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People v. Thomas

September 20, 2001

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE
v.
BRUCE THOMAS, APPELLANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

UNPUBLISHED

Docket No. 90216-Agenda 12-May 2001.

Defendant, Bruce Thomas, was charged in the circuit court of Jefferson County with one count of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver. 720 ILCS 570/401(c)(2) (West 1998). Defendant moved to suppress evidence of purported cocaine that police seized from him during a "pat-down" search. The circuit court granted the motion. The State appealed to the appellate court, which reversed the suppression order. 315 Ill. App. 3d 849. We allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)), and now affirm the appellate court.

BACKGROUND

The following evidence was adduced at the suppression hearing. At approximately 11:30 p.m. on June 20, 1998, defendant was riding his bicycle on Tenth Street near Bell or Herbert Avenue in Mt. Vernon. He rode past Mt. Vernon police officer Farrin Melton, who was completing the issuance of a traffic ticket. Officer Melton noticed that defendant was holding a police scanner that permits a listener to monitor police radio transmissions.

Officer Melton had previously arrested defendant for drug offenses. Officer Melton had recently learned of defendant's release from prison. Also, Melton had heard of a confidential informant's tip that defendant was using his bicycle to deliver illegal drugs, most often in the evening.

Based on this knowledge and defendant's possession of a police scanner, Officer Melton drove after defendant to speak with him "about his activities." Upon finding defendant, Officer Melton radioed Officer Steven Burtnett and announced his intention to stop defendant and conduct a "field interview." Defendant heard the communication on the police scanner. Officer Melton overtook and passed defendant; he did not activate his emergency lights or instruct defendant to stop. Officer Melton positioned his squad car across defendant's path. Defendant abruptly turned into an alleyway and departed the area at an accelerated pace. Since Officer Melton was still behind the wheel of his car, he had no opportunity to verbally compel a stop.

At that point, Officer Burtnett was following Officer Melton and saw defendant's evasion. He was first to pursue defendant down the alley. Officer Burtnett overtook defendant, pulled his squad car alongside, lowered a window and directed defendant to stop. Defendant asked Officer Burtnett what he wanted. Before Officer Burtnett could answer, defendant changed direction and accelerated.

Officer Burtnett activated his emergency lights and, joined by Officer Melton, gave chase. Defendant eventually abandoned his bicycle and fled into a field. Officer Melton exited his squad car and pursued defendant on foot. The officer announced his office and ordered defendant to stop. Defendant became tangled in high grass, enabling Officer Melton to capture and arrest him for obstructing a police officer. Officer Melton conducted a "pat-down" search to determine if defendant was carrying a weapon. He recovered from defendant's pants pocket what appeared to be three rocks of crack cocaine. Officer Melton conceded that it was not illegal for defendant to possess a police scanner and admitted that he had no information that defendant was carrying illegal drugs on the night in question.

Defendant was initially charged with obstructing a police officer and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. He was eventually indicted on one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. See 720 ILCS 570/401(c)(2) (West 1998). Defendant moved to suppress the purported cocaine that Officer Melton recovered from defendant's pants pocket and bar its use as evidence. Defendant argued that he was not violating any laws when he was detained.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court granted defendant's motion to suppress. The appellate court reversed the circuit's court suppression order. The court held that defendant's flight corrected Officer Melton's ungrounded suspicion, upon which he based his initial, unwarranted attempt to stop defendant. 315 Ill. App. 3d at 858. Defendant appeals.

DISCUSSION

Generally, a trial court's decision on a motion to suppress evidence is subject to reversal only if it is clearly or manifestly erroneous. People v. Foskey, 136 Ill. 2d 66, 76 (1990). This test is based on the understanding that suppression motions usually raise mixed questions of law and fact: a court first weighs the evidence and determines the facts surrounding the complained-of conduct, after which it decides whether, as a matter of law, these facts constitute an unconstitutional seizure. People v. Shapiro, 177 Ill. 2d 519, 524 (1997). However, where, as here, neither the facts nor the credibility of the witnesses is contested, the determination of whether there is reasonable suspicion warranting an investigatory stop is a legal question which a reviewing court may consider de novo. See Foskey, 136 Ill. 2d at 76.

The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const., amend. IV. This provision applies to all seizures of the person, including seizures that involve only a brief detention short of traditional arrest. United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878, 45 L. Ed. 2d 607, 614, 95 S. Ct. 2574, 2578 (1975); People v. Smithers, 83 Ill. 2d 430, 433-34 (1980). Reasonableness under the fourth amendment ...


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