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People v. Evans

July 27, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County. No. 97--CF--1369 Honorable Ward S. Arnold, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Colwell

The State appeals the order of the circuit court of McHenry County suppressing as evidence cocaine seized from the briefcase of defendant, Joseph M. Evans. The State contends that the police officer's warrantless search of the briefcase was justified as (a) an inventory search of a detainee, (b) a search incident to arrest, and (c) a consent search. Because we believe the cocaine was seized pursuant to a valid inventory search, we reverse and remand.

On November 4, 1997, Algonquin police officers stopped the Cadillac defendant was driving and arrested him for driving on a suspended license. The officers found a stun gun and a pair of brass knuckles in defendant's car and, upon searching defendant's briefcase at the police station, recovered the cocaine. Defendant was subsequently charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(2)(A) (West 1996)); unlawful possession of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/402(a)(2)(A) (West 1996)); unlawful use of weapons by a felon (720 ILCS 5/24--1.1(a) (West 1996)); and unlawful use of weapons (720 ILCS 5/24--1(a)(4) (West 1996)).

Defendant moved to suppress the cocaine, stun gun, and brass knuckles, prompting the circuit court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the matter. The evidence from that hearing was largely undisputed and established the following facts.

Officers Jeffery Sutrick and George Harms of the Algonquin police department were in the same squad car on the evening of November 4, 1997. They were on North Harrison Street, facing south and stopped at a light at Algonquin Road (Route 62). In front of them was a Cadillac, which was also facing south. When the traffic light on North Harrison Street turned green, the driver of the Cadillac attempted to turn right into one of Route 62's westbound lanes. However, because of traffic congestion on Route 62, the driver of the Cadillac could not complete his right-hand turn. Consequently, when it came to a halt, the Cadillac was straddling the two westbound lanes of Route 62. Believing this was a traffic violation, Officer Sutrick ran a computer check of the Cadillac's license plate. The check revealed that the license plate was valid but that the registered owner had a suspended driver's license.

The officers ultimately pulled the Cadillac over onto the shoulder of Route 62. Harms approached the Cadillac and asked defendant for his driver's license. Defendant complied, and Harms ran the license number through the dispatcher. The check confirmed that defendant was the owner of the Cadillac and that his license was suspended. Harms therefore asked defendant to exit the car, placed him under arrest, and handcuffed him. After his pat-down search of defendant's person uncovered nothing, Harms placed defendant in the backseat of the squad car. Defendant was still handcuffed. Meanwhile, a squad car driven by Officer Steve Carmada arrived on the scene.

Sutrick asked defendant if he needed anything from the Cadillac. Defendant said that he had a check in his briefcase and asked if he could get it. Sutrick replied "no" and told defendant that he (Sutrick) would get the check out of the briefcase. Sutrick therefore entered the passenger door of the Cadillac and looked through the briefcase, which he described as an accordian-style briefcase with no closure on top. Sutrick was unable to find the check in the briefcase. He then returned to the squad car and informed defendant that he could not find the check. According to Sutrick, defendant responded, "[F]ine, leave it there, and I will just go ahead and sue you for it later." Sutrick replied that the officers would bring the briefcase to the station and that defendant could get the check at the station. Sutrick retrieved the briefcase and placed it in the front seat of the squad car.

Sutrick testified that, because the Cadillac would have to be towed, he returned to the vehicle to conduct an inventory search. He entered the vehicle on the passenger side, and Carmada entered on the driver's side. During the search, Carmada found a stun gun under the driver's seat and brass knuckles in the center console. Sutrick testified that the Cadillac was towed pursuant to standard departmental procedure, for the safety of the driving public, and for the protection of the Cadillac.

Sutrick and Harms then transported defendant to the Algonquin police station for processing. Sutrick spoke with the McHenry County State's Attorney's office and received permission to file a felony charge of unlawful use of weapons against defendant. Because of the felony charge, the officers knew that defendant would be transferred to the McHenry County jail. Sutrick therefore decided to conduct a second search of the briefcase "to make sure no illegal contraband was in the briefcase prior to [defendant's] transfer to County Jail." Defendant did not consent to this search. Sutrick nevertheless searched the briefcase in defendant's presence and without a search warrant. Inside the briefcase Sutrick found cocaine.

Following the evidentiary hearing, the circuit court specifically found as follows: the stop and arrest of defendant were proper, the officers had the authority to have the Cadillac towed, and the officers conducted a valid inventory search of the Cadillac. The circuit court therefore refused to suppress the stun gun and brass knuckles. At that time, however, the court took under advisement the issue of whether the search of the briefcase was legitimate.

On March 26, 1999, the circuit court issued its ruling on that issue. The court determined that (a) defendant did not consent to the search of his briefcase; (b) the search of the briefcase did not qualify as a valid inventory search because the briefcase was at the police station and in the control of the police officers when it was searched the second time; and (c) the search did not qualify as a search incident to arrest because the officers had complete control over the briefcase after the arrest and were not in fear of their safety when they arrested defendant or when they searched the briefcase at the police station. The court therefore barred the introduction of the cocaine into evidence.

The State moved the circuit court to reconsider its decision to suppress the cocaine. Attached to the State's motion to reconsider was the Algonquin police department's official policy on "motor vehicle inventories." After allowing the introduction of the inventory policy, the circuit court denied the State's motion to reconsider. The court issued a written order on April 23, 1999, reiterating its previous factual findings and legal conclusions. The State filed a notice of interlocutory appeal and a certificate of impairment on April 23, 1999. See 145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1).

On appeal, the State contends that the circuit court erred in granting defendant's motion to suppress the cocaine. According to the State, Sutrick searched the briefcase pursuant to one or more of the following exceptions to the warrant requirement: as a valid inventory search, as a valid search incident to arrest, and as a valid consent search.

On a motion to suppress, the defendant bears the burden of restablishing the unlawfulness of the search and seizure. People v. Dillon, 102 Ill. 2d 522, 526 (1984); People v. Mannozzi, 260 Ill. App. 3d 199, 202 (1994). Generally, a circuit court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence is subject to reversal only if manifestly erroneous. People v. Dilworth, 169 Ill. 2d 195, 201 (1996). However, where neither the facts nor the credibility of the witnesses is questioned, the issue becomes a question of law and is subject to a de novo review. Dilworth, 169 Ill. 2d at 201. Here, defendant ...

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