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12/20/96 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. LADRESHA F.

December 20, 1996

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LADRESHA F. BROWNLEE, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 95CF1336. Honorable Harold L. Jensen, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication December 20, 1996. As Corrected February 24, 1997.

Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, P.j., Honorable Rita B. Garman, J. - Concur, Honorable James A. Knecht, J. - Concur. Presiding Justice Steigmann delivered the opinion of the court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steigmann

PRESIDING JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the opinion of the court:

In November 1995, the State charged defendant, Ladresha F. Brownlee, with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (one gram or more but less than 15 grams of a substance containing cocaine) in violation of section 401(c)(2) of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act (720 ILCS 570/401(c)(2) (West 1994)). In December 1995, defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence that was the basis for the charge against her. In January 1996, the trial court conducted a hearing on that motion and granted it. The State appeals, and we reverse and remand with directions.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Evidence

At the January 1996 hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, the only witnesses to testify were Urbana police officers Carlos Guerrero and Duane Maxey. They both testified about events of November 7, 1995, which led to defendant's arrest. Their testimony, which was similar in most respects, was substantially as follows.

On the night in question, they were patrolling together in an Urbana police car on a special detail trying to find any illegal drug activity or illegal weapons. They drove into an area of Urbana known to have drug activity and specifically patrolled a certain housing complex. Shortly after 9 p.m., they observed a large white vehicle stop in front of a residence in that complex. The officers could not tell what the people were doing in the car. The officers proceeded past the car for about a block and then turned around and drove back. They then saw the white car leaving the area after it had been stopped at the residence for perhaps a minute. The officers followed the car and observed it come to a stop sign at an intersection where the car stopped about two feet past the stop sign but before it entered the cross street. The officers observed the car turn left but it signalled for a left turn just as it made that turn, as opposed to the requirement of the Illinois Vehicle Code that it signal 100 feet before turning. 625 ILCS 5/11-804(b) (West 1994). The officers then signalled for the car to pull over, which it did.

The officers approached the vehicle, one on each side, and recognized the driver. A male passenger also sat in the front seat, and two female passengers sat in the backseat. They asked defendant for identification "just to find out who she was." Officer Guerrero testified that it was common practice for his department to identify everyone in a vehicle under these circumstances. The officers also obtained identification from the other two passengers in the car. After identifying all the vehicle's occupants, the officers returned to their automobile, where they checked to see if there were any outstanding warrants for any of them and found none.

Officer Maxey mentioned that he had seen an unopened bottle of beer in the car. They determined that they were not going to issue a citation to the driver for the traffic violations they had seen but would ask him if they could search the vehicle.

Officer Maxey also testified that he viewed the white vehicle with suspicion when he first saw it because it was in a neighborhood known to have drug activity and because "it's commonplace for an individual who wants to purchase drugs to pull up, run up to a home for just a moment, make a buy and leave."

Guerrero testified that when he went back to the white car, he returned the driver's license and insurance card to the driver and explained that he was not going to issue any citations. He then "paused a couple of minutes, and I asked [the driver] if I could search his vehicle." Guerrero had not told the driver that he could leave. When asked to be more specific about what Guerrero told the driver, Guerrero said, "I told him that we were concerned that there might be more alcohol in the car[,] and I just wanted permission to take a look inside the vehicle." The driver asked Guerrero if he had a choice of whether or not the police could search the vehicle. Guerrero responded, "I told him that he did have a choice, that I was not telling him I was going to search the vehicle, but I was asking him if I could search his vehicle." In response, according to Guerrero, the driver got out of the vehicle and said, "Okay, you can search the vehicle." The officers then ordered all the other occupants out of the vehicle but did not tell any of them that they were free to leave. Defendant exited from the driver's-side rear door.

The officers found an open bottle of beer in the backseat where defendant's feet had been. They also found a jacket in the front seat of the vehicle. The jacket was bundled up in the middle of the front seat between the driver and the passenger. The male passenger in the front seat was not wearing a jacket at the time the officers stopped the vehicle. When the officers lifted the jacket, they found two "blunts" on the seat. The officer described a "blunt" as a hollowed-out cigar in which marijuana is placed.

Officer Maxey explained that because (1) the blunts were within reach of all four individuals in the car, (2) none would claim ownership of the blunts, and (3) one of the occupants had said that all four individuals in the car had been smoking cannabis, the officers decided to arrest all four individuals. After defendant's arrest, the police searched her person and found ...


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