Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Be careful whose car you drive

Police officers often perform registration checks on random vehicles via mobile data terminals installed in their police cruisers. In addition to the status of the vehicle’s registration, searches of this nature generally disclose whether the registered owner of the vehicle has a valid driver’s license. What searches of this nature do not disclose, however, is whether the owner of the vehicle is actually the person driving the car at the time.

Upon learning that the owner of vehicle has a suspended license, most police officers will execute a traffic stop without any further inquiry as to whether the owner of the vehicle is actually the person driving. Remember that citizens in Illinois have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and other possessions against unreasonable searches, seizures, and invasions of privacy. Oftentimes, the owner’s gender and physical description are made available to the officer as part of the notification that the owner’s license is suspended. If the officer’s records indicate that a male owns the car, but a female is pulled over and gets arrested, was that a good stop?

Absolutely, says the Illinois Appellate Court. See People v. Barnes, 152 Ill.App.3d 1004 (4th Dist. 1987). See also Village of Lake in the Hills v. Lloyd, 227 Ill.App.3d 351 (2nd Dist. 1992). The Courts have ruled that a police officer can make a reasonable inference that the owner is driving the vehicle, and has no duty to inquire otherwise. That inference amounts to probable cause sufficient to pull over the vehicle and question the driver.

Of course, if you don't mind dealing with police officers, and have nowhere important to be for the next twenty minutes after you get pulled over, this shouldn’t bother you. For everyone else, be careful of whose car you drive.

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