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People v. Whalen

OPINION FILED JUNE 27, 1986.

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

v.

MICHAEL B. WHALEN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Pike County; the Hon. Cecil J. Burrows, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE MORTHLAND DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, Michael Barry Whalen, along with co-defendant Todd Grover Fischer, was indicted for the offense of unlawful possession of cannabis, more than 30 grams but not more than 500 grams. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 56 1/2, par. 704(d).) The cause was consolidated for bench trial with Pike County case Nos. 84-TR-1557 and 1558, driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor and driving in the wrong lane, against defendant Whalen arising from the same incident. The trial court found the defendants guilty of the offense of unlawful possession of cannabis, and dismissed the other charges against defendant Whalen. Defendant Fischer was sentenced to 24 months' probation and ordered to pay costs. Defendant Whalen was sentenced to two years' imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of $210 based on the street value of the cannabis, a fine of $20 pursuant to the Violent Crime Victims Assistance Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 70, par. 501 et seq.), and ordered to pay costs. Defendant Whalen appeals from the judgment of the circuit court of Pike County. We affirm.

The single issue on appeal is whether defendant Whalen was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the offense of unlawful possession of cannabis. Defendant Whalen argues that the State failed to prove that he was in constructive possession of the cannabis.

According to the testimony adduced at trial, Whalen was driving a yellow station wagon which was stopped shortly before 3:30 p.m. on October 6, 1984, for a traffic violation. Fischer, in the passenger seat, was the only other occupant of the car and carried no identification. The Michigan license plates on the station wagon were registered to Fischer's mother, and Fischer told officers at the scene that he had borrowed the car from his mother's driveway. The defendants stated that they were en route from Michigan to Missouri to see Fischer's father. The car was stopped after weaving from side to side in its lane and crossing the center line into the lane for oncoming traffic several times. Officers testified that Whalen smelled strongly of alcohol.

Dennis Jennings, Pittsfield police officer, first stopped the car in which the defendants were travelling and radioed for assistance. After the defendants were secured outside the car, Jennings looked inside for open liquor. In addition to the empty beer containers, Jennings observed a green, leafy substance and seeds strewn about the center floorboard and passenger side of the floorboard, as well as on the bench-type front seat of the car.

Deputy Yelliott testified that he had been called to assist Jennings. He stated that he and Jennings made a visual search of the vehicle before Officer Leonard arrived. He testified he had observed some green, leafy material and seeds which he believed to be marijuana in the front area of the car, on both the passenger and driver's sides, on the floor and in the cracks of the front seat.

Trooper Leonard testified that he arrived at the scene to provide assistance to the city officer. He testified that when he approached the car, while the defendants were secured behind it, he smelled the "smoke smell given off from the marijuana" when he went to the driver's door and was looking in. He observed a green, leafy substance and seeds scattered across the front seat of the car in the grooves on the seat, as well as randomly on the floorboard. He looked under the front seat and observed nothing. Leonard corroborated the testimony of Jennings and Yelliott that the back of the car contained fishing and archery equipment, bags of clothes and other items. He pulled a green Army bag from inside the rear deck of the station wagon, in the area for the spare tire. The bag held a paper bag of cannabis. Although the deck area was dusty from accumulation, the Army bag was clean.

Defendants were taken to the Pike County sheriff's office, the station wagon was secured and towed to the Pittsfield city police building, and Jennings and Leonard proceeded to the Illini Community Hospital where they weighed the contents of the cannabis from the Army bag at 204 grams.

Larry Hood, crime scene technician for the Department of Law Enforcement, testified that he processed the station wagon which had been driven by Whalen. He recovered .2 grams of green leafy material, seeds, and a partially burnt marijuana cigarette or "roach." The roach, about one-half inch long and partially flat, was found to the immediate right of the hump on the floorboard. Hood also recovered what is commonly known as a "roach clip" from the center portion between the two sun visors. He observed what appeared to be crumpled leaves on the front seat of the car but did not collect any. He testified that the interior of the vehicle was somewhat soiled and corroborated testimony of the officers that the cargo area of the station wagon was a mess, containing personal items from clothing to fishing equipment.

The State rested.

The defense presented the testimony of defendant Fischer. Fischer testified that he resided in Michigan and had decided to visit his father in Missouri. Early in the morning of October 6, 1984, he took a set of Ford keys from the kitchen table at his mother's house, removed the license plate from his mother's 1974 Firebird, put it on a yellow station wagon which had been sitting in her driveway for about a week, and picked up Whalen. He did not know who the station wagon belonged to or who had used it prior to that time. He testified that neither he nor Whalen put the green Army bag in the wheel well of the car. Asked whether Whalen owned a green Army bag like the one found in the wheel well, Fischer answered, "No, not like that." In detailing the gear which he and Whalen put in the cargo area of the station wagon, he gave the following answers:

"Q. [by Prosecutor] Did anybody have any Army bags?

A. [by defendant Fischer] I think Mike had a couple on top, clothes ...


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