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People v. Boomer

September 28, 2001


Appeal from the Circuit Court of De Kalb County. No. 99--DT--365, 99--DT--414, 99--TR--15028 Honorable James Donnelly, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN


Defendant, Ronald A. Boomer, was charged by complaint in the circuit court of De Kalb County with driving under the influence of alcohol or the combined influence of alcohol and another substance or substances (DUI) (625 ILCS 5/11--501(a)(2), (a)(5) (West Supp. 1999)) and improper lane usage (625 ILCS 5/11--709 (West 1998)). Defendant moved to quash his arrest and to suppress evidence on the basis that probable cause for the arrest was absent. The trial court granted the motion and the State brought this appeal. We affirm.

The following evidence was introduced during the hearing on defendant's motion to quash. Brad Carls, a deputy with the De Kalb County sheriff's police department, testified that on September 16, 1999, at about 11:20 p.m., he was dispatched to an accident scene on Glidden Road just north of Route 64. Once there, he found defendant lying on his back in a ditch about 15 feet from a motorcycle. Defendant had suffered a severe injury to his mouth and was trying to communicate by blinking. When he attempted to speak, his words were muffled. Deputy Carls detected a strong odor of alcohol emanating from defendant.

Defendant was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Deputy Carls initially remained at the scene of the accident and briefly interviewed a witness who indicated that while driving southbound on Glidden Road she observed "sparking" in front of her vehicle. She was unsure what the sparking was. Deputy Carls proceeded to the hospital, arriving at about 11:45 p.m. At that time defendant was being treated in the emergency room. Deputy Carls asked defendant if he had been drinking, and defendant nodded affirmatively. Deputy Carls proceeded to warn defendant in accordance with section 11--501.1(c) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Code) (625 ILCS 5/11--501.1(c) (West Supp. 1999)). While Deputy Carls was doing so, defendant became unresponsive, at which point Deputy Carls requested that the attending medical personnel draw defendant's blood for testing. Deputy Carls issued tickets for improper lane usage and for DUI in violation of section 11--501(a)(2) of the Code (625 ILCS 5/11--501(a)(2) (West Supp. 1999)). Deputy Carls also issued an "I Bond" which he left, along with the tickets, among defendant's possessions.

Deputy Carls returned to the hospital the next day and asked defendant questions about the accident after advising him of his Miranda rights. On October 7, 1999, after receiving the results of the blood test, Deputy Carls issued another ticket for DUI charging a violation of section 11--501(a)(5) of the Code, which prohibits driving "under the combined influence of alcohol, other drug or drugs, or intoxicating compound or compounds." 625 ILCS 5/11--501(a)(5) (West Supp. 1999).

Following the presentation of this evidence, the trial court ruled from the bench as follows:

"My finding is that this officer, at the time he arrested this Defendant for the first charge of DUI, did not have probable cause.

All he had is a severely injured person who had been in an accident on a motorcycle. There's nothing unique about that.

He does have, however, a strong odor of alcohol. A strong odor of alcohol at that time is not sufficient, under these facts, for me to believe that he had probable cause to believe this defendant was under the influence of alcohol."

The trial court reserved ruling on whether probable cause existed for the second arrest, based on the results of the testing of the blood drawn from defendant while he was unconscious. The trial court also expressly reserved ruling on whether there was probable cause to arrest defendant for improper lane usage. In a subsequent written order, the court granted defendant's motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence. This appeal followed.

In challenging the trial court's ruling, the State relies on the fact that defendant had apparently skidded off the road, had the strong odor of alcohol on his breath, and nodded affirmatively when the arresting officer asked him if he had been drinking. The State contends that these circumstances provided probable cause for defendant's arrest.

Probable cause exists if the arresting officer knows facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the arrestee has committed an offense. People v. Rush, 319 Ill. App. 3d 34, 40 (2001). While proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not required, mere suspicion is insufficient. Rush, 319 Ill. App. 3d at 40. The odor of alcohol is frequently cited as a factor contributing to probable cause to arrest for DUI when considered in combination with other indicia of intoxication. However, a trial court is not required to find probable cause based solely on the odor of alcohol. For example, in People v. Tucker, 245 Ill. App. 3d 161 (1993)--which arose from a proceeding for the rescission of the summary suspension of the defendant's driving privileges--this court affirmed the trial court's ruling that the smell of alcohol on the defendant's breath and his inadequate performance on an unspecified field sobriety test did not constitute reasonable grounds for the belief that the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol. In this setting, the term "reasonable grounds" is synonymous with probable cause. Rush, 319 Ill. App. 3d at 38. People v. Ripplinger, 316 Ill. App. 3d 1261 (2000), cited by the State, is not to the contrary; the existence of probable cause was not at issue in that appeal.

Our supreme court has recently observed that, under the traditional standard of review when a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence involves factual determinations and credibility assessments, the ultimate ruling will not be disturbed on appeal unless it is manifestly erroneous. People v. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d 425, 430-31 (2001). Recently, however, Illinois courts have reviewed suppression rulings in accordance with the principles set forth in Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 134 L. Ed. 2d 911, 116 S. Ct. 1657 (1996). See Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d at 431. As stated in Sorenson, under Ornelas, findings of historical fact should be reviewed only for clear error and the reviewing court must give due weight to the inferences drawn from those facts by the trial court. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d at 431, citing ...

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