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People v. Elliot

June 14, 2000

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
PATRICIA A. ELLIOT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



No. 98--CF--2481 Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County.

Christopher C. Starck, Judge, Presiding.

JUSTICE COLWELL delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a bench trial, defendant, Patricia A. Elliot, was convicted of possession of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 1998)). She was sentenced to 12 months' conditional discharge. She appeals, arguing that the trial court improperly denied her motion to suppress the State's evidence, which was obtained in violation of the fourth amendment (U.S. Const., amends. IV, XIV). We reverse.

At the hearing on defendant's motion, the State called Daniel Greathouse, a Waukegan police officer. He testified that, on September 4, 1998, about 6:45 p.m., he and approximately 10 other officers executed a warrant to search an apartment. He knocked on the door, announced his office, and got no answer. The police rammed the door and entered. During a sweep of the apartment, Greathouse pushed open the door to a bathroom and saw defendant sitting on the toilet. She was the only person in the apartment.

After Greathouse determined that the area was secure, he spoke to defendant in the apartment's living room. Another officer, Tom Granger, stood by while the rest of the officers executed the warrant. Greathouse advised defendant of her Miranda rights, which she waived. Greathouse asked, "[D]o you have any drugs on you?" Defendant replied, "[T]hey are not mine." Greathouse asked her where they were, and she pointed to her left breast. Greathouse asked for them, and defendant pulled a cigarette pack from her bra. She gave the pack to Granger, who found cocaine inside. Defendant denied knowing what the pack contained; she said that she merely found it in the bathroom and picked it up. Defendant was arrested.

On cross-examination, Greathouse testified that he did not believe that defendant lived at the apartment. When the officers secured the area, they restrained about eight people outside the apartment. They handcuffed some and asked others to lie on the ground. Although Greathouse did not recall that defendant was handcuffed before her arrest, she was not free to leave.

Greathouse acknowledged that defendant was not a target of the warrant. The following exchange then occurred:

"Q. What did you observe her doing that would make you believe she had been committing a crime other than being in the house? A. She was in a crack house. That's -- my experience, people in crack houses are connected to crack, drugs. Either they are users or sellers [or they] have knowledge of who's using or who's selling."

Granger substantially corroborated Greathouse's testimony, and the State rested. Defendant testified that she did not live at the apartment; her sister and brother-in-law resided there. She did not know that the police had entered the apartment until they opened the bathroom door. They allowed her to finish using the toilet but examined it before she flushed it. Nervous, she dropped her purse, which spilled objects onto the floor. She picked them up and put them back into her purse before she left the bathroom.

Defendant stated that the police took her purse, handcuffed her, and led her to the living room. They did not give her Miranda warnings. She was scared because she did not know what was happening. Through a window, she saw her sister and brother-in-law handcuffed on the ground outside. She wanted to leave but was not allowed to do so.

When Greathouse asked her if she had any drugs, she said that she had only cigarettes. An officer uncuffed her, allowed her to retrieve them from her bra, and cuffed her again. Ultimately, she was arrested.

On cross-examination, defendant testified that she told the police that she found the cigarette pack on the floor of the bathroom. She picked it up when she gathered the items that fell out of her purse.

The defense rested. Defendant argued that the police did not have sufficient grounds to seize her; her mere presence in the apartment did not justify the detention that led to the discovery of the cocaine. The trial court credited the officers' testimony that they gave her Miranda warnings and did not handcuff her before they questioned her. On that basis, the court denied defendant's motion to suppress and her motion for reconsideration. Defendant was tried, convicted, and sentenced. Her motion for a new trial was denied, and she timely appealed.

When a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress turns upon factual determinations and credibility assessments, we may reverse it only if it is manifestly erroneous. People v. Buss, 187 Ill. 2d 144, 204 (1999). However, when the court's findings of fact are not against the manifest weight of the evidence, we may review de novo a defendant's legal challenge under those facts. People v. Gonzalez, 184 Ill. 2d 402, 412 (1998). Here, the trial court credited the officers' testimony, thus making a credibility determination that was not against the manifest weight of the ...


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