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People v. James





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Stephen Schiller, Judge, presiding.


Following a jury trial defendant, Matthew James, was found guilty of murder, rape, and robbery. He was sentenced to imprisonment terms of 50 years for murder and 10 years for robbery, the sentences to run concurrently. *fn1 The record reveals that on the day after the sentences were imposed, the court entered the following order: "By order of court sentences imposed for robbery ten (10) years [in the] Illinois Department of Corrections vacated. Corrected mittimus to read fifty (50) years for murder." Defendant appeals from his murder conviction. The following evidence was adduced at trial.

On June 26, 1983, Josephine Hayes was found dead on a couch in her apartment by the building manager. Her legs were tied, her face was covered with rags and she was wearing only a white blouse. A medical examination revealed that she had been raped and that her death was caused by strangulation.

A few days previously, Eddie Meeks and several men had helped the victim move into her apartment. Meeks and the other men were taken into custody and questioned by the police regarding the homicide. The other men were released but the officers continued to question Meeks.

During the second day of questioning, Meeks confessed that he had participated in the murder, rape, and robbery of Josephine Hayes. Meeks' confession implicated the defendant, Matthew James, in the commission of the offenses. Based on Meeks' confession, the officers arrested James. James was questioned by the police and confessed his participation in the crimes but implicated Meeks as the principal offender.

James and Meeks were jointly indicted for the murder, rape, robbery, and home invasion. Prior to trial, James and Meeks each moved to quash their warrantless arrests on the grounds that the police lacked probable cause to arrest either of them. They also moved to suppress their statements because, they argued, each of their statements was fruit of their illegal arrests.

Pretrial hearings were held on the suppression motions. James and Meeks contended there was no probable cause to arrest either of them and that they confessed and gave incriminating statements against each other only because they had been beaten and subjected to threats and intimidation.

The trial court found there was no probable cause to arrest Meeks, quashed his arrest, and suppressed his confession. The court stated:

"I find that the police in the matter of the arrest of Mr. Meeks did have probable cause to make an arrest, however, that probable cause, I believe, existed after the arrest had, in fact, been made.

An arrest cannot be justified by what accidentally is learned. Justification for [a] search and arrest cannot be based upon what the conditions of that arrest and search may be.

I do not feel it was reasonable for the police to assume that they had grounds to make an arrest of Mr. Meeks. * * *.

Therefore, the ruling is, the motion to quash the arrest of Edward Meeks is allowed, and concurrent with that is an order suppressing the statements made during the course of that arrest."

Although Supreme Court Rule 604(a) (87 Ill.2d R. 604(a)) conferred upon the State the right to appeal the trial court's order which suppressed Meeks' confession, the State did not appeal the order. Instead the State entered a nolle prosequi of the charges against Meeks, and he was discharged.

During the suppression hearing, with regard to probable cause for the arrest of defendant James, Detective John Leonard, who was assigned to investigate the homicide, testified under cross-examination:

"Q. Detective Leonard, is it true that the first time you were given any information implicating Matthew James in the crime or crimes that you are investigating was on June 27, 1982?

A. Yes sir, that's correct.

Q. And, Detective Leonard, you never got any information from any other source implicating Matthew James in the crime before you went to 1421 Rockwell on June 27th, to get Matthew James, did you?

THE COURT: Do you understand the questions?

THE WITNESS: Yes, correct.

MR. FOX: You never got any information from anyone other than Edward Meeks before sending Howe or O'Brien to 1421 South Rockwell?

MR. RAMANO: Objection, asked and answered.

THE COURT: Ask another question.

MR. FOX: The only information you had about Matthew James was when you sent Howe and O'Brien to 1421 North Rockwell, was the information you got from Edward Meeks, is that right?

A. Yes."

It is clear from Detective Leonard's testimony that Meeks' confession was the sole basis for James' arrest. There is no other evidence in the record to establish probable cause for James' arrest. The State does not contend otherwise.

In upholding the validity of James' arrest, the judge stated:

"I believe the police clearly did have probable cause prior to making the arrest, notwithstanding the fact that I suppressed the fruits of the Meeks arrest; and considering very carefully the case of Wong Sun versus U.S., recall very vividly the cast of characters involved therein, and I find that in a posit to this situation, to the extent I think, it directs me to deny the motion to quash the arrest of Mr. Matthews [sic]."

James was later convicted following a jury trial during which his confession was admitted into evidence.


