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People v. Helm

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 18, 1981.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,

v.

CINDY HELM, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fourth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County, the Hon. Rodney A. Scott, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE SIMON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Decatur police arrested the defendant, Cindy Helm, at her home at 3 a.m. on a battery charge filed by her ex-husband. He claimed she had hit him in the eye with her fist. The defendant was in bed when police arrived, and when told that she would have to go to the station, Helm dressed, picked up her purse, and accompanied the officers to the station. There, a female desk clerk took her purse and searched it. The clerk, who was not a police officer, found three small diet pills in Helm's coin pouch, which was inside the purse. The defendant was not personally searched, either at her home or at the station, until after her purse was searched. Later lab tests showed that the pills were amphetamines, and Helm was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 56 1/2, par. 1402(b)). The circuit court of Macon County granted her motion to suppress the pills. The appellate court, in an unpublished order (73 Ill.2d R. 23), affirmed (89 Ill. App.3d 1206), and this court granted leave to appeal under Rule 315 (73 Ill.2d R. 315).

The search of the defendant's purse was made without a warrant and so was banned by both the fourth amendment to the Federal Constitution and section 6 of the Illinois bill of rights (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, sec. 6) unless it was both reasonable and within one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. Arkansas v. Sanders (1979), 442 U.S. 753, 759-60, 61 L.Ed.2d 235, 242, 99 S.Ct. 2586, 2590-91.

Helm did not consent to the search. (Cf. People v. Nunn (1973), 55 Ill.2d 344, 347.) And, her purse was not being searched under the authority of the "stop and frisk" statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 108-1.01), for the arresting officers could not reasonably have suspected by the time they reached the station that they were in danger of attack from Helm.

Nor were the terms of section 108-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 108-1) for a search incident to an arrest fulfilled. The purse was not searched to protect the officers from attack, for if that were in fact the rationale, the officers would not have waited to search Helm until after arriving at the police station. They would instead have searched her on the spot of the arrest or would have patted her down in a weapons frisk upon arriving at the station. The purse was not searched to prevent Helm from escaping or passing on its contents to other persons. The purse was being taken away from her and its contents would never go with her into the jail, and so could not be contraband which might fall into the hands of other prisoners or pose a threat to jail security. It was not searched to discover the fruits of Helm's crime — battery, which has no seizable fruits. It was not searched to discover instruments used in the commission of her crime, for she had used only her fist. Because the purse was being taken away from Helm, it was outside the area of immediate control in which a search incident to an arrest is justified. (Cf. New York v. Belton (1981), 453 U.S. 454, 462-63, 69 L.Ed.2d 768, 776, 101 S.Ct. 2860, 2865; United States v. Robinson (1973), 414 U.S. 218, 38 L.Ed.2d 427, 94 S.Ct. 467.) The pills, secreted in the coin pouch which was inside the purse, were not in "plain view." Cf. Chimel v. California (1969), 395 U.S. 752, 23 L.Ed.2d 685, 89 S.Ct. 2034.

The State seeks to justify the search as an attempt to inventory Helm's possessions incident to a lawful custodial arrest. The normal procedure in the Decatur police station was for the desk clerk to put an arrestee's belongings in a locked strong box under the counter after they were inventoried. They were kept there until the arrestee was released. A police officer here testified that he had read an inventory slip prepared by the desk clerk pursuant to the search of Helm's purse, but no inventory slip was presented into evidence or appears in the record.

Inventory searches are recognized by statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 108-2), but are different from other searches exempted from the warrant requirement. The inventory search is not justified by law-enforcement exigencies which threaten the safety of police or make resort to a judge for a warrant impracticable. Instead, an inventory search is made to protect the arrestee's property by putting it in safekeeping while the arrestee is being booked or incarcerated and to insulate the police from later claims by arrestees that their property was stolen or mishandled while in police custody. People v. Bayles (1980), 82 Ill.2d 128; People v. Hamilton (1979), 74 Ill.2d 457, 469.

In Bayles, the defendant was trapped under his car after a one-car accident. His luggage was strewn about a nearby field, and a sheriff's deputy inventoried a suitcase and found marijuana. The inventory search was held invalid because the objectives of the inventory could have been achieved in a less intrusive manner. (82 Ill.2d 128, 143.) In Hamilton, the defendant had been injured in an automobile accident and was taken to a hospital. The State trooper investigating the accident found the defendant's briefcase on the scene and took it with him to the hospital, where he was going to interview the defendant for his accident report. The defendant was not under arrest. The trooper searched the briefcase while inventorying its contents and found heroin. The drugs were suppressed, the court noting that the purposes of the inventory search could have been served by placing the briefcase in a locked locker or storage room, to protect the defendant's goods, and by sealing it with tape in the presence of a third party, to guard against later claims of theft. (74 Ill.2d 457, 471-72.) The court found no reasonable justification for searching the briefcase.

Likewise there was no reasonable justification here. That Helm was under arrest makes no difference; as already noted this was not a search incident to arrest under section 108-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 108-1). The police station to which Helm was taken had a locked strongbox which was immediately available for storage to protect her belongings; witnesses (the arresting police officers) were present and could have verified a sealing of the purse by the desk clerk without examination of its contents, as suggested in Hamilton. In view of the availability of the strongbox and the minor nature of the charge against Helm, this is the procedure which should have been followed here. Had it been, it would have accomplished everything the inventory of the contents did. One commentator has even pointed out that taking inventory item-by-item does not afford protection against false claims that property was stolen while in police custody.

"False claims cannot be avoided, and seem more likely when the contents are handled and inventoried (a time when, the owner might later claim, some of his property was taken), as compared to when the container is immediately sealed." 2 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure sec. 5.5, at 360 n. 50 (1978).

Under the circumstances presented in this case, the purposes of the inventory could easily have been accomplished in a less intrusive way; having the desk clerk, instead, rummage through Helm's purse was under these circumstances an impermissible search.

Because the warrantless search here did not reasonably fall under an exception to the warrant requirement, the pills were properly suppressed and the judgment must be affirmed. The conclusion we reach makes it unnecessary to address Helm's contention that the pills were correctly suppressed because she was not informed she had a right to post bail in the amount pre-set for a charge of battery under Rule 528(c) (73 Ill.2d R. 528(c)). See generally People v. Seymour (1979), 80 Ill. App.3d 221, rev'd (1981), 84 Ill.2d 24.

Judgment affirmed.

JUSTICE WARD, ...


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