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People v. Wrona

AUGUST 17, 1972.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Marshall County; the Hon. EDWARD E. HAUGENS, Judge, presiding.


A jury in the Circuit Court of Marshall County found the defendant, Harold Wrona, guilty of theft. He was sentenced to a term of two to four years to run consecutive to a penitentiary sentence currently being served.

The defendant urges several grounds of error, the first contention being that he was the victim of an illegal search and seizure.

At about 12:30 o'clock P.M. on Oct. 9, 1969, Clifford Westman, an employee of Read Brothers Hardware & Appliances, in Henry, Illinois, observed from his machine shop, a 1960 Pontiac at the service elevator of Read Brothers. The automobile was also observed by a fellow employee, Glen Gingrich. Both testified that the elevator was 20 to 25 feet from their point of observation, that it was a fair day and visibility was good. Mr. Gingrich identified the defendant as one of the men he had seen that day.

They described the 1960 Pontiac as sharp looking, grayish blue, very polished, with out of state license plates with a dark blue background and white lettering. The license plates later were shown to be issued by South Carolina. They further testified that two persons including defendant took two cardboard cartons off the service elevator and placed them in the automobile. Their suspicions were aroused when the car drove off without stopping at the business department of Read Brothers. They saw the car headed for State Route 18. A call was sent to the Sheriff's office at about 1:00 o'clock P.M. The Sheriff's department sent a bulletin to the surrounding counties.

Donald Clausen, a police officer of Peru, Illinois, received the radio message describing the car as above. He then parked his squad car on the Cedar Point Junction of Illinois Route 51. Shortly, he saw a car which conformed to the description and which had two male passengers. He followed the car while radioing ahead for assistance. The car turned off Route 51 onto Route 6 and was blocked at the Westclox factory by Officer Swierkosz of the La Salle Police Department. The time was approximately 2:00 o'clock P.M.

The persons occupying the 1960 Pontiac were Salvatore Vitale the owner driver and the defendant both known to the officers. They were placed under arrest about two minutes after the car was stopped. Route 6 in the City of Peru, at the point where the automobile was stopped was a busy thoroughfare and traffic was congested both ways due to the position of the police vehicles and the 1960 Pontiac.

The automobile was driven directly to the Peru Police Station and within two minutes thereafter a search of the car was made at which time two cardboard cartons were discovered which subsequently were shown to contain television sets taken from Read Brothers.

Defendant argues that the description of the automobile and of the parties was not sufficient to justify the arrest and consequently if the arrest was invalid the search was invalid.

• 1 The existence of "probable cause" justifying an arrest without a warrant, is determined by factual and practical considerations of every day life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act. Draper v. United States, 358 U.S. 307, 3 L.Ed.2d 327; People v. Jones, 31 Ill.2d 42; 3 I.L.P. Arrest Sec. 4.

• 2 An officer may act on information acquired by another officer who is working with him (People v. Peak, 29 Ill.2d 343), or on information on the police radio. People v. Buck, 92 Ill. App.2d 16.

• 3 All the circumstances under which defendant was arrested must be taken into consideration and we cannot say that it was unreasonable for the officers to believe, nor can we say that a prudent and cautious man would not have strongly believed under the existing circumstances that the defendant had been engaged in the commission of a crime.

• 4 Having determined that the arrest was valid we must turn to the argument that the "at the station" warrantless search of the vehicle was invalid. At one time the courts held that such a search could not be justified as incident to arrest because there was no longer a "need to prevent the destruction of evidence of the crime." (Preston v. U.S. (1964), 376 U.S. 364.) Even so, where the circumstances of the particular case were such that it was impractical to conduct the search at the scene of the arrest, the courts upheld the search. (U.S. v. Evans, 385 F.2d 824.) And in Chambers v. Moroney, 399 U.S. 42, the court allowed an "at the station" search a reasonable time after the stopping of the automobile. In People v. Weaver, 41 Ill.2d 434, the court held that such a search was reasonable under the ...

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