Appeal from the Circuit Court of Iroquois County; the Hon.
Dwight W. McGrew, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE STOUDER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The defendant, Lowell Madison, was charged with 26 counts of possessing certificates of title with incomplete assignment. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 95 1/2, par. 4-104(a)(2).) The defendant moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that it was obtained through an illegal search and seizure. The defendant's motion was granted and the charges were dismissed. The State appeals, contending that the trial court erred in granting the defendant's motion. We affirm.
The defendant was the owner-operator of a motor-vehicle salvage yard named Madison Salvage Yard. The Iroquois County State's Attorney's office had received numerous complaints from neighbors living near the yard, apparently concerning the general condition of the premises. The State's Attorney relayed the complaints to the Secretary of State's office.
Around 1 p.m. on May 7, 1984, two Secretary of State police officers went to the defendant's salvage yard. At the trial, Jim Thompson, one of the officers, testified that the officers advised the defendant that they were to inspect his premises and records pursuant to a complaint. Officer Thompson testified that the officers did not possess a search warrant.
Officer Thompson further testified that following an inspection of the vehicles stored in the yard, the officers asked to see the defendant's business records. The officers subsequently found 26 vehicle certificates of title with incomplete assignments of title. Officer Thompson stated that the officers took possession of the 26 certificates, giving the defendant a receipt for them. Officer Thompson admitted that while the defendant cooperated with the officers and did not object to the search, the defendant never gave the officers permission to take the certificates.
On May 17, 1984, the defendant was charged with 26 counts of possession of certificates of title with incomplete assignment. On December 9, 1984, the defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress the certificates because they were taken in violation of the fourth amendment prohibition against warrantless searches. The trial court granted the motion and summarily dismissed the charges. The State brings this appeal.
On appeal, the State contends that the trial court erred in allowing the defendant's motion because the search and seizure of the certificates of title were not unreasonable. The State musters a number of arguments in defense of its contention.
• 1 First, the State argues that the search and seizure were permitted under section 5-403 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 95 1/2, par. 5-403.) The State argues that section 5-403 provides authority for a valid warrantless search in the form of a records check.
Section 5-403 allows the Secretary of State to conduct, under certain restrictions, periodic warrantless inspections of an automobile dealer's premises and records. The relevant part of section 5-403 of the Vehicle Code provides:
"(1) Authorized representatives of the Secretary of State including officers of the Secretary of State's Department of Police, other peace officers, and such other individuals as the Secretary may designate from time to time shall make inspections of individuals and facilities licensed or required to be licensed under Chapter 5 of the Illinois Vehicle Code for the purpose of reviewing records required to be maintained under Chapter 5 for accuracy and completeness and reviewing and examining the premises of the licensee's established place of business for the purpose of determining the accuracy of the required records. Premises that may be inspected in order to determine the accuracy of the books and records required to be kept includes all premises used by the licensee to store vehicles and parts that are reflected by the required books and records.
(4) Inspection conducted pursuant to Chapter 5 may be initiated at any time that business is being conducted or work is being performed, whether or not open to the public or when the licensee or a representative of the licensee, other than a mere custodian or watchman, is present. The fact that a licensee or representative of the licensee leaves the licensed premises after an inspection has been initiated shall not require the termination of the inspection.
(5) Any inspection conducted pursuant to Chapter 5 shall not continue for more than 24 hours after initiation.
(6) In the event information comes to the attention of the individuals conducting an inspection that may give rise to the necessity of obtaining a search warrant, and in the event steps are initiated for the procurement of a search warrant, the individuals conducting such inspection may take all necessary steps to secure the premises under inspection until the warrant application is acted upon by a judicial officer.
(7) No more than 6 inspections of a premises may be conducted pursuant to Chapter 5 within any 6 month period except pursuant to a search warrant. Notwithstanding this limitation, nothing in this subparagraph shall be construed to limit the authority of law enforcement agents to respond to public complaints of violations of the Code. For the purpose of this subparagraph, a public complaint is one in which the complainant ...