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Excessive Force in a Traffic Stop Makes Evidence Inadmissible

Posted on in Criminal Law
Excessive Force in a Traffic Stop Makes Evidence InadmissibleThe Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits police from conducting unreasonable searches and using excessive force during the search. When an officer violates the Fourth Amendment, the evidence that they find following the violation is inadmissible in a criminal case. Courts must analyze the circumstances of the search when determining whether it was reasonable and the force used by the officer was appropriate. State laws can help define which types of force are excessive depending on the suspect’s actions. A recent Illinois appellate court ruling on a drug possession case demonstrated how judges can have different interpretations of what constitutes a legal police search.

Case Details

In People v. Augusta, the trial court found the defendant guilty of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. According to the police officers' testimonies, they were following the defendant because they suspected that he was selling narcotics and performed a traffic stop after the defendant allegedly failed to use his turn signal. During the stop, one of the officers noticed a bulge in the defendant’s cheek and a piece of plastic sticking out of his mouth. The officer asked the defendant to remove the contents from his mouth, believing it to be a bag of crack cocaine. When the defendant did not respond, the officer grabbed the defendant’s throat to prevent him from swallowing the bag and another officer helped remove the bag from his mouth. The bag contained what appeared to be crack cocaine, and the officers arrested the defendant. During the trial, the court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the officers used excessive force. In a 2-1 ruling, the appellate court overturned the trial court's ruling on whether to suppress the evidence, vacated the conviction and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Excessive Force

The majority decision said that the officers violated state law and the Fourth Amendment:

  • The seizure was unreasonable because the evidence was not in plain view of the officers.
  • The officers used force that violated state law for retrieving evidence.

Illinois law states that officers are not allowed to use a chokehold or lesser contact to the throat or neck area to prevent a suspect from trying to destroy evidence by ingesting it. Grabbing the defendant’s throat fell under the category of lesser contact. The appellate court ruling also said that the bulge in the defendant’s cheek was unusual but not incriminating enough to establish probable cause, meaning that the officers did not have the right to forcibly remove the object inside the defendant's mouth.

Contact a Wheaton, Illinois, Criminal Defense Attorney

Police officers must follow rules when pulling someone over on suspicion of a crime and searching their body or vehicle for evidence. Violating these rules may make the evidence unusable in a criminal trial. A DuPage County criminal defense lawyer at Stephen A. Brundage, Attorney at Law, will hold the police accountable if they violate your civil rights. Schedule a consultation by calling 630-260-9647.


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