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09/15/94 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. HENRY LEE SMITH

September 15, 1994

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
HENRY LEE SMITH, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 92CM2625. Honorable Donald R. Parkinson, Judge Presiding.

Petition for Leave to Appeal Denied December 6, 1994.

Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, J., Honorable Robert W. Cook, J., Honorable Frederick S. Green, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steigmann

JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the opinion of the court:

In September 1992, defendant, Henry Lee Smith, was arrested for possession of less than 2.5 grams of cannabis. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 56 1/2, par. 704(a).) In January 1993, the trial court conducted a hearing on defendant's motion to suppress evidence simultaneously with defendant's bench trial. After denying the motion, the court found defendant guilty. In February 1993, the court sentenced him to 12 months' conditional discharge. Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion.

We disagree and affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In September 1992, defendant was one of three passengers in acar stopped for a minor traffic violation. After the police officer verified the driver's identification, he asked the passengers, including defendant, for their identification. Defendant gave the officer his identification documents, and as the officer sat in his squad car completing the paperwork for the traffic violation, the police dispatcher informed him that an outstanding warrant existed for defendant's arrest. The officer arrested defendant on the warrant, searched him, and found 1.1 grams of cannabis. The State concedes that the officer never informed defendant that he was not required to comply with the request to produce identification. Defendant argued to the trial court, as he does to this court, that the officer's request for defendant's identification constituted an illegal search or seizure.

II. ANALYSIS

Defendant argues that the police officer violated his fourth amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure by asking for his identification and taking it to the squad car to run a computer check. (U.S. Const., amend. IV.) We disagree.

We initially note that the trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress is entitled to great deference and will not be overturned unless it was against the manifest weight of the evidence. ( People v. Murray (1990), 137 Ill. 2d 382, 387, 560 N.E.2d 309, 311, 148 Ill. Dec. 7; People v. Cole (1994), 256 Ill. App. 3d 590, 593, 627 N.E.2d 1187, 1189, 194 Ill. Dec. 545; see People v. Britt (June 30, 1994, 4th Dist. Gen. No. 4-92-0262, slip op. at 8-9), Ill. App. 3d , , N.E.2d , (discussing the distinction between "against the manifest weight of the evidence" and "clearly erroneous:).) This is because motions to suppress typically, as in this case, require assessing the credibility of witnesses and weighing their testimony, functions the trial court is best suited to accomplish. People v. Garriott (1993), 253 Ill. App. 3d 1048, 1050, 625 N.E.2d 780, 782-83, 192 Ill. Dec. 625.

In Murray, the supreme court delineated three tiers of police-citizen encounters. Each descending level requires less "justification" for the officer to engage the private individual. The most intrusive tier involves an arrest, which must be supported by probable cause. The intermediate level involves a so-called Terry stop (see Terry v. Ohio (1968), 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868), which requires a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. (See 725 ILCS 5/107-14 (West 1992).) The third tier, commonly known as the community caretaking or public safety function, involves no coercion or detention and therefore does not constitute a seizure. ( Murray, 137 Ill. 2d at 387, 560 N.E.2d at 311-12.) Conduct that does not constitute a seizure (or a search) does not implicate the fourth amendment. ( Cole, 256 Ill. App. 3d at 593, 627 N.E.2d at 1189.) Accordingly, wehold that police interaction with a private citizen within the scope of the community caretaking or public safety function does not implicate the fourth amendment and therefore does not require any legal justification before a police officer may engage in that conduct.

This holding accords with the purposes of the fourth amendment, which do not prohibit all contact between the police and citizens. ( People v. Clark (1989), 185 Ill. App. 3d 231, 236, 541 N.E.2d 199, 202, 133 Ill. Dec. 362.) Consequently, the fourth amendment is not implicated when an officer simply approaches an individual and asks him questions if that person is willing to listen. ( Cole, 256 Ill. App. 3d at 593, 627 N.E.2d at 1189.) Of course, a person questioned by the police pursuant to their community caretaking or public safety function remains free to decline to answer the officers' questions. Clark, 185 Ill. App. 3d at 236, 541 N.E.2d at 202.

In this case, the State concedes that the officer had neither probable cause to believe nor reasonable grounds to suspect defendant was engaged in criminal activity. Thus, if the officer's request for identification constituted a seizure, it lacked sufficient legal justification and was therefore improper. However, if it did not constitute a seizure, the fourth amendment is not implicated, and the officer needed no legal justification to make his request. The specific issue in this case thus becomes whether a police officer can ask an otherwise ...


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