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People v. Ray

February 11, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
BRETT W. RAY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Effingham County. No. 98-CF-222 Honorable John P. Coady, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hopkins

As amended February 22, 2002. Released for publication March 15, 2002.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
BRETT W. RAY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Effingham County. No. 98-CF-222 Honorable John P. Coady, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hopkins

PUBLISHED

 Brett W. Ray (defendant) appeals from his conviction, pursuant to a stipulated bench trial, for possession of more than 5,000 grams of cannabis (720 ILCS 550/4(g) (West 1998)). Defendant was arrested at a drug interdiction checkpoint operated by the Effingham County sheriff's department. Defendant moved to suppress evidence recovered during a search of his van at the checkpoint. The trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress. Defendant contends on appeal that the checkpoint violated his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. IV) and the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. 1, §6), under the holding of the recent United States Supreme Court case of City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 148 L. Ed. 2d 333, 121 S. Ct. 447 (2000), and that because the stop of his vehicle was unconstitutional, the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence was manifestly erroneous. We reverse.

FACTS

On December 14, 1998, defendant was traveling north on Interstate 57 (I-57) in his Ford van. Defendant's license plates reflected that he was from Florida. About a half mile south of northbound exit 151, the Watson-Mason exit, signs were placed by the Effingham County sheriff's department that stated as follows: "Drug Enforcement Checkpoint Ahead Half Mile." A second set of signs, placed approximately 100 yards after the first set of signs and before exit 151, stated as follows: "Drug Dogs in Use Ahead." There was no such checkpoint "Ahead Half Mile" on I-57, which defendant discovered when he exited at exit 151. The true drug interdiction checkpoint could not be seen from the interstate and was at the end of the exit ramp.

Defendant was stopped by Deputy Robert Rich and responded to initial questions at the checkpoint, but because Deputy Rich's suspicions were aroused by defendant's answers to his questions and by defendant's alleged nervous behavior, Deputy Rich asked defendant further questions regarding whether defendant had heroin, cocaine, or cannabis in his van. Defendant denied he possessed any of the drugs. Deputy Rich testified that when he asked defendant a second time if he possessed marijuana, defendant said that he had some in the van. Defendant refused to consent to a search of his van.

Subsequently, Corporal Paul Kuhns, a dog handler for the Effingham County sheriff's department, did a "walk around" of defendant's vehicle with a dog named Fritz. After Fritz reacted to the driver's side doorjamb of the vehicle, a search of defendant's van was conducted. More than 120 pounds of cannabis were found inside a black duffel bag behind the driver's seat of the van, and defendant was placed under arrest.

Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence based upon the illegal stop of his van. At the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, the following pertinent evidence was adduced. Ronald Meek, the sheriff of Effingham County, testified that his department runs a drug interdiction checkpoint. The drug enforcement checkpoint was adopted after Corporal Kuhns told him about an article he had read concerning drug checkpoints that were being conducted throughout the country. Sheriff Meek considered the drug checkpoint to be a "very effective way to interdict and stop the flow of drugs in and through Effingham County." Sheriff Meek approved the written policy for conducting the drug checkpoint. Sheriff Meek stated that the purposes of the checkpoint were "to detect people that are driving without [a] driver's license, without insurance, [or with] other vehicle equipment violations, [to] remove people who could be impaired and under the influence of drugs, and to interdict the flow of narcotics through Effingham County." However, Sheriff Meek was not aware of an equipment-violation checklist employed at the checkpoint. Sheriff Meek testified that anyone coming off the interstate while a checkpoint was in operation would be a suspect for the following reasons: "[N]o valid driver's license. No valid insurance. Carrying drugs[;] you know, wanted on warrants. It could be a variety of things."

Sheriff Meek explained that the policy for the drug checkpoint required that all drivers be interviewed at the checkpoint, "except drivers recognized as having previously been passed through the check[]point earlier or after[-]or drivers personally recognized by the officer to be local residents who have previously been checked for license[] [and] insurance validity on prior occasions, or law enforcement vehicles in the course of business." Sheriff Meek agreed that the drug checkpoint policy did not define "local residents" and that whether a person was considered local was left to the officer's discretion. Sheriff Meek did not think that the drug checkpoint policy allowed an officer to stop a person again after they had been stopped once and had properly answered all of the initial mandatory questions. The questions posited at a person's initial detention at the checkpoint consisted of asking for a driver's license, for proof of insurance, whether the person owned the vehicle, whether the person saw the checkpoint signs on the highway, why the person got off the interstate at that exit, where the person was going, and where the person was coming from.

Sheriff Meek stated that he chose that site for the drug checkpoint because there were no services at that exit. Sheriff Meek also chose the site because traffic off the exit was light and the layout of the exit afforded officer safety and traffic safety.

Corporal Kuhns testified that he drafted the policy for the drug enforcement checkpoint and that the policy was adopted on October 15, 1998. Corporal Kuhns stated that the policy was modeled after a policy used in Phelps County, Missouri. Corporal Kuhns and Deputy Rich trained at the Phelps County, Missouri, drug checkpoint. Corporal Kuhns stated that the main purpose of the checkpoint was to interdict the illegal flow of drugs through Effingham County and was also to remove unsafe, unlicensed, and uninsured motorists from the roadway.

Corporal Kuhns corroborated that the exit used for the drug checkpoint was chosen because it is "a rural exit that provides no services to people who get off the exit." Corporal Kuhns also cited safety reasons as a factor in choosing the exit. Corporal Kuhns testified that the mere fact a driver gets off of the interstate at that exit "is not enough to suspect someone" but that "it does lend suspicion to him." Corporal Kuhns also explained the purpose of the signs on the interstate: so that violators "would self-select themselves." Corporal Kuhns corroborated that any person who had previously been through the checkpoint and had complied with license and insurance requirements was allowed to pass through thereafter without being subject to another stop for license and insurance checks.

Corporal Kuhns described what the officers did after stopping a vehicle: "[You] would first visually look from where you're standing[,] in[to] the vehicle[,] to see if there are large amounts of air fresheners, masking odors, a lot of clothing in the car. When you would speak to the subject, [you would] ask him for his driver's license [and] proof of insurance[;] you would notice if the driver seemed overly nervous or excited about being in this police encounter; you would ask him the questions, if he would tell you things that you would believe to be untrue, that would raise suspicion. You would ask him where he came from. If he was coming from a source city that we know drugs often come from, that would perhaps add to the suspicion. If he was going to a destination that perhaps narcotics were traveling to[,] you would ask the reason they got off the exit." Corporal Kuhns thought that, if "everything went well," a person would only be detained initially for about two minutes. An officer's suspicions must be aroused for further detention. According to Corporal Kuhns, a checkpoint is not a net to sweep up all criminal activity.

Deputy Rich from the Effingham County sheriff's department testified that the purpose of the checkpoint was "to get unqualified driver's [sic][-]no insurance, driving under the influence, drugs." Deputy Rich stated that according to the policy for the checkpoint, everyone that comes off the interstate was a suspect; however, Deputy Rich acknowledged that the suspicion was not related to any specific crime or other misconduct. Deputy Rich believed that the policy manual for the drug checkpoint removed discretion from an officer. Deputy Rich stated that discretion to ask further questions is allowed when suspicion arises. The trial court ruled that the stop of defendant's vehicle at the drug checkpoint did not ...


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