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People v. Houldridge

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 22, 1983.

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

v.

MICHAEL HOULDRIDGE ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. Matthew A. Jurczak, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The detection of the odor of cannabis smoke emitting from a motor vehicle — by a police officer experienced in the detection of such odors — does provide a sufficient basis for a warrantless search of the vehicle.

We reverse and remand for trial.

FACTS

At approximately 8 p.m. on November 25, 1981, Deputy Jerry Davis of the Vermilion County sheriff's department was parked on a rough, unpaved county road observing traffic. His patrol car was located at the bottom of a hill, and he observed a vehicle which was descending the hill swerve or slide from the north to the south side of the road. He began following the vehicle and ran a license plate check on it. Davis stopped the vehicle after being advised by the radio operator that its registration was expired.

Davis testified that as he approached the car, he saw the person seated next to the window on the passenger side of the front seat (defendant Songer) drop something out of the window. When Davis arrived at the driver's side of the car, defendant Houldridge (the driver) rolled down the window and Davis "smelled the odor of burned cannabis emitting from the vehicle."

After observing some furtive movements on the part of the defendants Straub and Songer (seated in the middle and on the right side of the front seat, respectively), Davis told all three defendants to place their hands on the dashboard, which they did. Davis then walked around the car, opened the front door on the passenger side, shined his flashlight into the vehicle, and saw a plastic bag containing green vegetable matter on the floor. He seized the bag, field tested it, and found that it contained approximately eight grams of cannabis. He also found a single hand-rolled marijuana cigarette on the ground near the passenger side of the car.

Each of the defendants was subsequently arrested and charged with possession of cannabis. Houldridge was not charged with an expired registration violation because after the arrest of defendants, Davis rubbed the sticker area of the car's rear license plate, which was dirty, and found that the registration sticker was valid.

Deputy Davis stated that he had had extensive training in the detection of the odor of cannabis and also had frequent occasion to smell cannabis smoke in the course of his employment as a sheriff's deputy.

The defendants' version of events subsequent to the stop differs markedly from that of Deputy Davis. Houldridge testified that he exited the car when Davis first approached it. When Davis met Houldridge outside the car, he said that Houldridge was under arrest "for illegal drinking [of] alcohol and smoking [of] marijuana." Davis then looked into the car and told the remaining two occupants to place their hands on the dashboard. He next ordered Straub out of the car and frisked him and did the same with respect to Songer. Only then did Davis search the passenger side of the car. After the search, Davis told Straub and Songer that they also were under arrest.

According to Houldridge, Davis inspected the vehicle's license sticker before ordering Straub and Songer out of the car. Defendant Songer denied throwing anything out of the window after Davis stopped the car, and his testimony as to this point was corroborated by defendant Houldridge.

Following a hearing, the Vermilion County circuit court granted the defendants' motion to suppress the marijuana which Deputy Davis seized, as well as all testimony related to the seizure. The circuit court provided the following reasons for its decision:

"a. * * * [T]he mere detection by an officer of an odor which he believes to be that of burning cannabis does not justify a warrantless search of the vehicle.

b. * * * [U]nder the present facts there was not sufficient basis for a reasonable belief by the officer that the law was being violated and that evidence ...


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