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May 28, 1997


Appeal from the appellate Court of Illinois, Fourth District of Champaign County. Case Numbers AC4-95-0584, TR95CF100.

The Honorable Justice Heiple delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Miller, dissents, Justice Bilandic, specially concurring.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Heiple

The Honorable Justice HEIPLE delivered the opinion of the court:

At issue is the constitutionality of the United States Postal Service's detention and investigation of a suspicious package, and of the search warrants and arrests which ensued. The Framers of the United States Constitution believed a uniform, safe and secure mail delivery system so important to our democracy that the United States Constitution requires Congress to establish a post office. U.S. Const., art. I, ยง 8, cl. 7. Indeed, at the inception of our Republic mail delivery was deemed so essential that some of those who unlawfully interfered with it were sentenced to death. *fn1 But what of where the interfering party is the government itself, either in the person of the United States Postal Service or any of our myriad police agencies? Obviously, the United States mail cannot be completely immune from any and all investigation. Yet, the constitutional ramifications of exercising police power over the mail are significant, especially as regards the free speech guarantees of the first amendment and the search and seizure guarantees of the fourth amendment. We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal (155 Ill. 2d R. 315) to consider whether the government's actions in the instant case comported with the fourth amendment's search and seizure guarantees. For the reasons expressed below, we hold that the government's actions violated the fourth amendment and, accordingly, affirm the judgments of the lower courts suppressing the evidence and quashing defendants' arrests.


Defendants, Rachel H. Smith and Craig L. Shapiro, were charged with possession with intent to deliver 200 grams or more of the controlled substance psilocybin. 720 ILCS 570/401(a)(11) (West 1994). The following facts pertinent to this appeal were subsequently elucidated *fn2 .

On or before January 19, 1995, a 14 by 14 by 9 inch package wrapped in heavy brown paper, with heavily taped seams, was deposited with the United States Postal Service's (Postal Service) Express Mail in Eugene, Oregon. The return address was in Eugene, Oregon, and the addressee was defendant Rachel Smith of Champaign, Illinois. The scheduled delivery date was Friday, January 20, 1995. On Thursday, January 19, 1995, the package was en route to Champaign when Postal Service officials identified it as suspicious at O'Hare International Airport (O'Hare) in Chicago because it met three of the Postal Service's drug package profile criteria, viz., wrapped in heavy brown paper; heavily taped; and addressed from one individual to another. Pursuant to the Postal Service's internal policies, the package was removed from the mail stream at O'Hare and shipped to United States Postal Inspector Stephen Atterbury in St. Louis, Missouri, for investigation.

Atterbury received the package on Friday, January 20, 1995, whereupon he telephoned Postal Service officials in Oregon and learned that the return address on the package was fictitious. He then contacted the St. Louis County police department canine unit and arranged for one of its narcotics dogs to check the package. After the dog twice "alerted on" the package, Atterbury completed a search warrant affidavit and presented it to a federal magistrate in Missouri, who issued a search warrant at 2:38 p.m. on January 20, 1995. Atterbury thereafter searched the package and discovered that it contained the controlled substance psilocybin. He then contacted Champaign police officials and arranged to participate in a controlled delivery of the package the following Monday.

On Monday, January 23, 1995, Atterbury assisted the Champaign police in obtaining an anticipatory search warrant for the addressee's premises. After the search warrant was issued, Atterbury and the police attempted the first controlled delivery of the package. Because no one answered the door, delivery was postponed until the following day. On Tuesday, January 24, 1995, Atterbury successfully accomplished a controlled delivery. Defendant Shapiro signed for the package on behalf of defendant Smith and the police then executed the anticipatory search warrant. When the police subsequently interviewed defendant Shapiro, Shapiro noted that she had been expecting the package and, when it was not delivered on time, had called the post office to inquire about the delay. The post office told her that the package was lost.

After their arrests, both defendants moved to suppress the evidence and to quash their arrests on a variety of search and seizure theories. The circuit court of Champaign County suppressed the evidence and quashed defendants' arrests, finding, inter alia, that the government lacked probable cause to detain and to investigate the package at O'Hare, which rendered all the subsequent searches and warrants invalid. The appellate court observed that the circuit court incorrectly applied the probable cause standard instead of the reasonable articulable suspicion standard in determining the validity of the initial decision to detain and investigate the package, and further held that the latter standard had been met. The appellate court nevertheless affirmed the judgment of the circuit court on a different ground, ruling that the nature and extent of the detention and investigation which led to the advent of probable cause was unreasonable. 283 Ill. App. 3d at 354-55.


Whether the government has seized property in violation of the fourth amendment generally presents a mixed question of law and fact: first a court weighs the evidence and determines the facts surrounding the complained-of conduct, after which it decides whether, as a matter of law, these facts constitute an unconstitutional seizure. In the instant case, however, there are no factual disputes and our review is de novo. People v. Foskey, 136 Ill. 2d 66, 76, 143 Ill. Dec. 257, 554 N.E.2d 192 (1990). We additionally observe that our disposition of this case follows from our conclusions regarding the constitutionality of (1) the initial decision to detain and investigate the defendants' package at O'Hare International Airport; and (2) the reasonableness of that detention and investigation. Accordingly, we consider only these issues and do not reach the arguments raised by the parties concerning the anticipatory search warrant issued in Champaign, Illinois.

I. Decision to Detain and to Investigate the Package

The United States Constitutions protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." (Emphasis added.) U.S. Const., amend. IV. *fn3 When the people deposit their effects/possessions for delivery with the United States mail, the constitutional proscriptions concerning searches and seizures do not cease to apply simply because the item has been delivered into the hands of the government. See United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 705, 77 L. Ed. 2d 110, 119-20, 103 S. Ct. 2637, 2643 (1983) ("seizure may be made after the owner has relinquished control of the property to a third party"). Indeed, effects deposited with ...

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