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November 19, 1997


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 96--TR--56515. Honorable Thomas E. Lang, Judge, Presiding.

Released for Publication December 18, 1997.

The Honorable Justice Inglis delivered the opinion of the court. McLAREN and Hutchinson, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Inglis

The Honorable Justice INGLIS delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a bench trial, defendant, Robert E. Adams, appeals his conviction of driving while license revoked (625 ILCS 5/6--303 (a) (West 1996)). Defendant argues that the court erred in failing to suppress the evidence seized as the result of a roadblock in violation of his constitutional rights. We agree and reverse.

Defendant was stopped at a roadblock on May 14, 1996, in Waukegan, Illinois. The purpose of the roadblock was to determine whether he was a city resident and whether he had a current city sticker for his vehicle as required by the city's ordinances. As a result, defendant was charged with driving while license revoked. After finding defendant guilty of driving while license revoked, the court sentenced him to 18 months' conditional discharge and ordered him to pay a $200 fine and to perform 240 hours of community service. The record contains no complaint against defendant for failing to have a current city sticker.

Before the trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence which was initially denied as untimely. On the day of the trial, the court stated it would consider the motion to suppress simultaneously as part of the trial. The State and defendant stipulated that defendant was stopped without a warrant to search or arrest defendant.

At trial, Officer Louis Rodriguez testified that, on May 14, 1996, at about 9 a.m., he was a Waukegan patrol officer on "city sticker detail" in the area of Melrose and Butrick, a four-way stop intersection. There were four officers in uniform. They stood on each corner next to the stop sign and observed the traffic. As a car pulled up to the intersection, an officer would look to see if the vehicle had a valid Waukegan city sticker on the windshield. There were marked squad cars in the area. Sergeant Moore told the officers to go there for the detail. His instructions were to stop cars that entered the intersection if they did not have valid Waukegan city stickers. There were no other instructions.

Rodriguez testified that he noticed that a red jeep driven by defendant which stopped at the stop sign did not have a Waukegan city sticker on the windshield. Rodriguez pulled the car over. The officers were only allowed to issue city sticker citations to Waukegan residents. Rodriguez had to ask defendant for his driver's license to verify that he was a resident of Waukegan. As part of the city sticker check, only those cars that did not have a sticker were pulled over. Rodriguez informed defendant of the reason for the stop. Defendant said he did not have his license with him. Rodriguez asked for proof of insurance. After obtaining defendant's name and date of birth, Rodriguez called in a driver's license check and learned that the license was revoked. At trial, an abstract of defendant's driving record was admitted into evidence which showed defendant's license was revoked on the date in question.

On cross-examination, Rodriguez stated that Sergeant Moore was with the officers at the intersection. Rodriguez did not speak with the police chief or the watch commander that day. It was Moore who "conceived" of the city sticker check that Tuesday. Rodriguez said he saw defendant's windshield as he was driving north on Butrick. The officer who spotted a car without the sticker was the one who conducted the interrogation. The sole purpose of the stop was to check the vehicle stickers. When asked if there was any publicity given in advance of this check, Rodriguez explained that he thought the stickers expired in April, that the residents were given at least a month of leeway to obtain their stickers, and that the newspaper reported the sticker requirement would be enforced. Rodriguez acknowledged that he did not know about the enforcement procedure until that morning. He stated he gave defendant a ticket for not having the vehicle sticker, but he could not find a copy of it in the file; the file did not show that defendant was issued a ticket. Rodriguez did not have anything that reflected the procedures to be followed in making the stop. He stated that Moore was his supervisor.

Defendant testified that he was a Waukegan resident. He kept all of his old Waukegan vehicle stickers on the jeep. He stated he was not given a ticket on May 14 for not having a city vehicle sticker. On cross-examination, defendant stated he had a 1995 sticker on his vehicle on May 14, 1996. When asked if he recalled purchasing his 1996 sticker on May 31, he replied that he bought all of his stickers when due. He had four trucks and bought all of his stickers at the same time but could not recall the exact date.

Before finding defendant guilty of driving while license revoked, the court denied his motion to suppress, taking into consideration People v. Bartley, 109 Ill. 2d 273, 93 Ill. Dec. 347, 486 N.E.2d 880 (1985). In Bartley, the supreme court held that a temporary roadblock planned in advance and set up to check drivers' licenses and detect motorists driving under the influence (DUI) met certain criteria so that the roadblock did not violate the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. The supreme court concluded that the State had a compelling interest in reducing alcohol-related accidents and this interest outweighed the intrusion on motorists.

Although the trial court here found the seriousness of driving without paying a city sticker "minuscule" compared to driving under the influence of alcohol, it nevertheless concluded that the stop was constitutionally permissible. We must determine whether the roadblock in this case passes constitutional muster. The State does not dispute that it had the burden of proof to show that the roadblock and stop were justified.

A trial court's decision regarding whether to suppress evidence will not be overturned on review unless that decision is manifestly erroneous. People v. Galvin, 127 Ill. 2d 153, 162, 129 Ill. Dec. 72, 535 N.E.2d 837 (1989). In Illinois, a warrantless search or seizure is presumed unreasonable per se unless it comes within a specific, well-delineated exception to the warrant requirement, and the ultimate test of the constitutionality of a search or seizure is its reasonableness. People v. McGee, 268 Ill. App. 3d 32, 40, 205 Ill. Dec. 883, 644 N.E.2d 439 (1994). The reasonableness of a search or seizure depends upon balancing the public's interest ...

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