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People v. Thomas

December 05, 2001


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Wayne County. No. 99-CF-173 Honorable Joe Harrison, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hopkins


Honorable Richard P. Goldenhersh, J., and Honorable Thomas M. Welch, J., Concur.

The State appeals from the trial court's grant of a motion to suppress evidence filed by Paula L. Thomas (defendant). The parties disagree about the issue facing this court, due to their disagreement about the standard of review. Therefore, the issues, as we discern them, are whether the standard of review is de novo, as the State suggests, since the substantive issue is one exclusively of law, or whether, as defendant suggests, we must affirm the trial court unless its decision was manifestly erroneous. The substantive question presented by this appeal is whether the trial court properly granted defendant's motion to suppress. We reverse and remand.


The parties basically agree on the facts that were presented to the judge in the hearing on the motion to suppress. On December 15, 1999, Jeff Taylor, a police officer for the Fairfield police department, stopped the car defendant was driving. Taylor testified that he stopped the car because the registration sticker was outdated. Defendant exited her car to speak with Taylor. Taylor asked defendant to show him her driver's license and proof of automobile insurance. Defendant did not have a driver's license in her possession, and her insurance card was expired. Defendant gave Taylor her name and date of birth, and when Taylor ran a computer check of this information, he discovered that no driver's license had been issued to anyone under that name.

Taylor again asked defendant her name, and she told him a different name, explaining that her name was changed due to marriage. When Taylor ran a computer check on the second name, he found that the driver's license issued under that name was expired. Taylor issued defendant four traffic citations: (1) driving with an expired license, (2) operating an uninsured vehicle, (3) no valid vehicle registration, and (4) no front license plate. Taylor arrested defendant and told her that bond would be $100.

Defendant's car was parked in a two-hour parking zone. Defendant asked Taylor not to have her car towed because she did not want to pay a towing fee. Defendant told Taylor that she would post bond as soon as she made a telephone call. Taylor retrieved defendant's purse from the inside of her car, locked her car, and placed defendant's purse on the front seat of his squad car. Taylor transported defendant, in the back seat of the squad car, to the Wayne County jail in Fairfield, Illinois.

Taylor testified that he considered unreliable defendant's statement that she would be able to make bond. Taylor explained that those arrested often make such statements when they are not able to post bond. Nevertheless, whether defendant could post bond made no difference in the jail's decision to search her, because the policy at the Wayne County jail is to search everyone booked for a crime, including their purses, regardless of whether bond can be posted. The booking procedure also involves a jail officer filling out informational forms, photographing and fingerprinting the arrested person, issuing a jail uniform, and assigning the arrested person to a jail cell.

During the booking procedure, the officer instructs the arrestee to empty his or her pockets, inspects the contents of items such as purses and briefcases for contraband and weapons, and inventories all of these possessions. The booking area is a locked room separated from the rest of the jail. Arrestees who make bond quickly enough are not placed in a cell but are released from the booking area. However, jail policy dictates that everyone who is booked must be searched, for safety reasons. A sign posted in the booking area informs the arrestees that all prisoners are to be searched. The Wayne County jail policy follows the Illinois county jail standards (20 Ill. Adm. Code §701.40 (2000)).

When Taylor brought defendant into the jail, Taylor carried defendant's purse and gave it to the booking officer, Cynthia Zola. Zola testified that she asked defendant a few questions before beginning the booking procedure, as she always does. Zola testified that after she asked defendant a few questions, she noticed something sticking out of defendant's purse. According to Zola, about five minutes passed between defendant's arrival and the time she noticed the object in defendant's purse. Zola described the object as a clear, plastic bag containing coffee filters with a white residue. The filters were tan in color and appeared to have been used for something. Zola testified that she knew from prior experience with drug cases that coffee filters are often used to store methamphetamine. Zola handed the purse to two other officers who were nearby in the booking room. Those officers removed the filters from defendant's purse.

Another jail officer, James Howell, testified that not long after Zola began the booking procedure with defendant, he left the booking room to speak with a woman in the reception area of the jail. The woman was Pamela Scott Tullis, who was at the jail to bail out defendant. Tullis is a friend of defendant. Tullis testified that she saw a policeman stop defendant's car, that she watched the arrest from a gas station across the street from where defendant and the police officer were parked, and that she then followed the police car to the jail. Tullis testified that she had $100 and some loose change in her possession when she arrived at the jail. Tullis testified that she talked to Officer Howell for 5 to 10 minutes after she arrived at the jail. Howell testified that he could not remember whether the other officers found the coffee filters in defendant's purse before or after he talked to Tullis.

After Howell talked to Tullis, he returned to the booking room to ask defendant how much money she had in her possession, because Tullis did not want to post the entire $100 bond.

After the coffee filters were discovered and the field test indicated the presence of methamphetamine, defendant's bond status was changed from $100 to no bond and her car was impounded and searched. In defendant's car, the police found amphetamines and a syringe. On December 16, 1999, a criminal information was filed against defendant for unlawful possession of contraband in a penal institution (720 ILCS 5/31A-1.1(a) (West 1998)), chemical breakdown of an illicit substance (720 ILCS 570/401.5 (West 1998)), unlawful possession ...

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