The Honorable Justice McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court: Justice Heiple, dissenting:
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mcmorrow
JUSTICE McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court:
The instant appeal presents the question of whether it is reasonable for a police officer to believe that he has been granted the right to search a closed purse that he finds on the passenger seat in an automobile, where the driver of the car, but not the passenger, has consented to a search of the vehicle.
In April 1992, the defendant, Delores James, was a passenger in an automobile that was stopped by officers of the Urbana police department. The officers directed the driver and the passengers to step out of the car. When defendant exited the vehicle, she left her purse on the front, passenger-side seat of the car. One of the officers then escorted defendant away from the automobile.
Although defendant was not aware of it, the driver of the car agreed to a police search of the vehicle. During this search, the officers opened and looked into defendant's purse, where they found cocaine. She was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 1992)).
Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found by police officers during their search of her purse. She argued that she had not consented to the search and that the driver lacked the authority to consent to a search of her purse. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court allowed the defendant's motion to suppress. The appellate court reversed the trial court's ruling (242 Ill. App. 3d 675), with one justice dissenting (242 Ill. App. 3d at 677-79 (Cook, J., dissenting)). We allowed the defendant's petition for leave to appeal (145 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)).
At the trial court's hearing with respect to defendant's motion to suppress, the defendant testified that on April 1, 1992, at approximately 7 p.m., she was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by Ruth Boolman. Defendant was sitting in the front passenger seat of the car. A third passenger, Shirley James, was in the back seat of the car. They were stopped by an Urbana police department squad car. One officer approached the driver's side of the car, another officer came to the passenger side, and a third officer went to the rear of the vehicle.
The officer near the driver, Boolman, spoke to her briefly. The officers then asked defendant and Shirley James to exit the car and they complied. One of the officers "walked [defendant] off a good piece by a tree" away from where the others were located. Defendant could not hear the conversations between the police officers and the other occupants of the vehicle. A short while later, one of the other officers approached defendant and asked her about her purse. She described the purse as a "little brown wallet with just a snap on it." Defendant had left the purse on the front passenger seat in the car. She stated that the officer told her he had looked in the purse and removed "a pipe and the bag and the tie." The officers never asked her permission to look inside her purse. Defendant admitted that the items found inside the purse belonged to her.
Officer Troy Phillips of the Urbana police department testified that on the night of the incident, he and his partner stopped a vehicle because it had no rear license plate and because a document, indicating that a license had been applied for, was torn and illegible. When the officers stopped the car, they examined the document and found it to be in order.
Officer Phillips testified that there were three women passengers in the car and two small children. He spoke to the driver, Boolman, after she got out of the automobile. Officer Phillips explained to Boolman that they were working a special detail in the area because it was a "high traffic drug area." He asked Boolman if she had any contraband such as weapons or drugs on her person, and she said that she did not. She agreed to a search of her person, which produced no drugs or contraband.
Officer Phillips then asked Boolman if he could search her car, advising her that he was looking for drugs or weapons. Boolman consented to a search of the automobile. Officer Phillips stated that all of the passengers had exited the car before he searched it. During the search, he noticed a purse on the front seat. He opened the purse and found drug paraphernalia inside it.
Officer Phillips stated on cross-examination that when Boolman consented to the search of her vehicle, she was standing behind her car, in between her own vehicle and the squad car. The officer stated that he believed the other passengers were still in the vehicle at the time he sought Boolman's consent. After Boolman consented to the search, Officer Phillips asked the passengers to step out of the car. The officer admitted that he did not tell the passengers that he was going to search the vehicle.
Based on this testimony, the trial court allowed the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence taken from her purse. In its oral pronouncements, the trial court acknowledged that the officers had lawfully stopped the Boolman vehicle in order to check the validity of its license plates. The trial court also found no impropriety in Officer Phillips' request that Boolman permit him to search the vehicle.
With respect to Officer Phillips' search of the defendant's purse, however, the trial court found it significant that the purse did not belong to Boolman, but belonged to the defendant. The trial court further found that defendant had not consented to the officer's search of the purse and that she "had no idea that car was going to be searched." The trial court observed that "where there is more than one person in the car, that would lead a person to presume that perhaps an article that was found on the passenger seat, which is somewhere other than where the owner/driver had been located, that it seems to me at the very least some reasonable inquiry as to whom that property belongs to would be necessary." The trial court noted that the officers were well aware that there were passengers in the vehicle, and observed that the officers found the purse "where one of those other persons who has not given consent to search the car or container was seated." The trial court held that the defendant "didn't abandon [her purse] under the circumstances." The trial court allowed the defendant's motion to suppress.
The State appealed from the trial court's ruling, arguing that the driver's consent to search the automobile reasonably included the contents of the purse found on the front passenger seat of the vehicle. The appellate court agreed and reversed the trial court's allowance of the defendant's motion to suppress. The appellate court reasoned that "driver consent to search for drugs extends to closed containers * * * which may belong to others who have exited the vehicle." (Emphasis omitted.) (242 Ill. App. 3d at 676.) Indeed, the appellate court "pondered how the searching officers [could] distinguish between ownership of the various containers in the vehicle" and noted that "in the search process, such split-second decisions are likely given little thought." 242 Ill. App. 3d at 676.
The appellate court also observed that a "third party may give legally sufficient consent for a search if he has actual authority over the property shared in common with the defendant. [Citation.]" (242 Ill. App. 3d at 676.) According to the appellate court, "by allowing the driver to exercise authority over a vehicle, a defendant assumes the risk that the driver will allow someone to look inside it. [Citations.]" (242 Ill. App. 3d at 676-77.) The court concluded that it could find "no justifiable reason to limit the effect of driver consent to search where a passenger aware or unaware of the consent to search leaves a container in the automobile." (242 Ill. App. 3d at 677.) The appellate court held that, when the driver of a vehicle consents to a police officer's search of the ...