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People v. Safunwa

October 20, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Geiger


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County.

No. 96--CF--2013

Honorable George J. Bakalis, Judge, Presiding.

Following a bench trial, the defendant, Albert Safunwa, was convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 1996)) and sentenced to 24 months' probation. On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence. We affirm.

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress the drug evidence that formed the basis of his conviction. At the suppression hearing, Officer Matthew Block of the United States Marshal Service testified that, on September 30, 1996, he and his partner were in search of a fugitive named Kenny Ladipo. Ladipo was wanted on a federal warrant for the distribution of heroin. In an attempt to locate Ladipo, Block and his partner were conducting surveillance at the home of Ladipo's wife in Melrose Park. Although Block had never seen Ladipo before, he did have a photograph of the fugitive.

During surveillance, Block observed a white B.M.W. parked in the home's driveway with an individual sitting inside. A short time later, another vehicle arrived at the house. At this time, the drivers of both vehicles exited the cars and walked to the rear of the house. After 15 to 20 minutes, the driver of the B.M.W. returned to his car and pulled out of the driveway.

Block and his partner decided to follow the B.M.W. because its driver matched the approximate height, weight, and age descriptions of Ladipo. In actuality, however, the vehicle was not being driven by Ladipo, but by the defendant, Albert Safunwa. They followed the vehicle for approximately half an hour. At one point, they were able to pull up next to the B.M.W. at a red light and get a closer look at the driver. Based upon this observation, Block believed that the driver matched the photograph of Ladipo. Specifically, Block noted that both individuals had the same type of mustache and the same hairstyle. As Block continued to follow the B.M.W., he ran a check on the vehicle's license plates and discovered that it was registered to the defendant.

Block testified that he and his partner proceeded to conduct a traffic stop of the vehicle in Lombard. At the time they stopped the vehicle, Block acknowledged that he did not have a search warrant for the vehicle or an arrest warrant for the defendant. Block also acknowledged that he had not observed the vehicle commit any traffic violations prior to the stop. After stopping the vehicle, Block asked the defendant for his driver's license and the defendant handed him a traffic citation bearing his name.

At that point, Block conducted a computer search to verify the defendant's identity and to see if the license was valid. This computer search took approximately 30 seconds. The search revealed that the defendant's license had been suspended. Block acknowledged that, at the time he ran the computer check, he did not suspect that the defendant was driving on an invalid license or that the defendant had committed any other crime. Block also was unable to indicate in what manner the license check would have given him any further information in determining whether the defendant was in fact Ladipo.

Block subsequently arrested the defendant for driving with a suspended license. Following his arrest, the defendant was taken to a local police station and searched. During the search, the police apparently discovered the drug evidence at issue.

On September 10, 1997, the trial court denied the defendant's motion to suppress. The trial court found that the officers had a reasonable basis for stopping the car, based on the similarity between the defendant's and Ladipo's appearance. Although the trial court noted that a close inspection of the photograph demonstrated that Ladipo and the defendant were different individuals, it nonetheless ruled that the police were justified in running a search on the defendant's license, commenting:

"[A]fter a valid contact between police and a citizen[,] a request for a drivers license and check on the license is allowable so long as it is of a momentary intrusion and of limited duration. Here the evidence shows that the detention and intrusion [were] quite minimal--some sixty to ninety seconds. The public interest in allowing the license check outweighs the minimal intrusion on the defendant[;] for this reason his motion is denied."

In so ruling, the trial court noted that section 6--112 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (the Code) (625 ILCS 5/6--112 (West 1996)) requires all drivers to be in immediate possession of their licenses and to display the license upon request from authorized personnel. The trial court noted that this statute would have no ...

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