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People v. Hilt

July 31, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CARMEL R. HILT, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Doyle delivered the opinion of the court:

IN THE APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS SECOND DISTRICT

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County.

No. 95--CF--1070

Honorable Judith M. Brawka, Judge, Presiding.

Defendant, Carmel Hilt, was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 1994)) and possession of drug paraphernalia (720 ILCS 600/3.5 (West 1994)) after rock cocaine and drug paraphernalia were found in the car in which she was riding. The trial court granted her motion to quash her arrest and suppress the evidence obtained from the car. The State appeals, contending that police officers had probable cause to search the car or, alternatively, the driver consented to the search.

Evidence at the suppression hearing showed that Vernon Hilt, defendant's husband, had owned a 1988 Dodge Omni. On April 3, 1995, he bought a 1985 Ford Tempo at Joyce Pontiac. Joyce agreed to transfer the plates to the Tempo.

On May 27, 1995, defendant and her husband were in the area of Second and Loucks Streets in Aurora about 3 a.m. Vernon Hilt was driving the Tempo, and Milton, a friend of defendant, was with them. Milton asked the Hilts to drop him off at an apartment complex on Second Street, which they did. After leaving the complex, Vernon Hilt drove west on Second Street and stopped at a stop sign. As he was signaling for a left turn, he noticed a marked Aurora police car behind him.

The squad car was occupied by Officer John Pavlinec, who was patrolling the area with his partner, Virgil Null. Their patrol area included the Woodlands Apartments. About 3 a.m., Pavlinec had seen a car leave the Woodlands parking lot. The car attracted his attention because he did not recognize it and because he knew that drug trafficking often took place in the area at that hour. He thus "ran a 28," or a license plate check, on the car and was informed that the plates were registered to a different car and were expired. He decided to effect a traffic stop.

Pavlinec approached the passenger's side of the car while Null approached the driver's side. Pavlinec shined a flashlight toward the car to check for weapons and contraband. As he did so, he saw a knotted piece of a baggie on the car's rear floorboard.

Pavlinec testified that in his experience based on having made 50 to 100 drug arrests, drug dealers often packaged cocaine by tying a knot in a corner of a plastic bag, then tearing off the rest of the bag to make a very small package. Thus, his observation of the torn and knotted baggie increased his suspicion. He believed that the baggie was a container for crack cocaine.

At this time, Null was speaking with the car's driver. Pavlinec then asked both the driver and defendant to get out and go to the rear of the car. He asked both if they had purchased cocaine or knew where the baggie had come from. Both responded in the negative.

According to Pavlinec, he then asked for and received permission to search the car. Defendant and her husband denied that they were asked for permission to conduct a search. In any event, Pavlinec searched the car. In the glove box, he saw what he believed to be a crack pipe. When asked, defendant admitted that the crack pipe was hers. Pavlinec arrested her for possession of drug paraphernalia. He then resumed his search and found a small rock-like substance on the passenger's side of the car's front floorboard.

After defendant was arrested, Null explained to the driver why he had been stopped. Vernon Hilt explained that the plates had recently been changed over and produced the form documenting the transfer of the plates.

The trial court granted the motion to quash and suppress. The court found that the initial stop was proper. However, the court ruled that the torn baggie was not obviously contraband or evidence of a crime. Thus, Pavlinec had only a "hunch" that a crime had occurred or was about to occur. The court further ruled that, based on the totality of the circumstances, any consent to search was not free and voluntary. Finally, the court rejected the contention that the drugs would ...


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