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People v. Radcliff

June 18, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Marion County. No. 96-CF-135 Honorable Patrick J. Hitpas, Judge, presiding.

Honorable Gordon E. Maag, J. Honorable Thomas M. Welch, J., and Honorable Charles W. Chapman, J.,

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Maag

Defendant, Diana G. Radcliff, was charged with possession of more than 15 grams of cocaine with intent to deliver, possession of less than 15 grams of heroin, and possession of less than 200 grams of amphetamines. Defendant was found guilty at a jury trial of all three charges. Defendant appeals.

The relevant facts are as follows. On May 28, 1996, defendant was involved in a one-vehicle automobile accident in which her vehicle was wrecked and she was seriously injured. Subsequent to the accident, two packets containing amphetamines were discovered in her vehicle. Cocaine and heroin were found on defendant's person after her clothes were cut off of her at the hospital. Prior to the trial, defendant moved to suppress evidence of the drugs that were recovered.

On December 18, 1996, a hearing was held on the motion to suppress. Defendant testified that on May 28, 1996, she was injured in an automobile accident and taken to Salem Hospital. There is no dispute that defendant was not asked for permission to search her vehicle, nor did she give such permission. At the time of the accident, defendant was wearing an off-white, linen "fanny pack" that was fastened around her waist. The fanny pack had a zippered compartment, as well as two snap pockets. Defendant was never asked for permission to search the fanny pack.

Robert Shehorn, lead paramedic for Campbell Superior Ambulance Service, was working on May 28, 1996, and was called to the scene of defendant's accident. Shehorn testified that he did not work for the police or take orders from them. Upon his arrival at the scene of the accident, Shehorn observed a severely damaged white Camaro sitting at an angle on a driveway. Shehorn stated that the vehicle had apparently left the road, hit a concrete tile at the end of the driveway, and jumped the culvert. The front passenger's door of the vehicle was open, with defendant lying partly in and partly out of the vehicle. Shehorn immediately went to the patient and noticed that she was conscious but that she was confused, disoriented, and in pain. Defendant had several facial injuries that involved excessive bleeding. She had broken her dentures and had several lacerations around her mouth. Defendant also injured her left ankle and right wrist. The paramedics controlled defendant's bleeding, immobilized her, put her on oxygen and an intravenous tube, and also put her on a life-pack monitor due to a possible chest injury. Defendant's condition was considered stable but serious.

Douglas Krutsinger, accident reconstructionist for the Illinois State Police, arrived as defendant was being put into the ambulance. Krutsinger assisted Shehorn in attempting to find identification for defendant. They found a vehicle registration and money, but no driver's license or other personal identification. Shehorn found a baggie in defendant's car with some residue on it, but thought nothing of it and tossed it aside.

Defendant was transported to Salem Hospital's emergency room. Nurses Juanita Green and Cindy Spencer assisted the paramedics and took defendant to the major trauma room, where Shehorn and the nurses cut her clothing off of her. Shehorn saw a small brown vial pinned under one of defendant's bra straps and a bag of white substance pinned under the other bra strap. Shehorn then noticed that defendant had a fanny pack around her waist, where it had previously been concealed by her blouse. Darren Davis, another emergency medical technician, unzipped the fanny pack in an effort to find some identification for defendant. Shehorn stated that it was not standard practice to assume that the driver of the vehicle is the owner of the vehicle when they find a vehicle registration as they did in this case. Shehorn testified that they generally continue to search until they find a driver's license or other form of personal identification. Inside the fanny pack, Davis found a driver's license. Davis also discovered a ziplock bag containing white powder and other containers with white substances in them. Shehorn stated that he believed that the bags in the fanny pack contained cocaine. Shehorn and Green took the fanny pack and its contents and the items found underneath defendant's bra straps and locked them in the narcotics cabinet at the hospital. Green later turned them over to Krutsinger. Defendant was then transported to a St. Louis hospital by helicopter that night.

Davis's, Green's, and Krutsinger's testimonies were in accord with Shehorn's testimony. Krutsinger believed that defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs because her eyes "looked like they were dilated" and he thought that they looked "strange." Krutsinger agreed that he looked in defendant's vehicle for identification but found nothing but a vehicle registration. Since it was dark, he used a flashlight. Krutsinger found money and asked Shehorn to gather up the bills. Krutsinger then ran a registration check on the vehicle and got the name and address of its owner. Defendant was then taken to the hospital.

Since defendant's vehicle was damaged and could not be moved without a tow, Krutsinger did an inventory search of the vehicle before it was towed, as required by written policy of the Illinois State Police. Krutsinger stated that there was a lot of clothing and trash strewn about the interior of the vehicle. At approximately 10 p.m., Krutsinger received a message from the Salem Police Department's dispatcher that drugs had been discovered on defendant's person at the hospital. Krutsinger told the dispatcher to contact the nurses at the hospital and see that the drugs were secured. Krutsinger then continued the inventory of the vehicle and, in the crack between the top and bottom of the driver's seat, found a plastic bag containing a light brown substance. He then seized the bag and waited until the vehicle was towed away by a towing company. Krutsinger then went to the hospital and met Green. She gave Krutsinger the fanny pack and the items found on defendant's clothing.

The next day, Krutsinger went to the lot where defendant's vehicle had been towed. Krutsinger wanted to complete the inventory search in the daylight because the original search was cursory due to lighting and other conditions. It was Krutsinger's policy to photograph vehicles involved in accidents causing severe injuries. Krutsinger could see, in plain view from outside of the vehicle, a small bag on the floor of the vehicle under the front edge of the driver's seat. The small bag contained brown material, which Krutsinger believed could be a controlled substance. It was then seized and inventoried.

Subsequent to the hearing on the motion to suppress, the trial court ruled that the actions of the medical personnel in searching defendant and her fanny pack for identification and medication were reasonable. The court stated that this was especially true considering the fact that defendant sustained serious and debilitating injuries which caused her to be unable to communicate with the people that were responsible for treating her. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, specifically ruling that the search was not for contraband but to save defendant's life.

Defendant then filed a motion to reconsider, claiming that before the trial court ruled on the motion to suppress, it spent only two to three minutes to look at 12 precedents submitted by defense counsel. The trial court agreed that it had spent only "a few minutes looking through the headnotes of those decisions." The trial court explained, however, that it did read the headnotes of the cases and that they were not on point factually since they involved situations different from those existing when defendant was in the emergency room. The court denied the motion to reconsider.

On July 7, 1997, a jury trial was held in this case. The testimony at trial was substantially similar to the testimony on the motion to suppress. At trial, Shehorn did not identify the items of contraband that he saw on defendant's person and in defendant's vehicle. Shehorn stated that while he was looking for defendant's identification in her vehicle, he saw People's Exhibit 1, a baggie containing a brown substance. He did not know what it was and threw it aside. Shehorn reiterated that he assisted in removing defendant's clothing at the hospital and that they discovered People's Exhibit 2, a small brown vial containing liquid, which was attached to defendant's left bra strap, and People's Exhibit 3, a small bag containing white powder, which was attached to defendant's right bra strap. A beige fanny pack was also discovered, which was strapped around defendant's waist underneath her blouse. Shehorn stated that Davis removed the fanny pack, unzipped it, and discovered People's Exhibit 4, a bag containing white ...

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