Court allows Vehicle Stops of Roadblock Avoiders

The Illinois Supreme Court recently decided that the stop of your vehicle and request that you produce your driver’s license and proof of insurance could be justified if you make a u-turn for what appears to be an attempt to avoid stopping at a police roadblock.

In the case of People of Illinois v. Jacob D. Timmsen, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Illinois Appellate Court which had said that the trial court incorrectly refused Timmsen’s request that the evidence obtained as a result of the stop of his vehicle be unavailable for use against him in court. The Appellate Court ruled that Timmsen’s Motion To Quash Arrest and Suppress Evidence should have been granted by the trial court. In making the ruling, the Appellate Court said that absent any other suspicious activity, making the u-turn at 1:15 a.m. at a railroad crossing fifty feet before the roadblock did not provide justification for the traffic stop.  Timmsen’s car had just crossed the border from Iowa into Illinois on a four lane highway and there was no other place for him to turn around or otherwise avoid the roadblock once he was aware of it’s location.

In its discussion, the Illinois Supreme Court  stated “In judging the officer’s conduct, we apply an objective standard and consider, “would the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or the search ‘warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief’ that the action taken was appropriate. Further, when evaluating the validity of the stop, we consider ‘the totality of the circumstances’-the whole picture”. However, the court further considered that the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that “when an officer, without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, approaches an individual, the individual has a right to ignore the police and go about his business”.

The Government argued that the Defendant’s U-turn provided reasonable suspicion for an investigatory  stop for the following reasons: (1) the “suspicious nature” of Defendant’s “evasive maneuver”; (2) the proximity of the maneuver to the roadblock; (3) the day and time of the maneuver; (4) the road block was well marked; and, (5) the roadblock was not busy. The Court disagreed with Timmsen’s attorney’s argument that the u-turn was a single isolated incident and that avoidance of a roadblock alone is insufficient to form the necessary reasonable suspicion to perform a legal traffic stop. The Court added that it still remains a “totality of the circumstances” test in determining the validity of any stop and not just a “bright line rule” that avoidance of a police checkpoint by means of a u-turn is sufficient to justify a stop. However, one wonders whether the additional factors alluded to above are ever absent.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this exact question. It has stated thought that avoidance of a roadblock is one factor to be considered when determining if the level of suspicion is great enough to permit an investigatory stop of the person’s vehicle.


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