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People v. Gherna

September 21, 2001

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
v.
LYNETTE GHERNA, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from Circuit Court of Vermilion County No. 99CF380 Honorable Claudia S. Anderson, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

Released for publication October 30, 2001.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
v.
LYNETTE GHERNA, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE

Appeal from Circuit Court of Vermilion County No. 99CF380 Honorable Claudia S. Anderson, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

PUBLISHED

 In August 1999, the State charged defendant, Lynette Gherna, with possession of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West Supp. 1999)). In June 2000, defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence and a motion to quash arrest and suppress statements. In September 2000, after holding a hearing on the motions, the trial court granted defendant's motions. The State brings this interlocutory appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 604(a) (145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)). We reverse and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

On the night of August 26, 1999, Danville police officers Troy Wasson and Doug Smalley were on bicycle patrol in an area with high levels of drug activity when they noticed two people sitting in a pickup in a parking lot known for drug sales. Both officers were wearing bicycle patrol uniforms with a badge, and the bicycles were marked "police." As Officer Wasson approached the pickup, he noticed a bottle of beer between the driver and the passenger. At the preliminary hearing, Officer Wasson did not mention the officers were patrolling a high drug-sale area but merely testified the officers approached the vehicle after noticing the beer and the age of the passenger. The officers positioned themselves one on each side of the pickup. Officer Wasson recognized defendant, who was sitting in the driver's seat, and later learned the person in the passenger's seat was defendant's 13-year-old daughter. Officer Wasson asked defendant if he could see the bottle of beer, and defendant handed him the bottle. After discovering the bottle was unopened, Officer Wasson returned the bottle of beer to defendant.

Officer Wasson then asked defendant, who had become very nervous, what she was doing in the area. As they spoke, Officer Wasson noticed an object underneath defendant's leg. Upon being questioned about the object, defendant stated she did not know what it was and handed it to Officer Wasson. The object was a LINK card with the name Lowell Briggs. Officer Wasson asked her how she got the card, and she replied she was unaware of how the card got into her pickup. Officer Wasson then asked defendant if it were a possibility someone had dropped other items in the truck, such as illegal drugs or narcotics or weapons. Defendant responded it was a possibility and informed the officers they were free to look.

Officer Wasson asked her to step out of the pickup, and defendant did so willingly. Defendant's daughter remained in the pickup. Officer Wasson asked defendant if she had anything on her person belonging to Lowell Briggs, and she stated, "No." He then asked defendant if she had any illegal drugs on her or in her possession, and she replied she did not. Officer Wasson paused for a few seconds and then defendant began emptying her pockets. As she removed her hand from her front left shorts pocket, something fell to the ground. Upon inspection, Officer Wasson believed the item was a clear plastic bag containing crack cocaine. The substance field-tested positive for crack cocaine weighing approximately 4.1 grams.

The officers arrested defendant and, after a September 2000 hearing, the trial court granted defendant's motion to suppress. The trial court found:

"[T]he officers approached specifically as a result of their observation of the youth of the passenger and the suspicion that underage drinking was taking place. This does not appear to be in the nature of a community[-] caretaking function; clearly the officers intended to investigate and determine whether underage drinking was occurring. Therefore, the [c]court finds this circumstance to be more akin to a 'Terry stop [(Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968))],' in which the police have a reasonably articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Following this reasoning, the [c]court relies upon the decision of the Supreme Court [of Illinois] in People v. Brownlee, 186 Ill. 2d 501, ***, 713 N.E.2d 556 (1999), in finding that the [officers'] actions and the inquiry that followed amounted to an unlawful detention. Once the officers ...


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