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09/20/89 the People of the State of v. Muang K. Saechao

September 20, 1989

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT

v.

MUANG K. SAECHAO, APPELLEE



SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS

544 N.E.2d 745, 129 Ill. 2d 522, 136 Ill. Dec. 59 1989.IL.1457

Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Third District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Bureau County, the Hon. James J. Wimbiscus, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE MILLER

Following a bench trial in the circuit court of Bureau County, the defendant, Muang K. Saechao, was found guilty of unlawful possession of less than 200 grams of a controlled substance. The trial Judge sentenced the defendant to a one-year period of probation and ordered her to pay costs and a fine totaling $3,000. The appellate court reversed the defendant's conviction and remanded the cause for a new trial, holding that the trial Judge had erred in denying the defendant's motion to quash her arrest and suppress evidence. (161 Ill. App. 3d 1163 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).) We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal (107 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)), and we now reverse the judgment of the appellate court and affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

On April 25, 1985, officers of the Bureau County sheriff's office executed a search warrant of the defendant's residence in Wyanet, Illinois. The officers found a package containing opium, and the defendant was subsequently charged with illegal possession of a controlled substance. Prior to trial, the defendant moved to quash her arrest and suppress evidence, arguing, among other things, that the officers had failed to provide the necessary notice of their authority and purpose before they entered the residence. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial Judge denied the defendant's motion, ruling that the officers had made a valid entry of the premises. The defendant was later found guilty of a related offense. On appeal, the defendant's sole challenge to the trial proceedings concerned the ruling on the motion to quash her arrest and suppress evidence. The appellate court agreed with the defendant that the officers' entry of the residence was invalid, and the court therefore reversed the judgment and remanded the cause for further proceedings.

The following evidence was presented at the suppression hearing. At the time in question, the defendant was living in Wyanet with nine other persons; she had moved to the United States from Laos some four years earlier. On the morning of April 25, 1985, the defendant went to the Wyanet post office to pick up the mail for the household, as was her daily custom. That day she found a delivery notice in her post office box. The defendant gave the notice to a postal employee, who produced a package addressed to one Seng Wang Lee at the same house number and street as the defendant. The defendant explained that although she did not know the person and was not familiar with the name, she signed for the package because she recognized the street address as her own. The defendant took the package home and opened it, and found that it contained what appeared to be cans of fish. She did not open any of the cans but put the entire parcel under her cousin's bed in an upstairs bedroom. The defendant testified that later that morning, as she was sitting in the living room, she heard a loud bang and the front door opened. Four police officers then entered the living room. The defendant and her mother, who was also present in the house, were directed at gunpoint to lie on the floor, and they were eventually handcuffed and taken from the residence.

Sergeant John Shofner of the Bureau County sheriff's office testified in the State's behalf at the suppression hearing. Sergeant Shofner explained that he had been notified by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the United States Customs Service in Los Angeles of the seizure of a package containing opium that was addressed to a resident of Wyanet. Shofner learned that an unspecified number of other packages being sent to that address had been seized in customs, and he was told that this particular parcel would be forwarded to him and that he could then pursue the matter under State law. The Bureau County sheriff's office received the package on April 24, 1985. It contained 10 cans, of the same size and shape as those in which tuna is commonly sold. Additional tests performed at that time confirmed the earlier finding by Federal authorities that the cans contained opium.

The parcel was taken to the Wyanet post office, and a delivery notice was left in the defendant's post office box. The defendant's residence and the post office were placed under surveillance on April 25. Shofner testified that around 9:30 that morning, officers saw the defendant leave her residence and walk to the post office, which was located next door to the defendant's house. The defendant removed the note from her post office box, obtained the parcel in question from a postal employee, and returned home with it.

A search warrant was issued an hour later. Half a dozen officers went to the defendant's residence, stationing themselves at the front and back doors of the house. Shofner testified that he knocked on the front door three times and announced in a loud voice that he was from the sheriff's department; Shofner said that the force of his knocks caused the door, which was unlatched, to swing open. The officers did not hear anything or see anyone. Shofner said that the officers remained at the threshold for 5 to 10 seconds and then entered the residence. The defendant was found in the living room. After the defendant and her mother were escorted from the house, the officers conducted a canine-assisted search of the premises. The package containing the opium was recovered under a bed in a locked, second-floor bedroom; although the box had been opened, all 10 cans were still present.

Shofner testified that all the officers who took part in executing the search warrant were armed. He explained that the officers had been warned by the Drug Enforcement Administration of widespread violence and destruction of evidence in cases involving drug parcels from overseas. Shofner said that, after the front door opened, the officers therefore entered the premises quickly, with their weapons drawn, to protect themselves and to prevent the disposal of the contraband. Shofner also noted that the officers had learned that about 10 persons were living at the address.

The trial Judge denied the defendant's motion to quash her arrest and suppress evidence. The trial Judge ruled both that the door of the defendant's residence was open and that the officers, in executing the search warrant, made a sufficient announcement of their authority before entering the premises. In a letter to counsel stating his ruling, the trial Judge said, "The court finds that the door was open and that the officer executing the search warrant did announce." With respect to the finding that the door was "open," it appears, from a statement later made by the trial Judge at the hearing on the defendant's motion for reconsideration, that the Judge used the term "open" to signify that the door was unlatched when the officers arrived to execute the search warrant. The trial Judge denied the motion for reconsideration.

The State's Attorney's office and the defendant subsequently reached an agreement concerning the Disposition of the case. In accordance with the parties' agreement, the State nol-prossed the original charge, unlawful possession of more than 200 grams of a substance containing opium, a Class 1 felony (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 56 1/2, par. 1402(a)(11)), and the defendant was found guilty in a stipulated bench trial of a less serious offense, possession of less than 200 grams of a substance containing opium, a Class 4 felony (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 56 1/2, par. 1402(b)). Also by agreement, the defendant was sentenced as a first offender to one year's probation ...


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