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People v. Mcnair





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Randolph County; the Hon. Carl H. Becker, Judge, presiding.


The State appeals an order of the trial court granting the motion of defendant, Sharon McNair, to quash her arrest and to suppress evidence. The defendant was charged with the unlawful possession of cannabis and with bringing contraband into a penal institution. Following a hearing the trial court found that police lacked probable cause to arrest the defendant and quashed the arrest. Because the arrest was ruled illegal, the trial court ordered all evidence obtained following the arrest suppressed. The State raises five issues: (1) whether the police officers' summoning the defendant to the door of her motel room constituted an arrest; (2) whether there was probable cause to arrest the defendant prior to her identification at the door of her motel room; (3) whether there was an independent basis for the in-court identification of the defendant; (4) whether the court erred in quashing the warrant to search the defendant's cars; (5) whether the court erred in suppressing evidence seized from the defendant's motel room.

At the hearing on the motion to quash and to suppress, the State called four witnesses, the four police officers who had gone to the door of defendant's motel room. Defendant presented no evidence.

The first witness to testify at the hearing was Lieutenant Tinsman, employed by the Menard Correctional Center and assigned on the night the incident occurred to watch a certain area of that facility. The witness had been told that an "object" was to be thrown over the fence located there. Watching with binoculars from a second-floor balcony at about 10:08 p.m. on July 1, 1981, he saw an automobile come into the Center along the fence in "close proximity" to the area he had been assigned to watch. Having parked the car, a woman leaned briefly out of the window on the passenger side of the automobile and waved in the direction of the South Cell House. Three to four minutes later, during which time the witness observed movement within the vehicle, she leaned "from about the waist up" out of the same window and threw an object that landed "approximately eighteen feet from the fireplug where I was told the individual would drop the package." The package landed in an area accessible to inmates. The witness testified that he was about 180 feet from the car as he watched and that he had described the woman, the only person he saw in the car, as being in her early thirties, "a female, white, petite in form, had long dark hair, large rounded type prescription glasses, not the sun type." He said she was wearing "a paisley type dark print blouse." On cross-examination he denied that the person he had seen could have been a "light-skinned Negroid female." He stated that the area was well lit by a double mercury vapor light and that he had been able to view the woman for a total of about 45 to 60 seconds. He had been unable, however, to obtain a license plate number or to determine the precise make and model of the car, which he described as late-model and dark. The lights of the car had been turned off after it had been backed between two cars parked in the parking lot and were not turned on again until after the vehicle had begun to leave the parking lot. The witness stated that he could not see the license number because "with the binoculars, when the lights came on it blurred the plate number." He stated further that the vehicles between which the car had been parked had obscured his view of the lower part of the vehicle.

The contents of the package that had been thrown over the fence were tested shortly thereafter and proved to be cannabis. The witness said that he had described the car and its driver to Captain Umbdenstock, another security officer at the correctional facility, who "notified District about Sharon McNair, a description of her car and so forth." He stated that the Captain had asked that a blue Cadillac be sought and that the Captain had given a license number for that vehicle. Later the witness learned that officers of the Chester Police Department had located a car of that description bearing the license number in question in the parking lot of a local motel. At about 12:10 a.m. on July 12, 1981, approximately two hours after the package was thrown over the fence, the witness went with Captain Umbdenstock to the parking lot of the motel and met Officers Clasen and Hogrefe of the Chester Police Department. In the parking lot the witness saw a Cadillac as well as the car he though he had observed at Menard, an Oldsmobile. Having ascertained which room at the motel was defendant's, they went to it. The testimony of the witness continued as follows:

"I think Officer Hogrefe knocked on the door. Clasen presented himself as Chester Police Department, requesting the occupants come to the door; they wished to talk to them.

[State's Attorney]: Then what happened?

[Lieutenant Tinsman]: At first the person that answered from inside said she was not dressed and there was a delay. Officer Clasen knocked again. The door opened shortly after that. Officer Hogrefe, I think it was Officer Hogrefe, called me forward and asked if I could identify any of the persons that was [sic] in the room. It was at that time that I identified a person that turned out to be Sharon McNair."

The witness testified that defendant had opened the door and was standing about a foot and a half or two feet from the door when he identified her.

On cross-examination the following colloquy took place between the witness and defendant's attorney:

"Q But you remember him knocking on the door the second time after it was not opened the first time?

A He knocked on the door the second time after the door was not opened and what I guess he considered the appropriate time length.

Q And he at that point indicated something as he knocked on the door. Is that correct?

A He reannounced himself.

Q And directed the people to open the door. Is that correct?

A That's correct.

Q So they opened the door pursuant to ...

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