Illinois v. Lidster

RESPONDENT: Robert S. Lidster
LOCATION: Meramec River

DOCKET NO.: 02-1060
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Illinois

CITATION: 540 US 419 (2004)
GRANTED: May 05, 2003
ARGUED: Nov 05, 2003
DECIDED: Jan 13, 2004

Donald J. Ramsell - argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent
Donald J. Ramsell - argued the cause for Respondent
Gary Feinerman - argued the cause for Petitioner
Patricia A. Millett - argued the cause for Petitioner, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

Police stopped Robert Lidster at a checkpoint set up to find information about a recent hit-and-run accident. Lidster was arrested, and later convicted, for drunk driving. Lidster successfully appealed his conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court. It relied on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Indianapolis v. Edmond (2000) holding that a checkpoint is unconstitutional if its only purpose is to uncover "ordinary criminal wrongdoing." The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed.


Does Indianapolis v. Edmond, which dealt with the Fourth and 14th Amendment prohibitions of unreasonable searches and seizures, prohibit checkpoints organized to question motorists about a previous offense and arrest motorists for drunk driving?

Media for Illinois v. Lidster

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 05, 2003 in Illinois v. Lidster

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 13, 2004 in Illinois v. Lidster

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 02-1060, Illinois against Lidster will be announced by Justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

This case asks whether the Fourth Amendment permits police to set up a highway checkpoint and stop motorists in order to ask them for information about a hit-and-run accident.

The accident took place in August 1997 when an unidentified motorist hit and killed a 70-year-old bicyclist.

About a week later, the police set up a checkpoint on the highway.

Each car would draw to a stop at the checkpoint remaining there for 10 to 15 seconds while a police officer ask the occupants whether they had seen anything happened there at the previous weekend and each policeman handed each deriver a flyer which described the accident and requested information.

Now, the respondent, in this case Robert Lidster, is driving a mini van and as it approached the checkpoint it swerved nearly hitting one of the officers.

The officer smelled alcohol on his breath and they gave him a sobriety test, they arrested him, and he was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and eventually his conviction got to the Illinois Supreme Court which reversed the conviction on the ground of the checkpoint stop, this roadblock, violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Now, we are here considering the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision a constitutional question and we disagree with that court’s constitutional conclusion.

The Illinois Court fought that the case called Indianapolis versus Edmond, a case that this Court governed the outcome.

In Edmond, this Court held that police checkpoint stops of automobiles ordinarily do violate the Fourth Amendment unless they have reasonable suspicion that the stopped individual committed a crime.

Everybody agrees there was no individualized suspicion here, but Edmond concerned the kind of stop to which reasonable suspicion might be relevant or it could matter, namely a stop designed to see whether a car’s occupant had committed a crime or were committing a crime, and this is not that kind of a stop.

It is a very different stop with a very different kind of purpose.

The stop is one of enlisting the help of the vehicle’s occupant as members of the public in providing information about a crime committed not by them but of other people.

So Edmond, we think, is beside the point.

Nor do we believe, putting Edmond to beside, we do not think that the Fourth Amendment requires applications to this information gathering kind of stop a legal rule that would make them all unconstitutional.

That kind of a rule would often prevent policemen from asking motorists for assistance.

It would deprive them if important law enforcement help with voluntary cooperation by members of the public can provide.

Now, clearly the law allows policemen to ask members of the public to help, at least when they are pedestrian.

And we think an opposite rule that would stop them from asking motorists for help cannot be justified.

So, our conclusion on the law is that we apply a rule of reason to such stops.

To determine whether a particular stop was reasonable, we have to look to the gravity of the public concern, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest and the severity of the interference with individual liberty.

We then apply those factors in this case.

We think the public concern was grave.

The police were investigating a crime that had resulted in a human death.

The police tailored the stop to the circumstance advancing their grave concern to a significant degree.

The stops interfered only minimally with liberty, contact with the police lasted just a few seconds and it consisted of a simple request and a flyer.

For these reasons and for others set out in the opinion, we think the information-seeking stop is a reasonable one, thus, it was constitutional.

We reverse the Illinois Supreme Court.

Justice Stevens filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part in which Justices Souter and Ginsburg have joined.