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People v. Patel

May 24, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 98--CM--877 Honorable Cary B. Pierce, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Colwell

The issue presented in this case is whether a passenger in an automobile detained pursuant to a routine traffic stop is entitled to Miranda warnings where the passenger is questioned regarding suspected unlawful activity unrelated to the basis for the stop. The State appeals from the trial court's order granting the motion to suppress statements of defendant, Samir R. Patel. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

Defendant was charged by traffic citation with the unlawful consumption of alcohol by a minor. 235 ILCS 5/6--20 (West 1996). Defendant filed a motion to suppress the statements he made to police, alleging that the statements were made without the benefit of the protections guaranteed by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966).

The only witness to testify at the suppression hearing was Officer David Rivkin of the Elmhurst police department. Officer Rivkin stated that at approximately 8 a.m. on February 14, 1998, he was in a marked squad car traveling southbound on County Line Road when he observed a red Celica with no license plates and a broken rear window. Officer Rivkin followed the vehicle into the driveway of a nearby factory. Subsequently, Officer Rivkin stopped the vehicle and requested backup. Upon running a check, Officer Rivkin learned that the driver of the vehicle was driving on a suspended license. When backup arrived, the driver was taken into custody.

Officer Rivkin then testified that he had to decide what to do with the automobile because it was parked on private property. He approached defendant, who was a passenger in the vehicle, and asked to see defendant's driver's license to determine if defendant was eligible to drive the vehicle off the property. Defendant's driver's license indicated that defendant was 20 years old. In speaking with defendant, Officer Rivkin observed that defendant's eyes were bloodshot and that his speech was slurred. Officer Rivkin then asked defendant how much he had to drink. Defendant responded, "a few beers." Defendant was placed under arrest.

On cross-examination, Officer Rivkin testified that he never cited the driver of the vehicle for failure to have license plates because he discovered a temporary registration amongst the fragments of broken glass in the backseat of the car. Officer Rivkin stated that both his squad car and the backup squad car were parked behind the Celica. Officer Rivkin admitted that he did not read defendant his Miranda rights prior to asking defendant how much he had to drink. Officer Rivkin also testified that at the time he asked defendant how much he had to drink he probably had possession of defendant's driver's license. Finally, Officer Rivkin acknowledged that defendant was not free to leave at the time he asked defendant how much he had to drink.

The trial court granted defendant's motion to suppress the statement that he had consumed "a few beers." The State then filed a motion to reconsider. At a hearing on the motion to reconsider, the State sought clarification as to whether the trial court granted the motion to suppress based on Officer Rivkin's failure to "Mirandize" defendant. In denying the State's motion to reconsider, the trial court commented:

"[B]ased on the totality of what I heard which would go to the weight and credibility of all the witnesses as well, I feel that under the circumstances asking the passenger of this particular vehicle based upon the situation that was presented to the Court in the form of testimony, it was inappropriate; it was a violation of his constitutional rights to be asked whether he consumed alcohol based upon what the officer testified to."

The State then filed a certificate of impairment and appealed pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 604(a)(1) (145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1)).

On appeal, the State argues that defendant was not entitled to Miranda warnings because he was questioned during a routine traffic stop. Defendant contends, however, that the trial court's ruling was not based on the absence of Miranda warnings. According to defendant, the trial court suppressed his statement as the fruit of an illegal search and seizure.

We acknowledge that the basis for the trial court's holding is vague. However, we note that defendant's motion to suppress his statement was limited to arguing that his statement was given without the safeguards guaranteed by Miranda. Therefore, we will limit our discussion to whether, under the facts of this case, defendant was entitled to Miranda warnings.

Generally, a reviewing court will reverse a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress statements only if that ruling is manifestly erroneous. People v. Nielson, 187 Ill. 2d 271, 286 (1999). However, de novo review is appropriate if neither the facts nor the credibility of the witnesses is at issue. Nielson, 187 Ill. 2d at 286. Here, the record indicates that the trial court accepted the testimony of Officer Rivkin, the only witness before it. As a result, we will conduct a de novo review.

In Miranda, the Supreme Court held that the State may not use statements made during the custodial interrogation of an individual unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444, 16 L. Ed. 2d at 706, 86 S. Ct. at 1612. The Miranda court held that suspects interrogated while in police custody must be told that they have a right to remain silent, that anything they say may be used against them in court, that they are entitled to the presence of an attorney at the time of interrogation, and that if they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444, 16 L. Ed. 2d at 706-07, 86 S. Ct. at 1612. The Court defined "custodial interrogation" as "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way." Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444, 16 L. Ed.2d at 706, 86 S. Ct. at 1612. However, Miranda warnings are not required where the police conduct a general on-the-scene investigation as to the facts surrounding a crime or other general questioning. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 477-78, 16 L. Ed. 2d at 725, 86 S. Ct. at 1629.

In determining whether a person is "in custody" for purposes of Miranda, a court first examines the circumstances surrounding the interrogation. Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112, 133 L. Ed. 2d 383, 394, 116 S. Ct. 457, 465 (1995). The court then asks if, given those circumstances, a reasonable person would have felt he was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave. Thompson, 516 U.S. at 112, 133 L. Ed. 2d at 394, 116 S. Ct. at 465. Generally, if it is undisclosed, a police officer's subjective view that the individual under questioning is a suspect does not bear on the question of whether the individual is in custody for purposes of Miranda. Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 324, 128 L. Ed. 2d 293, 299, 114 S. Ct. 1526, 1529 (1994). However, an officer's beliefs on the custody issue, if conveyed by word or deed to the individual being questioned, are relevant to ...

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