SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS
520 N.E.2d 374, 121 Ill. 2d 195, 117 Ill. Dec. 213 1988.IL.183
Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Third District; heard in the court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Iroquois County, the Hon. Dwight W. McGrew, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE SIMON delivered the opinion of the court.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE SIMON
On May 17, 1984, defendant was charged with 26 counts of possession of a motor vehicle certificate of title with incomplete assignment, in violation of section 4-104 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 95 1/2, par. 4-104). At trial, the circuit court of Iroquois County granted defendant's motion to suppress evidence of the incomplete titles because the evidence resulted from an illegal search and seizure, and subsequently dismissed the case. The appellate court for the third district affirmed. (149 Ill. App. 3d 592.) We allowed the State's appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 315(a) (107 Ill. 2d 315(a)).
Defendant was the owner and operator of Madison Salvage Yard in Iroquois County. Defendant's neighbors complained about the yard to the State's Attorney, who in turn alerted the Secretary of State's office. The complaints concerned the condition of the premises. Following this notice, two Secretary of State police officers went without a search warrant to defendant's salvage yard to conduct an inspection. The officers inventoried the vehicles in the yard and reviewed defendant's business records, whereupon they discovered 26 vehicle certificates of title with incomplete assignments of title. Defendant was given a receipt for the 26 titles, and the officers took them into their possession. Although defendant cooperated with the officers and did not object to the inspection, he did not give the officers permission to seize the 26 titles.
Licensed salvage yards are regulated under chapter 5 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. Article IV of chapter 5, entitled "Records Required to be Kept" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 95 1/2, pars. 5-401 through 5-404), specifies the business records yards must keep, details the State's right to inspect these records, and outlines the possible consequences for failure to keep required records. Section 5-403 permits authorized representatives of the Secretary of State, including police officers, to perform inspections of the records and premises of salvage yards for the purpose of determining the accuracy and completeness of the required records. No warrant is required to initiate or conduct these inspections, but subsection (6) provides that:
"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." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 95 1/2, par. 5-403(6).
The issue presented by this case is whether, when police officers have discovered evidence of a crime during the course of a lawful administrative inspection conducted pursuant to section 5-403 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 95 1/2, par. 5-403), the officers must obtain a warrant before seizing the evidence. The State argues that the trial and appellate courts erroneously interpreted the warrant requirement of section 5-403, and therefore the evidence seized by the officers in this case should not have been suppressed. The State contends that officers should not be required to obtain a warrant before seizing evidence of criminal violations uncovered during an administrative inspection.
There has been no question raised as to the constitutionality of the statutory scheme authorizing the inspections, or to the specific requirements and restrictions imposed therein on administrative inspections. Thus, our decision in this case does not turn on any fourth amendment analysis, but only upon an interpretation of our State statute.
Under the regulatory scheme created by the legislature in section 5 -- 401 et seq., the Secretary of State police officers were authorized to conduct a warrantless inspection of defendant's salvage yard for the limited purpose of checking the accuracy and completeness of defendant's records. To determine whether the officers were entitled to seize evidence discovered during the inspection, however, we must turn to the language of the statute. The cardinal rule of statutory construction is that courts "must ascertain and give effect to the legislature's intention in enacting the statute. In doing so courts must give the language of the statute its plain and ordinary meaning. . . . '"This is to be done primarily from a consideration of the legislative language itself, which affords the best means of its exposition."'" Maloney v. Bower (1986), 113 Ill. 2d 473, 479, quoting Franzese v. Trinko (1977), 66 Ill. 2d 136, 139; Western National Bank v. Village of Kildeer (1960), 19 Ill. 2d 342, 350.
The language of section 5 -- 403(6) is not so vague as to preclude understanding of and adherence to its plain meaning. Nothing in the statute permits seizure of records or other evidence uncovered as a result of an inspection. As we read it, the plain language of the statute contemplates that officers obtain a warrant before seizing any evidence discovered during the course of an inspection. Any information uncovered that could serve as the basis for criminal prosecution makes obtaining a warrant necessary because gathering evidence for criminal prosecutions is outside the narrow scope of authority -- to check the accuracy and completeness of records -- given the State to conduct administrative inspections. It is a fundamental premise of both State and Federal law that in the absence of exigent circumstances or some other exception to the warrant requirement, no evidence to be used in a criminal prosecution may be sought or seized without a lawful warrant. (Frank v. Maryland (1959), 359 U.S. 360, 365, 3 L. Ed. 2d 877, 881, 79 S. Ct. 804, 808 ("evidence of criminal action may not . . . be seized without a judicially issued search warrant").) Therefore, any evidence seized by police officers without a warrant during an administrative inspection under section 5 -- 403 is evidence seized outside the officers' limited authority under the statute and must be excluded. Thus, we agree with our appellate court that "when the officers discovered the certificates with incomplete assignments, they should have obtained a search warrant before attempting to seize them. This they failed to do, thereby rendering the seizure of the certificates unlawful." 149 Ill. App. 3d 592, 596; see also People v. Potter (1986), 140 Ill. App. 3d 693, 697-98 ("f within 24 hours information is uncovered [in an administrative inspection] which might give an officer probable cause to believe an offense has been committed, a search warrant should be obtained before any further searching or seizing is attempted").
The State argues that requiring a police officer to obtain a warrant to seize evidence where the evidence has already been uncovered in the course of a valid administrative search would be "superfluous" because under these circumstances the warrant requirement serves no useful purpose. The State concludes that the legislature could ...