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03/17/98 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. LEONARDO BALTAZAR

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, COUNTY, ILLINOIS PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
LEONARDO BALTAZAR, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



A.D., 1998 for the 14th Judicial Circuit

Appeal from the Circuit Court Henry No. 96--CF--47 Honorable Jay M. Hanson, judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Homer

The defendant appeals his conviction and 10-year prison sentence for unlawful possession of over 5,000 grams of cannabis (720 ILCS 550/4(g) (West 1996)) and unlawful possession with intent to deliver over 5,000 grams of cannabis (720 ILCS 550/5(g) (West 1996)). We determine that the police search of the defendant's U-Haul truck exceeded the scope of the defendant's consent. Therefore, we reverse.

FACTS

On the morning of February 28, 1996, the defendant was driving a U-Haul truck on Interstate 80 in Henry County when he was stopped for speeding by Illinois State Police Sergeant James Buysse. The defendant presented Buysse with his driver's license and the truck's rental agreement. Buysse testified that the rental agreement listed the defendant as the renter of the truck. Buysse informed the defendant that he would receive a warning ticket for speeding and asked him to accompany him back to the squad car. The passenger travelling with the defendant, Agipato Almonte, waited in the truck.

While they were sitting in the squad car, Buysse noticed that the defendant appeared to be nervous because he was wringing his hands and repeatedly glancing out the window. The defendant explained that the passenger in the truck was his uncle who was along to help with the driving. At the suppression hearing, Buysse testified that the defendant could not remember his passenger's name. At trial, Buysse testified that the defendant identified the passenger by a false name, although he could not remember the name that the defendant gave.

Buysse then approached Almonte who was still sitting in the cab of the U-Haul. After Almonte produced his identification card, Buysse observed that he spoke very little English. When asked if he was related to the defendant, Almonte shook his head and said "no." However, Buysse did not know whether Almonte understood his questions.

After speaking to Almonte, Buysse returned to his squad car and resumed questioning the defendant. The defendant explained that he was moving to Detroit to begin a new job and that the U-Haul contained his personal belongings. Buysse asked the defendant if he could "take a look" inside the back of the U-Haul. The defendant responded by saying, "sure." Buysse did not tell the defendant the reason for his request or what he was looking for.

After suggesting that the defendant remain in the squad car, Buysse approached the truck with two other troopers who had arrived on the scene. Upon opening the rear cargo door, Buysse saw various items, including couches, dressers, a headboard, mattresses, and bicycles. He also noticed a roll of packing tape and thought it unusual because he saw no boxes.

Buysse and one of the other officers entered the cargo hold of the truck and began moving items around. After moving one of the couches which was lying upside down on another couch, Buysse observed three cardboard boxes. At the suppression hearing, Buysse testified that the boxes were sealed with tape and he had to cut them open. At trial, he testified that the boxes were not taped closed, but the flaps were folded down. Inside the first box Buysse found an object wrapped in duct tape. Upon cutting the object open, he found a green leafy substance that would later field test as cannabis. Further investigation revealed that the boxes contained 188 pounds of cannabis.

On appeal, the defendant raises the following issues: (1) the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress the evidence; (2) the trial court's admission of Buysse's hearsay testimony as to the name written on the rental agreement; (3) the State's failure to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; and (4) the propriety of his sentence in light of our supreme court's recent decision striking down Public Act 89--428, which amended the code provisions under which he was sentenced. See Johnson v. Edgar, 176 Ill. 2d 499, 680 N.E.2d 1372 (1997).

ANALYSIS

Ordinarily a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence will not be disturbed on appeal unless it is manifestly erroneous. People v. James, 163 Ill. 2d 302, 310, 645 N.E.2d 195, 199 (1994). However, when a determination concerning an individual's constitutional rights depends on a legal Conclusion which is based upon undisputed facts, the decision should be reviewed as a matter of law. People v. Anaya, 279 Ill. App. 3d 940, 945, 665 N.E.2d 525, 528 (1996); United States v. Rich, 992 F. 2d 502, 505 (5th Cir. 1993). Because the facts are essentially uncontroverted and the credibility of witnesses is not at issue in the instant case, we will review the trial court's decision de novo. See People v. Foskey, 136 Ill. 2d 66, 76, 554 N.E.2d 192, 197 (1990).

The defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence seized during the search of his rented U-Haul truck. He does not raise issue with the voluntariness of his consensual response to Buysse's request to "take a look" inside the back of the U-Haul. Rather, the defendant argues that Buysse's actions exceeded the scope of his consent because he only agreed to permit Buysse to look inside the back of the truck to confirm that it contained the defendant's personal items. He contends that he ...


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