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People v. Keller

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 4, 1981.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

HARRY KELLER ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JAMES M. BAILEY, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE MEJDA DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendants were indicted for six counts of theft, three counts of possession of a stolen vehicle, and two counts of possession of motor vehicle component parts. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 16-1(d)(1), and ch. 95 1/2, pars. 4-103(a), 4-103(d).) Defendants filed pretrial motions to suppress evidence, the hearings of which were held simultaneously with defendants' trial by the court. Following the presentation of the State's case and argument, the motions to suppress were denied. Defendants' motions for directed findings were also denied and defendants rested without presenting evidence. The court found both defendants guilty of all counts and sentenced each defendant to an extended term of 10 years for each theft count and 6 years for possession of stolen vehicles and stolen vehicle components, the sentences to run concurrently.

On appeal, defendants contend: (1) the trial court erred in denying their motions to suppress evidence; (2) they were not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) they were denied fair trials by the conduct of the trial court; and (4) they were improperly sentenced to extended terms.

The evidence presented by the State established the following. On May 4, 1978, at approximately noon, Chicago Police Officers Walls and Pubins were driving in an unmarked squad car near 58th and Ada in Chicago when they saw three men walking from an open commercial garage building at 5821 South Ada. The garage had previously been under police surveillance, and Officer Walls was aware that the owner or lessee had vacated the garage about a month earlier. The three men exited the garage and were standing on the sidewalk. One of the men, known to Officer Walls as Robert Wilson, yelled "police," and the three ran into the garage. Defendants were identified at trial as the other two men.

The officers drove their squad to the garage door, which was 8 to 10 feet open, and saw the three men run to the rear of the garage. Officer Pubins stood at the front door of the garage and could see a van, a truck, and three cars and motors on the floor of the garage. One of the cars was an Oldsmobile and had its door open and its seats were missing. Another car did not have a front bumper nor its front quarter panels. Officer Pubins saw the three men exit the rear of the garage. Meanwhile, Officer Walls had run through a vacant lot to the rear of the building and saw the rear doors to the garage swing open and the three men run from the garage. Officer Walls grabbed Keller, but McGhee and Wilson jumped a fence and ran toward the front of the garage. As he ran, Wilson dropped a set of keys, one of which fit the front door lock. The garage keys were recovered by Walls. Officer Walls yelled to Pubins that the two men were coming. Pubins saw the two near the front of the garage and ordered them to stop and put their hands on the exterior wall of the building located next door.

Officer Walls arrived at the front of the garage with Keller, saw the others, and ordered Keller to also place his hands on the wall. In response to Officer Walls' inquiry as to what he was doing in the garage, Keller asked "what garage?" When Officer Walls stated the garage that Keller had run out of, Keller said that he was never in a garage. Other officers arrived and Walls went to the garage to see if any other persons were inside.

From the back door of the garage, Officer Walls could see an Oldsmobile and engines and transmissions in the garage. He entered the garage and saw several late model cars in various stages of dismantlement. He also smelled burnt transmission fluid. Three vehicles which were not totally dismantled were checked by their serial numbers and found to be stolen. They were a 1978 Cougar, a 1976 Pontiac, and a 1978 Oldsmobile. Seven transmissions were found with their identification numbers burned off. Tools and cutting torches were found throughout the garage. The van and a truck in the garage, however, were not stolen. Neither were any of the defendants' fingerprints found in the garage. After Officer Walls saw the defaced motor numbers, defendants were placed under arrest. The odor of burnt transmission fluid was detected on defendants after their arrests.

Stipulations were entered which established that the three cars found in the garage had been stolen and that the owners did not give consent to any of the three men to possess their cars. Stipulations were also entered which established that the two motor transmissions found in the garage were from two cars which had been recently stolen and which none of the three men had a right to possess.

After the State's presentation of evidence, defendants rested without presenting evidence in their own behalf. Following argument, defendants' motions to suppress evidence were denied. The court found defendants guilty as charged and imposed sentences. Defendants appeal.

OPINION

I

Defendants first contend that the trial court erred in denying their motion to suppress evidence. They argue that the entry and search of the garage were without probable cause, and no exigent circumstances existed to justify dispensing with the warrant requirement. The State maintains that defendants lack standing to challenge the admissibility of the stolen vehicles and vehicle parts since they failed to establish a legitimate expectation of privacy. Alternatively, the State submits that even if defendants have standing, the officers properly stopped the fleeing defendants and acted reasonably in investigating the immediate area for the purpose of insuring the officers' safety and discovering possible criminal behavior.

The standard for appellate review of a motion to suppress is whether the trial court's ruling was manifestly erroneous. (People v. Brown (1980), 88 Ill. App.3d 514, 410 N.E.2d 505; People v. Williams (1974), 57 Ill.2d 239, 311 N.E.2d 681, cert. denied (1974), 419 U.S. 1026, 42 L.Ed.2d 302, 95 S.Ct. 506.) At trial, defendants sought to suppress evidence of the stolen vehicles and vehicle parts on the ground that Officer Walls entered and searched the garage without probable cause and without a warrant. Their motion was denied on the ground that the garage was a commercial building and that therefore no fourth amendment violation occurred. The court further found that the officers properly pursued the fleeing defendants through the garage and that it does not take much to recognize a car half-dismantled. The court continued that after defendants were detained that "the officers, any officer worth his salt because of exigent circumstances existing, they go into the building. There is probable cause. They have to go inside * * * and explore at that time and determine what is contained in the garage * * *."

The State concedes that the court "may have inartfully rendered [its] finding on the ground of exigent circumstances," but nevertheless maintains that the motion to suppress was properly denied. Furthermore, the State on appeal does not contend that a search of a garage does not come under the purview of the fourth amendment. In any event such a contention would be untenable. Since the fourth amendment protects people, not places, what a person seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected. Accordingly, the protection afforded by the fourth amendment has been applied to homes, business offices, and stores as well as public telephone booths. (See Katz v. United States (1967), 389 U.S. 347, 19 L.Ed.2d 576, 88 S.Ct. 507; United States v. Rosenberg (7th Cir. 1969), 416 F.2d 680.) With regard to the court's ...


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