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September 30, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Honorable Mary Maxwell Thomas, Judge Presiding.

DiVito, Hartman, McCormick

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Divito

Presiding Justice DiVito delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant Kenny Henderson was charged with armed robbery, attempted armed robbery, two counts of aggravated unlawful restraint, and unlawful use of a firearm by a felon. After the circuit court granted defendant's motion to quash his arrest and suppress the evidence obtained thereafter, the State appealed pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 604(a)(1). (134 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1).) The State contends that the circuit court improperly quashed defendant's arrest and suppressed the evidence because the officer had sufficient probable cause to arrest defendant. We agree.

Although defendant has not filed an appellee's brief, we may decide the merits of the appeal since the record is simple and the State's claim can be easily adjudicated without the aid of an appellee's brief. First Capitol Mortgage Corp. v. Talandis Construction Corp. (1976), 63 Ill. 2d 128, 133, 345 N.E.2d 493.

Defendant testified at the hearing on his motion to quash his arrest that on June 18, 1991, between 8:30 and 9 a.m., he was parking his 1976 Buick Regal at 5600 West Chicago Avenue when police arrived. An officer said defendant's vehicle had been used in an armed robbery, pointed his gun at defendant, and told him to step out of the car. As he stepped out of the car, defendant explained to the officer that the car had been stolen, that he had just gotten it started that morning, and that it was not yet registered. The car's steering column had been "peeled" and its trunk lock had been "punched." The officer handcuffed defendant and put him in the police car. Thereafter, he and his passenger, Byron Johnson, were taken to the police station and charged with armed robbery.

Chicago police officer Callaghan testified that on June 17, 1991, at approximately 1:50 p.m. he received a radio message while he was on patrol. The message originated from another district where officers in the area of Kostner and Grand Avenue were looking for a gold 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass or Buick Regal with license plate JL 2502. The vehicle reportedly contained three black men in their twenties. At that time, he made an unsuccessful effort to find the vehicle. At about 8:35 a.m. the next day, as he was coming out of the police station after roll call, he saw a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass or Buick Regal with the plate JU 2502 which was occupied by two black men. He followed the car, and when he pulled it over, the passenger attempted to get out. Although Callaghan thought he was going to run, the passenger, who was in his twenties, complied with his request to get back into the vehicle. Callaghan noticed that the trunk lid had been "punched." When he approached defendant, he noticed that the steering column was "peeled" and wires were hanging out of the dashboard. He had defendant exit the vehicle and asked him who owned it. Defendant said it was his. Callaghan checked with the communications operations section over his radio, and found the vehicle was not registered to defendant.

During cross-examination, Callaghan could not recall defendant saying the key to the vehicle was in the ignition, or recall seeing the key in the ignition, but the police could not get the car restarted and had it towed. Defendant was not violating any laws, but the car was the proper color and apparently the proper make and model of the car being sought in the armed robbery; the license plate number was five-sixths identical to the license plate number given in the radio call the previous day; and the trunk lid was "punched," the column was "peeled," and the dash had wires hanging out of it, giving rise to the probability that the car had been stolen. Defendant was placed under arrest for the investigations of both the armed robbery and the stolen vehicle. Callaghan did not, however, have any information about a vehicle matching that description being stolen at that time, and he admitted that seeing a car with a deck lid "punched" would not necessarily mean that the car had been stolen.

The State argues that the vehicle the police stopped met the description of the vehicle used in the armed robbery, and that the officer had probable cause to investigate the matter. When he then assumed that the passenger was going to run, that the trunk lock was "punched," that the steering column was "peeled," that the two men met the general description of the robbers, and he found that defendant was not the registered owner of the vehicle, the officer had probable cause for arresting defendant on charges of armed robbery and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.

Probable cause for arrest exists when the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer's knowledge are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has been committed, and that the person arrested has committed the offense. ( People v. Robinson (1976), 62 Ill. 2d 273, 276, 342 N.E.2d 356.) Such a determination should be based on the factual and practical considerations of everyday life upon which reasonable and prudent people, not legal technicians, act. ( People v. Moody (1983), 94 Ill. 2d 1, 445 N.E.2d 275, 67 Ill. Dec. 795.) It is not necessary that such information be admissible at trial, nor must the information be sufficient to prove the suspect guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. ( People v. Pierson (1988), 166 Ill. App. 3d 558, 562, 519 N.E.2d 1185, 117 Ill. Dec. 18, appeal denied (1988), 121 Ill. 2d 581, 526 N.E.2d 837, cert. denied (1988), 488 U.S. 925, 102 L. Ed. 2d 326, 109 S. Ct. 307.) A reviewing court will not disturb a circuit court's ruling on a motion to suppress unless it is manifestly erroneous. People v. Adams (1989), 131 Ill. 2d 387, 400, 546 N.E.2d 561, 137 Ill. Dec. 616.

The determination of probable cause must center on the information available to the officer preceding the arrest, and the relevant question is whether a reasonable person in that officer's position would believe that a crime was being or had been committed. ( People v. Adams, 131 Ill. 2d at 398.) The circuit court found that there was insufficient information to establish probable cause to arrest defendant in connection with the radio message the officer had received the previous day, because the vehicle mentioned in the radio message and the vehicle defendant was driving, including the license plate numbers, did not correspond, and because the description of the three individuals as "black males in their twenties" was vague and general. Also, when Callaghan saw the vehicle, it was not near the location of the robbery, and a substantial period of time had passed since the officer first heard the flash message.

A police officer may stop and temporarily detain an individual for the purpose of a limited investigation absent probable cause to arrest if the officer is able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with reasonable inferences drawn from the officer's experience, would reasonably warrant the investigative intrusion. ( Terry v. Ohio (1968), 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868; People v. Martinez (1984), 129 Ill. App. 3d 145, 472 N.E.2d 464, 84 Ill. Dec. 504.) In determining whether a stop is reasonable, an objective standard is used: whether the facts available to the police officer warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that the action taken was appropriate. People v. Galvin (1989), 127 Ill. 2d 153, 167, 535 N.E.2d 837, 129 Ill. Dec. 72.

An officer may make an investigatory stop of a vehicle if he or she reasonably infers from the circumstances that an offense has been committed or is about to be committed. ( People v. Walter (1985), 133 Ill. App. 3d 550, 479 N.E.2d 12, 88 Ill. Dec. 677.) For example, in People v. Rowe (1983), 115 Ill. App. 3d 322, 450 N.E.2d 804, 71 Ill. Dec. 116, the court held that where, from a police report, the officer knew that a yellow car with the license plate of the vehicle in question was involved in a pattern of robberies, such information was sufficient to warrant the initial stop.

In this case, Callaghan was clearly justified in making an investigatory stop of defendant's car, and the information developed after the stop gave him probable cause to arrest defendant. The previous day, Callaghan had received a flash message that three black men in their twenties were wanted for armed robbery. The men were driving a gold 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass or Buick Regal, with license plate number JL 2502. Because he was in a neighboring police district, Callaghan unsuccessfully looked for that car. On the day of the arrest, he was pulling out of the police station when he saw a gold car that appeared to be a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass or Buick Regal, with two young black males inside, and with the license plate number JU 2502. The only reason for Callaghan to think these might not be the suspects in the armed robbery was the fact that one digit out of six in the reported license ...

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