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People v. Lockhart

January 25, 2000

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
V.
JOHNNY C. LOCKHART, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois No. 98--CF--1771 Honorable Martin Rudman Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Homer

The defendant, Johnny C. Lockhart, was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 1998)). He filed a motion to suppress the evidence recovered from the warrantless search of his person. The trial court granted his motion, and the State appeals. We affirm.

FACTS

At the suppression hearing, the defendant testified that he went to the house at 305 Western in Joliet to speak to a man named "John" who lived at the house. The defendant did not know John's last name, although he had known John for approximately six months. The defendant's conversation with John lasted less than five minutes.

When the defendant left the home, he saw a police officer looking over the fence at the home's back door. The defendant testified that he continued about his business and walked down the street. When the defendant arrived at the intersection of Western and Pine, the police officer was there and his police car was blocking the defendant's path across the street. Two other police cars were nearby. Two of the three police cars had their red lights activated.

According to the defendant, the police officer he had seen watching the back door of the home at 305 Western approached him. The officer asked if the defendant had come from 305 Western. The defendant answered that he had. The officer then asked what the defendant was doing there, and the defendant replied that he had been visiting John. Finally, the officer asked if he could search the defendant, and the defendant said that he could not. By this time, a second police officer was standing directly behind and within arm's reach of the defendant. The first officer indicated to the defendant that he intended to search the defendant regardless of the defendant's refusal to consent. The officer put on fingerless gloves and removed the disputed evidence from the defendant's pocket.

The officer who searched the defendant, Officer Stefanski, also testified at the suppression hearing. Officer Stefanski stated that other officers had made previous drug arrests at the house at 305 Western in Joliet. It was located in a mostly residential neighborhood which contains two to three high-drug-traffic areas. Officer Stefanski testified that several area residents had complained to him about "drug traffic" at 305 Western. On the night of the defendant's arrest, the resident of the home across the street from 305 Western complained to Officer Stefanski that there was a lot of automobile traffic on the street. The resident tied this traffic to the high number of people going into and out of the back door of 305 Western. All of these people left the home within a short time after entering it.

As a result of the neighbor's complaint, Officer Stefanski and a colleague began watching the back door of 305 Western. Officer Stefanski testified that they watched for approximately 15 minutes. During this time, he saw two people enter and leave two minutes later. The second officer saw three to four people enter and leave two minutes later. One of these persons was the defendant.

Officer Stefanski decided to stop the defendant for questioning. Officer Stefanski confirmed that there were three police vehicles present, and three officers as well. He acknowledged that one officer stood behind the defendant. Officer Stefanski testified that he asked the defendant his name and where he had come from. The defendant told the officer his name but would not say from where he had come. Officer Stefanski then asked the defendant if he possessed anything illegal. The defendant answered that he did not and that the officer was free to check. When Officer Stefanski searched the defendant, he found a substance he suspected was cocaine in the defendant's pants pocket.

After hearing the testimony of the witnesses, the trial judge found that the defendant had consented to the officer's search. However, the judge found that Officer Stefanski lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify the stop of the defendant. Since the defendant's consent to search was the product of the illegal search, the court held that the evidence seized by Officer Stefanski should be suppressed.

ANALYSIS

The sole issue on appeal is whether the stop of the defendant was supported by specific and articulable facts which gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that the defendant was involved in criminal activity.

An investigatory stop of a private citizen is allowed only when the police officer has specific, articulable facts which, when taken together with rational inferences, create a reasonable suspicion that the private citizen is involved in criminal activity. 725 ILCS 5/107--14 (West 1994); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968). In the instant case, the facts essential to a determination of whether Officer Stefanski had specific, articulable suspicion are not in dispute. When a trial court's decision on a motion to suppress involves no ...


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