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Tips for Handling an Illinois Traffic Stop

Rolling Meadows Criminal Defense Lawyer

We've all been there: felt the panic rise over us when we see flashing lights in our rearview mirror; felt the anxiety of getting pulled over even if we think we are doing nothing wrong. The truth is, most of us have been or will be pulled over for a traffic infraction at some point in our lives. Regardless of whether you are being pulled over for a burned out taillight or suspected drinking and driving, knowing your rights during a traffic stop is crucial to protect yourself from incrimination and criminal charges.

Illinois Traffic Stop Variations

In order for an officer to pull you over in the state of Illinois, the officer must have reasonable suspicion to make the stop. Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which governs searches and seizures, courts have divided traffic stop standards generally into one of two categories: reasonable suspicion and probable cause. Reasonable suspicion is the standard required for a traffic stop in Illinois, though an officer needs to satisfy the higher level of probable cause for a search of a car.

Reasonable suspicion is a very low standard. An officer must simply demonstrate that there were "specific and articulable facts" associated with that individual and the circumstances that reasonably warrant an intrusion. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). This can range from going slightly over a lane division line, swerving, driving slowly, or acting out of the ordinary.

This is a much lower standard than probable cause, which essentially means more likely than not; the term is taken directly from the Fourth Amendment. According to Black's Law Dictionary, probable cause is "[a] reasonable ground to suspect that a person has committed or is committing a crime." It is greater than a mere suspicion, but stops short of certainty. Probable cause is necessary to search property and to make an arrest in most instances, though there are exceptions.

You Have The Right to Remain Silent

We have all heard the Miranda warnings (these are actually named after the landmark United States Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) which provided minimum standards for police to provide to criminal defendants so they are aware of their rights). What do these rights really mean to a criminal defendant? It means you can decline to answer an officer's questions. In some instances, it may help the defendant to come off as "uncooperative" than to give incriminating responses to the officer's questions. Beyond identification information, insurance, and registration, you are not required by law to answer questions the officer asks you.

Most people feel that if they cooperate, answer all of the officer's questions, and do everything they are told, the officers may be more lenient with them. This is not always the case. If at any point after you are read your Miranda warnings you invoke your right to have an attorney present, questioning must cease immediately. Though the Miranda warnings have many purposes, one is to protect a criminal defendant's right to not self incriminate himself. This means to provide information that implicates himself in a crime. This privilege applies at any stage of questioning by the police—regardless of whether you have been read your Miranda rights or are simply being asked basic questions.

You Have The Right to Refuse Illinois Field Sobriety Tests

In addition to remaining silent, in Illinois, you have the right to refuse to take field sobriety tests. In the event the officers have probable cause to determine a level of intoxication, they may later require you to submit to chemical testing to determine your blood alcohol content. By then, however, your blood alcohol content may have decreased substantially, buying you time and potentially helping your case. Be aware, however, if you refuse at that point, you may face consequences regarding your driver's license privileges.

You are under no obligation to answer the trick question of "how many drinks have you had?" before being asked if you have been drinking at all, nor do you need to tell an officer where you are going, coming from, who you were with, or any other personal or possibly incriminating information. If you fail to comply with these requests, you may still be arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence, but going peacefully and having the opportunity to call a lawyer once you arrive at the police station is much safer than making incriminating statements that can later be used against you in court.

Speeding Can Get You In Trouble Too

Although we have explored the more serious types of violations, you are far more likely to get pulled over for speeding in your lifetime than for any other offense. Speeding tickets will usually result in "points" being added to your license, though no punishment (license suspension) will occur until you have accumulated several infractions.

Still, it is important to know what to do during a routine traffic stop. Pull over only as soon as it is safe to do so; cutting off cars or trucks to get to the shoulder is certain to agitate an officer already looking for a reason to get you in trouble. Provide the necessary documentation; make sure your identification, insurance information, and registration is in a safe, readily available place. If you have drugs or alcohol (which can lead to an array of additional offenses and give the officers the right to search your vehicle without consent if it is in plain sight), make sure they are out of sight so as not to escalate a basic traffic stop into something more serious.

The following are small steps you can take to minimize your chances of getting pulled over and avoid unnecessary interaction with police officers:

  • Make sure your headlights, turn signals, and brake lights are operational;
  • Wear your seatbelt;
  • Illinois does not allow handheld cell phone use; keep all conversations hands-free;
  • Avoid eating, smoking, applying makeup, or doing anything else that may divert your attention from the road causing you to swerve or miss a traffic signal; and
  • Keep music at a reasonable volume, especially in neighborhoods or when stopped at a traffic light.

These simple tips may prevent you from getting pulled over in the first place. At this point, however, if you are pulled over, you should have a good idea of what you should and should not do.

Rolling Meadows Criminal Defense Attorney

Donald J. Cosley is an experienced Rolling Meadows criminal defense attorney who provides a variety of services for criminal defendants in the Chicago suburbs. Regardless of whether you are a first time offender trying to minimize the damage to your criminal record, trying to keep your license after repeat minor offenses, or being charged with serious charges that involve injury to others, the Law Offices of Donald J. Cosley is the best place to start to ensure your legal rights are protected.

Cook County criminal defense lawyer Donald J. Cosley is well-versed in navigating the criminal justice system and will ensure that you are treated fairly with as little damage to your criminal record as possible. Do not hesitate to contact his Rolling Meadows office to begin building your defense today. Call 847-253-3100 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.

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