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09/25/97 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. CHRISTOPHER S.

September 25, 1997

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CHRISTOPHER S. BRADLEY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 96CF529. Honorable Donald R. Parkinson, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication October 24, 1997.

Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, P.j., Honorable John T. McCullough, J. - Concur, Honorable Robert W. Cook, 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 May 1996, the State charged defendant, Christopher S. Bradley, with obstructing justice by providing false information to a police officer (720 ILCS 5/31-4 (West 1994)). In August 1996, defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence that was the basis for the charge against him. In September 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

At the September 1996 hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, the only witness to testify was Urbana police officer Liam Dempsey. He testified about events of March 23, 1996, and April 7, 1996, which led to defendant's arrest. On March 23, 1996, at about 12:40 a.m., Dempsey and Urbana police sergeant Pat Connolly were on routine patrol when Dempsey saw a station wagon with no license plates and a license-applied-for (LAF) sticker with an unreadable expiration date. Dempsey stated that the type of LAF sticker located on the station wagon contains small lettering which "sometimes cannot be read until a person gets right up to it."

Dempsey stopped the vehicle, approached the car from the rear, and determined that the LAF sticker located on the rear windshield was valid. Dempsey then approached defendant, who remained seated in the car, and asked for his driver's license. Defendant said he had a valid driver's license but did not have it with him. At that point, Dempsey asked defendant for his name so that Dempsey could run a computer check to determine if defendant had a valid driver's license. Defendant told Dempsey that his name was Brian Cutter. The computer check indicated that there was "no record on file" for Brian Cutter, which means that a person by that name has never had a driver's license in Illinois. Dempsey confronted defendant with this information, and defendant then stated that he did not have a valid driver's license. Defendant also stated that he was driving only because his passenger was intoxicated and could not drive safely. At that point, Dempsey issued defendant a citation for driving without a valid driver's license.

Dempsey also testified that he asked defendant for his driver's license after confirming that the LAF sticker was valid because (1) departmental policy-required him to do so; and (2) he wanted to make sure that defendant had a legal right to drive a vehicle.

On April 7, 1996, while Dempsey was stopped at an intersection, he saw defendant driving the same car he had been driving on March 23, 1996. Dempsey mentioned to other police officers present that a person without a valid driver's license had just driven past them. At that point, defendant pulled over and walked over to Dempsey. Another officer then arrested defendant for driving without a valid driver's license. After officers took defendant into custody, he told Dempsey that his real name was Christopher Bradley.

After hearing counsels' arguments and considering the evidence, the trial court granted defendant's motion. The court found that once Dempsey determined that the LAF sticker was valid, the "purpose for the stop of the vehicle had been taken care of," and Dempsey could do nothing more than explain to defendant the reason he had been stopped.

II. ANALYSIS

The State argues on appeal that the trial court erred by granting defendant's motion to suppress on the ground that the police officer unjustifiably seized defendant when he asked for his driver's license. We note that the court's ruling is generally entitled to great deference, and this court will not disturb it on review unless we conclude it is against the manifest weight of the evidence. People v. Garriott, 253 Ill. App. 3d 1048, 1050, 625 N.E.2d 780, 782, 192 Ill. Dec. 625 (1993). However, where the facts are uncontroverted, as here--and we add that we accept the trial court's factual findings--we may review the trial court's determination de novo as to what conclusions of law apply to the facts as found. In re D.G., 144 Ill. 2d 404, 408-09, 581 N.E.2d 648, 649, 163 Ill. Dec. 494 (1991).

Initially, we note that defendant concedes that Dempsey's initial stop on March 23, 1996, was valid. See People v. Adams, 225 Ill. App. 3d 815, 818, 587 N.E.2d 592, 595, 167 Ill. Dec. 323 (1992) ("The absence of a license plate provides the basis for the [investigatory] stop"); People v. Tylkowski, 171 Ill. App. 3d 93, 99, 524 N.E.2d 1112, 1116, 121 Ill. Dec. 64 (1988) (where the court held that the only way ...


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