Last week, the Illinois First District Appellate Court reversed a conviction for aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer based upon what the officer was wearing. The statute, which was the basis of the Court’s decision, requires that police officers “shall be in police uniform.” As such, the court held that because the officer was in civilian clothing when he attempted to pull the defendant over, the conviction could not be upheld.

When the offense in question occurred, the police officer was sitting in a marked police car in civilian dress. After noticing that the Defendant failed to properly stop, the officer turned on his emergency light and began to effectuate a stop. Instead, the Defendant continued to flee in his vehicle until he reached a cul-de-sac, whereby he began fleeing on foot. Once he was caught, the Defendant was charged with a violation of the aforementioned statute.

In arguing for the validity of the conviction, the State asserted that the statute’s intent was to “punish people who knowingly flee from the police, and, therefore, the uniform requirement can only be read as a way to exclude those trying to escape a dangerous situation, not as a bar on prosecution of people willfully fleeing the police.”

However, the court disagreed and held that the plain language of the statute clearly and unambiguously required that officers “shall be in police uniform.” Thus, the court could not read into any legislative intent, and the conviction was therefore overturned.

Police departments should therefore be advised that officers are required to be in uniform for a conviction of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer to be upheld, even when the pursuit began in a marked police vehicle.

Author: Jacob D. Caudill