Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Third District; heard
in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Fulton County,
the Hon. Charles H. Wilhelm, Judge, presiding.
CHIEF JUSTICE RYAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Defendant, William H. Long, was convicted of burglary and sentenced to a term of three years' imprisonment following a bench trial in the circuit court of Fulton County. Before trial, defendant moved to suppress evidence on the ground that his detention and arrest were without probable cause, a warrant, or consent, and therefore in violation of rights guaranteed to him by the Illinois and United States constitutions. The trial court, after hearing testimony, denied the motion and allowed the evidence, having found that no illegal detention or arrest occurred before police officers had reasonable grounds to believe defendant had committed a crime. The appellate court, in a Rule 23 order (87 Ill.2d R. 23) finding that an illegal stop by the police had occurred, reversed and remanded for a new trial (110 Ill. App.3d 1207). We granted the State leave to appeal under our Rules 315 and 612(b) (87 Ill.2d Rules 315, 612(b)).
The central issue before us is whether the trial court's finding that there was no illegal stop constituted manifest error. The evidence presented at the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress shows the following.
On November 18, 1981, Deputy Sheriff Curtis Pierce reported at 8 a.m. for duty with the Fulton County sheriff's office in Lewistown. Upon arrival, he was informed that Keith Electric Company had been burglarized during the early hours of the morning. Several items, including a safe, had been taken from the Canton business.
At approximately 10 a.m., Pierce received a call reporting that a safe had been found in some weeds adjacent to a rural road. On a gravel road in Joshua Township, Pierce met Denny Pollitt, who had found the safe and called Pierce. Pollitt explained that he discovered the safe that morning while running traps. He added that he had been hunting in the area the night before, but had not seen the safe at that time. Pollitt led Pierce through the weeds to the safe. Pierce noticed a large amount of what appeared to be dried blood on the safe and observed that the safe seemed to have been hidden. Also noting a broken handle on the safe, and that a plate was missing from the bottom of the safe, he concluded that someone had tried to break into the safe. Pierce saw no marking on the safe that identified its owner.
Thinking that the person whose blood was on the safe might have been cut badly enough to require stitches, Pierce called the sheriff's office and requested that the local hospital be contacted concerning anyone who might recently have received stitches. Pierce than asked Pollitt whether he had noticed anything suspicious in the area. Pollitt replied that he had seen a small car and a pickup truck with stock racks earlier.
As the two men talked, a truck drove by. Pierce decided to follow it for two reasons. First, he testified, the truck had stock racks like the one Pollitt had seen earlier. Second, they were on a dead-end road with one house near the end. He thought that the people in the truck might live in the house, and he planned to ask them whether they had seen or heard anything suspicious during the night. Pierce acknowledged that at this point, he had no reason to suspect that the truck's driver or passengers had committed any crime.
Pierce followed the truck for approximately one quarter of a mile. During this time, he could not see who drove the truck or how many passengers it carried. The truck passed the one house on the road and continued on into a lane leading into a field.
Pierce neither activated his squad car's Mars lights, sounded the siren, nor signaled the truck to stop in any manner. However, the truck pulled over to the side of the lane and stopped. Pierce testified that he pulled in behind the truck, got out of his squad car, and, planning to ask the occupants if they had seen anything suspicious, approached the driver's side of the truck.
Pierce then realized that he recognized the occupants of the truck. William Long, the defendant, had been driving, and riding with him were Denise Henderson, her small daughter, and Greg Lawver. Denise Henderson and her daughter sat in the middle, and Lawver was on the passenger side. Pierce noted that Lawver was moving his hands beneath a coat that lay across his lap. When Pierce asked to see Lawver's hands, Lawver raised them up, exposing a large, unstitched fresh cut on the palm of one hand.
Pierce asked defendant for some identification and his driver's license. When defendant replied that he did not have his driver's license, Pierce requested that he come back to the squad car. Pierce ran a computer check by radio and learned that defendant had a valid driver's license. The license check took three or four minutes. When it was complete, Pierce told defendant, who had remained outside the car, that he could go back to his truck. Pierce did not ask defendant any of the questions he had planned earlier regarding the safe and possible suspicious sights or sounds during the night. He testified that, when he first followed the truck, he thought the occupants might live in the house on the road, but when he recognized defendant and the other passengers, he realized that they did not live there.
Pierce next asked Lawver to step back to his squad car. At the hearing, Pierce stated that because of the cut on Lawver's hand, he suspected a connection between Lawver and the safe that Pollitt had found. Lawver sat on the passenger side of the squad car while Pierce ran a computer license check on him. After advising Lawver of his Miranda rights, Pierce asked him where he had been the night before, how he had cut his hand, and what he knew about the Keith Electric Company burglary.
While Pierce was talking to Lawver it appears that the owner of the property which they were on approached. When Pierce asked him if the occupants of the truck had permission to be on the property, the owner said they did not. ...