Appeal from the Circuit Court of De Kalb County. No. 00-CM-125 Honorable James Donnelly, Judge, Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Byrne
Defendant, Michael Stehman, was arrested for unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia (720 ILCS 600/3.5(a) (West 1998)). Defendant moved to suppress evidence and quash his arrest. This motion was granted. The State now appeals pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 604(a)(1) (188 Ill. 2d R. 604 (a)(1)). We affirm.
At the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress evidence and quash his arrest, defendant testified that he was working at a pizza restaurant in Sandwich on January 13, 2000. Defendant was returning to the restaurant at around 5 p.m. after making deliveries. As defendant pulled into the employee parking lot of the restaurant, he saw a police squad car sitting in a parking lot that was across the street from the restaurant. Defendant parked his car in the restaurant's parking lot, exited his car with the pizza delivery bags, and walked towards an entrance to the restaurant. Defendant left his car keys and the money he collected from the pizza deliveries in his car. Defendant testified that his car's windows were up.
When defendant was 7 to 10 feet away from his car, he heard someone call his name. Defendant turned around and saw Officer Thomas Richardson calling him. Defendant also observed that Officer Richardson's squad car was parked right behind defendant's car. Defendant gave the delivery bags he was carrying to his brother, Ron Stehman, who also worked for the pizza restaurant, and walked towards Officer Richardson. Officer Richardson asked defendant if his name was Mike Stehman, and defendant said yes. Officer Richardson then told defendant that he had a warrant for defendant's arrest. The warrant was issued because defendant missed a scheduled court date. Defendant agreed that he had failed to appear on a scheduled court date, but he did not remember why he was required to appear in court.
Officer Richardson performed a pat-down search on defendant and did not find anything during the search. Officer Richardson then placed defendant in handcuffs and put defendant in the backseat of the squad car. All the doors and windows to the squad car were closed. Defendant then saw Officer Richardson walk towards defendant's car. Defendant never gave Officer Richardson permission to search defendant's car. When Officer Richardson was three to four feet away from the squad car, defendant yelled from the backseat of the squad car that he did not want Officer Richardson searching defendant's car.
Defendant told Ron, who was standing in the parking lot, to tell Officer Richardson that the officer could not search defendant's car. Defendant saw Ron approach Officer Richardson, and Officer Richardson motioned for Ron to go inside the restaurant. Defendant then saw Officer Richardson proceed to search defendant's car. During the search of defendant's car, Officer Richardson found a pipe that is used to smoke marijuana. Ron Stehman's testimony was consistent with defendant's. Ron testified that when defendant was in the squad car, he approached the squad car to hear what defendant was yelling. Ron heard defendant tell him that Officer Richardson did not have permission to search defendant's car. Ron approached Officer Richardson and told the officer that the officer did not have permission to search the car. Officer Richardson said, "I don't give a f--- what he has to say." The officer then told Ron to get away from the squad car, and Ron went to go stand on the sidewalk.
Officer Richardson's testimony was, for the most part, consistent with defendant's and Ron's. Officer Richardson testified that at 8 p.m. on January 13, 2000, he was aware that there was an outstanding warrant for defendant's arrest. The warrant was issued because defendant failed to appear in court. Officer Richardson's dispatcher told Officer Richardson that defendant worked at the pizza restaurant. The dispatcher told Officer Richardson what type of car defendant drove and gave the officer the car's license plate number. Officer Richardson went to the pizza restaurant and waited for defendant in a parking lot that was across the street from the restaurant.
Officer Richardson testified that he pulled in behind defendant when defendant was still in his car. Both defendant and Officer Richardson exited their cars at the same time. Officer Richardson testified that the only reason he approached defendant was to arrest defendant on the outstanding warrant. The warrant was issued because defendant violated the conditions of his bail bond, but the officer could not remember on what type of charge defendant posted bail. Officer Richardson verified that defendant was Michael Stehman and then placed defendant under arrest. Officer Richardson agreed that he did not have a warrant to search defendant's car and that he never asked defendant for permission to search defendant's car. Officer Richardson stated that he searched defendant's car incident to defendant's arrest and pursuant to the police department's tow policies. Officer Richardson later decided not to tow defendant's car and allowed Ron to take defendant's car. The details of the tow policy were not made part of the record on appeal. Officer Richardson stated that he suspected there was something in defendant's car because Ron was making noise and telling the officer not to search the car. Officer Richardson testified that he was concerned for his safety because Ron was being "mouthy." However, Ron never threatened Officer Richardson.
The trial court granted defendant's motion to suppress evidence and quash defendant's arrest. In granting the motion, the court made the following statements:
"[F]irst of all, [Officer] Richardson, you come here to court and you tell a story while you're searching that vehicle. I don't find anything of that to be true. You're searching the vehicle because you think you have the right to the incidental to arrest [sic].
When you come here and start making up stories *** well, you thought your safety and all, that is absolutely nonsense. There's nothing about this that gives any indication of any safety issues.
This is a case where you didn't stop this vehicle. This vehicle was already stopped. This defendant was walking across a parking lot when you first put him under arrest. That was his testimony. That was his brother's testimony and you don't know. *** There's nothing about a failure to appear in court that has anything to do with the car. *** I think you suspected something might be [in the car] ***, but the search incidental to arrest is not a wide open situation where every time an officer makes an arrest that gives him the right to then invade other property that belongs to somebody just to see what the officer can find and that's what happened here. You looked in that vehicle having nothing to do with towing and you come here and you want to testify in this court that this had something to do with towing and then you say, well, I don't even know what the towing policy is. *** I don't find that this is incidental to an arrest at all."
This timely appeal followed.
The State argues that the search was proper pursuant to New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 69 L. Ed. 2d 768, 101 S. Ct. 2860 (1981). The State claims that a police officer may search a defendant's car incident to the defendant's arrest when the defendant was a recent occupant of the car. Defendant argues that the search was improper because he was not an occupant of his car when Officer Richardson first made contact with defendant. Defendant claims that there must be some nexus between the arrest and the car in order for the search to be deemed proper.
We must first address the standard of review that applies in this cause. In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence, the appellate court must first review the trial court's findings of fact under a manifestly erroneous standard. People v. Nadermann, 309 Ill. App. 3d 1016, 1020 (2000). Under this standard, a trial court's findings will be reversed only if the ...