously and do everything in your power to defend yourself. Talk to the experienced and determined DuPage County DUI attorneys at Martin & Kent about your DUI case. Our attorneys can help you go over your case to analyze and present each aspect of your defense.

Contact us online or by calling (888) 388-9151 to schedule your confidential initial consultation at no charge.

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