People v. Vences, 2023 IL App (4th) 220035

Traffic stop was not unreasonably prolonged when officer called for a canine unit and defendant fled on foot before officer finished writing a written warning that was the basis of the stop.

There comes a time when a lawful traffic stop transforms into an unreasonable seizure, but the Fourth District Appellate Court (the “Court”) determined that the case of People v. Vences, 2023 IL App (4th) 220035 was not one of those transformative traffic stops. The Court ultimately upheld the trial court’s denial of Defendant Israel Vences’(Vences) motion to suppress.

To analyze whether a traffic stop was an unreasonable seizure, the Court considered three questions. First, was the stop lawful? People v. Musgrave, 2019 IL App (4th) 170106, ¶ 36. Second, if it was lawful, was the stop impermissibly prolonged beyond the time the “tasks tied to the traffic infraction are – or reasonably should have been – completed?” People v. Sadeq, 2018 IL App (4th) 160105, ¶ 69 (quoting Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 354 (2015). Third, if it was prolonged, was the detention supported by reasonable suspicion? Sadeq, 2018 IL App (4th) 160105, ¶ 36.

Facts: The Traffic Stop

At approximately 9:28:50 P.M., an officer of the Metamora Police Department (“Metamora Police”) stopped Kelsey Pratt’s (“Pratt”) 1996 Oldsmobile because there was no visible registration plate. While returning to his squad car to run Pratt’s information and issue a written warning for the violation, the officer called for a canine sniff.

At 9:32:32 P.M., Deputy Polston (the “Deputy”) of the Woodford County Sherriff’s Office arrived with the K-9 unit. The Deputy asked Vences, the passenger, to exit the vehicle and, as he did so, a methamphetamine pipe fell to the ground. At 9:34 P.M., while the Metamora Police officer was still writing a traffic ticket to Pratt, Vences fled the scene.

Ultimately, methamphetamine was found on the passenger-side floorboard and a handgun was in the area where Vences fled. Vences was charged with several offenses, including possession of methamphetamine (720 ILCS 646/60(a)(b)(1)) and armed violence (720 ILCS 5/33A-2(a)).

Defendant’s Arguments on Appeal

After the trial court denied Vences’ motion to suppress the evidence recovered from the stop, he appealed to the Court. On appeal, Vences argued the trial court erred in finding there was no unreasonable seizure because of an unreasonably prolonged traffic stop.

The Timeline

When the Court conducted its analysis of the stop, the following pieces of evidence were important factors: 1) the Metamora Police officer stopped the vehicle at approximately 9:28:50 P.M.; (2) he walked back to his squad car and called to request a canine unit based on previous interactions with defendant’s known drug use; (3) the officer continued traffic stop protocol and intended to issue a written warning to the driver; (4) the Woodford Sheriff’s deputy arrived at approximately 9:32:32 PM; (5) the Metamora Police officer continued writing the warning while the deputy spoke with defendant, who then ran at approximately 9:34 PM; (7) the canine sniff did not take place before Vences fled.

Applying the Three-Part Test

The Court then applied the three-part test to the facts. An unreasonable seizure during a traffic stop has three parts: (1) whether the stop was lawful; (2) if lawful, was it impermissible prolonged beyond a reasonable time to complete a traffic stop; and (3) if prolonged, if the detention was supported by reasonable suspicion.

The first question was easily disposed of – there was no challenged to the lawfulness of the stop.

Instead, Vences argued it was impermissibly prolonged, which ties to the tasks related to the initial reason for the stop. However, Vences offered no argument or case law to support a finding that a written warning for a traffic violation is reasonably completed in under six minutes. While the stop did continued after Vences fled, at the point where he ran, the stop now had reasonable suspicion stemming from defendant’s own conduct.

The stop was not unreasonably prolonged because the reasonableness tied to the time it would take the Metamora Police officer to issue a traffic citation. The Deputy’s arrival may have extended the stop, but it was Vences’ decision to flee before the Metamora Police officer’s citation was completed that prolonged the situation. Once the drug paraphernalia fell out and Vences fled, the officers had reasonable suspicion to pursue him. The time from the stop to flight was less than six minutes and Vences provided no evidence that the traffic citation should have been completed in that time frame.

There was no error in denying the motion to suppress.

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