Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Avoiding Police Checkpoint Not a Proper Basis for Investigatory Stop

The case of People v. Timmsen addressed whether a police officer had reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop on a vehicle that made a lawful U-turn within 50 feet of a police safety checkpoint. At play were an individual’s right to privacy versus the government’s ability to effectively conduct police powers. The Third District Appellate Court ruled that avoiding police in a lawful manner does not create reasonable, articulable suspicion that a criminal offense did or is likely to occur, and thus does not create a basis, in itself, for a person to be stopped by police.

Reasonable suspicion to effectuate a stop of a person or vehicle is commonly referred to as a Terry stop (named after the famous Supreme Court decision from Terry v. Ohio). A Terry stop requires a lesser standard than is required to arrest a person, which requires probable cause. However, if there is not a sufficient basis to conduct the Terry stop in the first place, anything the officer finds will be suppressed and excluded from any judicial proceeding against a defendant, even if the officer establishes probable cause to make the arrest based on what is discovered during the stop.  In the Timmsen case, the majority held that merely avoiding interaction with the police is not a crime, it is not indicative of a crime, and it is not reasonable and articulable grounds to believe criminal activity is afoot. Had the driver broken the law in avoiding the police checkpoint, however, such conduct would have seemingly arose to the level of reasonable suspicion.

An elaborate dissent was issued with the Timmsen decision that challenged the principle that lawful activity cannot give rise to reasonable suspicion and cited other situations where Terry stops were held proper where drivers were similarly avoiding contact with police officers. While the Timmsen decision is at this point binding on all Illinois trial courts, there is a possibility that one or more other appellate districts could rule differently and the possibility that the Illinois Supreme Court or even the United States Supreme Court could overturn the decision on further appeal. We will continue to monitor the issue as it may proceed through the court system.


William C. Westfall

Author: William C. Westfall