Appeals Court overturns gun conviction, questions legality of CPD traffic stop-and-search strategy

Strong opposition to proposed policy to not charge gun crimes found in 'non-public-safety traffic stops,' 1st reported by I-Team

ByBarb Markoff, Christine Tressel, and Tom Jones and Chuck Goudie WLS logo
Saturday, May 18, 2024
Court overturns gun conviction, questions CPD traffic stop legality
An Appeals Court has overturned Deshaun Carpenter's gun conviction, questioning the legality of the Chicago police's traffic stop-and-search strategy.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There's strong reaction Friday to an ABC7 I-Team investigation of a controversial Chicago police tactic: vehicle searches during traffic stops, especially in minority communities.

Critics have labeled CPD traffic stops as the "new stop-and-frisk," while law enforcement experts say the stops are vital in the fight against violent crime citywide.

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Now, the ABC7 I-Team has learned in one of the rare cases where a gun was found during a traffic stop search, a man convicted for the crime could walk free from behind bars after the state Appeals Court overturned the conviction, and questioned whether the basis of the stop was unlawful.

While the Cook County State's Attorney's office plans to appeal that decision, as the I-Team first reported this week, State's Attorney Kim Foxx has proposed a new plan to not charge gun crimes if the firearms were found during traffic stops for expired license plates, busted turn signals and other minor infractions.

"We don't believe that police should be pulling people over for non-safety issues," Foxx told the I-Team earlier this week.

People v. Deshaun Carpenter

On a sweltering afternoon in May of 2018, Chicago police said they pulled over 28-year-old Deshaun Carpenter for a broken taillight.

Within 90 seconds, as seen in body-worn camera footage shared with the I-Team, Deshaun Carpenter was detained and officers began searching his vehicle from top to bottom.

Eventually, an officer peeled back the driver seat cushion to find a loaded pistol.

Carpenter, who has a felony record, was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm. He claimed he had borrowed the vehicle from his girlfriend's friend and had no knowledge of the gun under the driver's seat.

But after a bench trial, Carpenter was found guilty and sentenced to seven years; a conviction he's since appealed.

"The main challenge here, based on the facts of the case that we put forward, was that there was no legitimate basis to pull Mr. Carpenter over, absolutely not," said Bill Wolf, Carpenter's attorney.

This past March, the Illinois state Appeals Court sided with Carpenter, overturning his conviction on grounds that the state hadn't proved Carpenter knew the gun was there.

The justices also questioned the legality of the stop, citing one of the officers that conducted the traffic stop admitting "on cross-examination that a single broken taillight was not a lawful basis for a stop."

In what they called a "rare occasion," the justices invoked their discretion to raise an issue that was not addressed in Carpenter's appeal: CPD's use of traffic stops.

"Fundamental justice calls for us to raise a concern vital to public safety," the opinion states. "What is known as 'driving while Black' is a pernicious reality that corrodes trust in law enforcement and the legal system."

"The record compels our posing a question, 'Would this stop have proceeded as it did had Carpenter been white?'" the opinion states.

To read the full Appellate Court ruling, click here.

The Cook County State's Attorney's office told the I-Team it does not comment on pending litigation, but it does plan to appeal the Carpenter decision.

Despite the appeal, outgoing State's Attorney Foxx agrees with the court's criticism of Chicago police's traffic stop strategy.

"What these stops have shown is that they're not effective in advancing community safety," Foxx said. "What they are effective at is disenfranchising communities who rely on law enforcement, who also now feel a level of distrust."

'Another attempt to handcuff the police'

As the I-Team was first to report this week, Foxx has proposed to stop prosecuting cases where guns, drugs or stolen property are found during "non-public-safety traffic stops."

According to the draft policy proposal, "non-public-safety" reasons includes "expired vehicle registration, missing front license plates, license plate illumination, or headlights, signal lights or rear lamplight violations (unless both headlights or both rear brake lights are nonfunctioning,)" the document states.

To read the state's attorney office's proposed plan for prosecutions related to traffic stops, click here.

Foxx said the policy was written to correct a police strategy that her research found hasn't had an impact on public safety.

But the proposal has been met with much skepticism.

"This is just another attempt to handcuff the police and stop them from doing their job and keeping the community safe," said Bill Kushner, ABC7's police affairs consultant, and former suburban police chief. "No one I've spoken with, either within the CPD or within the state's attorney's office, thinks this is a good thing."

The Foxx plan has also prompted strong objections from Republican state's attorney candidate Bob Fioretti, who held a news conference Friday.

"Kim Foxx's proposed policy on not prosecuting gun crimes resulting from lawful traffic stops is a dereliction of duty, and that will cost lives in the neighborhoods of those who need the most protection," Fioretti said. "Prosecutors must use every legal tool in the toolbox to get illegal guns off the streets and keep our neighborhoods safe."

The I-Team asked for a response from the Democratic candidate for State's Attorney, but Eileen O'Neill Burke declined to comment on the proposed policy.

Government sources have told the I-Team that State's Attorney Foxx has sent the policy proposal to Chicago police.

Officials there tell the I-Team they don't comment on proposals but that Supt. Larry Snelling has made clear that CPD'S "efforts to reduce violent crimes do not center around traffic stops."

"CPD has seen a significant reduction in traffic stops this year compared to this time last year," a spokesperson for Chicago police said. "Additionally, our officers receive 4th Amendment training as we emphasize constitutional policing in all of our public safety efforts."