James contends that his arrest was illegal because it lacked probable cause and that his confession should therefore have been suppressed. As to James' warrantless arrest, we note that the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. IV) and article I, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, sec. 6), demand that a warrantless arrest be supported by probable cause to be constitutionally valid.

Although in denying James' motion to quash his arrest the trial judge said that he "recall[ed] very vividly the cast of characters involved in" and had "very carefully" considered Wong Sun v. United States (1963), 371 U.S. 471, 9 L.Ed.2d 441, 83 S.Ct. 407, the trial court nevertheless failed to explain why Wong Sun was inapplicable or why Wong Sun "direct[ed]" the court to deny James' motion.

In Wong Sun, Federal narcotics agents in San Francisco arrested Hom Way after surveying him for six weeks. The agents found heroin in his possession. During questioning Hom Way told the agents that he had purchased an ounce of heroin the night before from Blackie Toy, proprietor of a laundry of Leavenworth Street. The agents went to the laundry on Leavenworth Street which was operated by James Wah Toy. An agent attempted to gain entry into the building by stating that he had come to pick up some laundry. Toy told the agent to come back during business hours, whereupon the agent announced his office, forced entry into the building, chased Toy down a hallway into Toy's bedroom and placed Toy under arrest.

The agents searched Toy's living quarters but found no narcotics. They informed Toy that Hom Way had told them that he (Hom Way) had purchased narcotics from Toy. Toy denied that he sold narcotics but stated that he knew someone who did and that he knew that person as "Johnny." Toy described a house on 11th Avenue where, he told the agents, Johnny lived. Toy also described the bedroom in Johnny's house where he said Johnny kept heroin and where he and Johnny had smoked drugs the previous night. The agents went immediately to the house described by Toy and upon entering found a man in the bedroom whose name was Johnny Yee. During questioning Yee removed heroin from a bureau drawer and turned it over to the agents. Yee told the agents that Toy and Sea Dog brought the heroin to him four days previously. When questioned about the identity of Sea Dog, Toy revealed that Sea Dog was Wong Sun. The agents then went to Won Sun's home and placed him under arrest.

The agents did not seek or obtain a search or arrest warrant for any of the foregoing arrests and searches. Toy and Wong Sun were charged in a two-count indictment with conspiracy to violate the narcotic laws and concealment of illegally imported heroin. They were acquitted of the conspiracy count but were found guilty of the count which charged concealment of the drugs discovered in Johnny Yee's bedroom which Yee surrendered to the agents.

At trial the court admitted into evidence the incriminating statements Toy made in his bedroom when he was arrested, the heroin surrendered to the agents by Johnny Yee, and Toy and Wong Sun's post-arraignment, unsigned statements. Toy and Wong Sun contended that this evidence was inadmissible because it was the fruit of their illegal, warrantless arrests.

The United States Court of Appeals held that the defendants' warrantless arrests were illegal under the fourth amendment because they were not based on probable cause. The court affirmed the defendants' convictions, however, on the ground that the complained-of evidence was not the fruit of either defendant's illegal arrest and was therefore properly admitted.

The Supreme Court agreed that the arrests of Toy and Wong Sun were without probable cause. Addressing Toy's arrest, the court held that the information given to the narcotics agents by their prisoner, Hom Way, was insufficient to establish probable cause to arrest Toy. The court pointed out that the agents had no basis to rely on Hom Way's information since he had never before provided them with information. The court further pointed out:

"It is conceded that the officers made no attempt to obtain a warrant for Toy's arrest. The simple fact is that on the sparse information at the officers' command, no arrest warrant could have issued * * *. [Citation.] The arrest warrant procedure serves to insure that the deliberate, impartial judgment of a judicial officer will be interposed between the citizen and the police, to assess the weight and credibility of the information which the complaining officer adduces as probable cause. [Citation.] To hold that an officer may act in his own, unchecked discretion upon information too vague and from too untested a source to permit a judicial officer to accept it as probable cause for an arrest warrant, would subvert this fundamental policy." Wong Sun v. United States (1963), 371 U.S. 471, 481-82, 9 L.Ed.2d 441, 451-52, 83 S.Ct. 407, 414.

After holding that Toy's arrest was without probable cause and that his fourth amendment right to be secure against an unreasonable search and seizure had been violated, the court further held that Toy's statements in his bedroom to the agents should have been excluded and were inadmissible as ...

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