Law enforcement is not permitted to stop a driver operating a vehicle without a reason. Under Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968), a police officer may conduct a brief, investigatory stop of a person where the officer reasonably believes that the person has committed, or is about to, commit a crime. This means that an officer must be able to provide at least some facts to support that a crime has happened or is happening and the officer needs to pull the driver over to investigate.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that people should be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means, if an officer pulls over a driver, the traffic stop should only last as long as is reasonably necessary.
When law enforcement suspects that a driver is operating a vehicle without a valid license, the officer must still have a reasonable articulable suspicion to justify pulling the driver over. In People v. Close, 238 Ill.2d 497 (2010), The Illinois Supreme Court ruled specifically on this issue.
In Close, the Defendant was charged with driving while his license was revoked for driving under the influence of alcohol. The officer that stopped the Defendant was aware that he had a restricted driving permit that allowed him to drive at certain times but he didn’t know what those times were.
The officer saw the Defendant driving on a Sunday evening and observed he was wearing a tank top, baseball cap and sunglasses. The officer knew restricted driving permits are often issued to permit someone to drive to and from work while the driver’s license is suspended or revoked.
Based on the time of day and what the Defendant was wearing, the officer concluded it was likely the Defendant was driving a vehicle at a time when the restricted driving permit would not have allowed and he pulled the Defendant over arresting him for driving while his license was revoked.
What Happened in Court?
The Defendant’s attorney filed a Motion to Suppress in which he argued that law enforcement lacked a reasonable articulable suspicion that the Defendant’s was operating a vehicle while his license was revoked because the officer knew the Defendant had a restricted driving permit and did not know the times the permit allowed the driver to operate a vehicle. The Defendant’s attorney argued that the officer should needed more than just a hunch that the Defendant was driving outside the terms of his restricted driving permit to justify stopping the Defendant.
The Illinois Supreme Court first laid out how Section 6-303 of the Illinois Vehicle Code defines the offense of driving while license revoked
(a) Any person who drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle on any highway of this State at a time when such person’s driver’s license, permit or privilege to do so or the privilege to obtain a driver’s license or permit is revoked or suspended as provided by this Code or the law of another state, except as may be specifically allowed by a judicial driving permit, family financial responsibility driving permit, probationary license to drive, or a restricted driving permit issued pursuant to this Code or under the law of another state, shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.”
The key issue in People v. Close was whether a driver having a restricted driving permit would be enough to prevent law enforcement from justifiably stopping that driver only for seeing the driver operating a vehicle. The Close Court held that when law enforcement knows that the registered owner of a vehicle has a revoked license and an officer observes that the driver of a vehicle closely resembles a picture of the registered owner, the fact that the driver has a restricted driving permit by itself isn’t enough to get rid of an officer’s reasonable articulable suspicion that the driver is operating a vehicle without a license.
However, the Close Court also reasoned that if law enforcement knew the registered owner with the suspended license was a different gender of a significantly different age than the person observed driving the vehicle, that would be enough to prevent law enforcement from developing a reasonable articulable suspicion needed to justify stopping the driver.
What Does the Law Mean for Me?
In short, law enforcement can stop a driver for operating a vehicle without a license when the officer has a reasonable articulable suspicion that the person driving the vehicle closely resembles the picture of a registered owner with a revoked driver’s license, regardless of whether or not the driver has a restricted driving permit.