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People v. Staley

October 9, 2002


Appeal from Circuit Court of Livingston County No. 00CF326 Honorable Harold J. Frobish, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

In December 2000, the State charged defendant, Jeffrey J. Staley, with possession of a controlled substance (less than 15 grams of a substance containing cocaine) (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 2000)). In February 2001, defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, and following a March 2001 hearing, the trial court denied it. In April 2001, the court conducted a bench trial and found defendant guilty of the charged offense. In June 2001, the court sentenced him to three years in prison.

Defendant appeals, arguing only that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence. We affirm.


The evidence at the March 2001 hearing on defendant's motion to suppress showed the following. Around 2 a.m. on December 13, 2000, Pontiac police officer James Woolford saw a car, with its engine running, parked outside a local all-night grocery store. Woolford's suspicion was aroused because the car was parked in the fire lane at the north end of the store, even though the only entrance to the store was at the south end and the temperature was -9 F. After Woolford drove past the car, Officer John Cox radioed Woolford and told Woolford that he had just seen a man (later identified as defendant) quickly enter and leave a house near the grocery store and then get in the parked car. Woolford knew that many controlled drug buys had taken place at the house, and he had seen people going into the house at odd hours and then leaving after a short period of time. He also knew that a former resident of the house was in prison for a drug-related offense and that a current resident had been seen in the company of persons who had been the subject of drug investigations. Due to the suspicious manner in which the car was parked and the fact that the residence was a known location for drug buys, Woolford positioned his squad car so that he could stop the car.

When the car left the parking lot, Woolford followed it until he observed that the car's rear registration light was out, a traffic violation. He then ran a computer check on the car's license plate number and found that the car's registration had been suspended. Woolford pulled the car over, walked up to it, and asked the driver, Amy Roberts, for her driver's license and insurance information. When she was unable to produce either, Woolford told her to stay in the car while he ran a computer check. Woolford noticed that defendant, who was in the front passenger seat, was behaving oddly in that he sat in the car facing straight ahead and did not make eye contact with the officers. Woolford described that behavior as "unusual."

About one or two minutes after Woolford stopped the car, Sergeant Hugh Roop, the shift supervisor, arrived, and a few minutes thereafter, Woolford and Roop discussed their "strategy and what [they] wanted to do." Woolford told Roop that Woolford believed that reasonable suspicion existed to justify a canine sniff. Because the use of canines was relatively new, Roop had some questions as to how Woolford used the dog and "how it worked." Woolford acknowledged that during his discussion with Roop, Woolford said that the officers "should let the odor get in there pretty good." He explained that if a person with narcotics on his person has been in an area for a short period of time, the dog might not be able to detect the narcotics. Upon questioning by the trial court, Woolford stated that the traffic stop was not delayed in order to allow the smell of any narcotics to permeate the car. He explained that "we had decided that at this point in time I was going to write the tickets first before we did anything else. That way everything would be taken care of once we got to that point." Woolford further testified that his narcotics-sniffing dog, Lump, was an "aggressive alert dog," meaning that when Lump detects the presence of narcotics, he scratches and occasionally bites the area of detection.

Woolford then sat in his squad car, wrote out two citations for Roberts (for operating a vehicle with suspended registration and without insurance), returned to her car, and asked her to get in the squad car so that he could issue the citations. Immediately upon issuing the citations to Roberts, Woolford asked Roberts if the officers could search her car, and she twice consented. Woolford then told Cox to have defendant get out of the car, and Woolford walked Lump around the car. Lump alerted to the driver's side interior door handle and the passenger-side interior door panel. As Woolford walked Lump back to the squad car, Woolford told Cox to "detain [defendant] also."Upon further questioning by the trial court, Woolford testified that about 18 minutes elapsed from the time he stopped Roberts' car until he issued her the two traffic citations and she consented to a search. He stated that that was not an unusually long amount of time because Roberts did not have a driver's license and he had to write two citations. Woolford also stated that during the stop, defendant did not ask if he could leave, and the officers did not order him to remain in the car. He acknowledged, however, that defendant would not have been allowed to leave had he asked.

Cox testified similarly to Woolford. In addition, he stated that after Woolford stopped Roberts' car, Cox spoke with defendant, asked to see his driver's license, and ran a computer check, which showed no outstanding warrants. Cox then stood "off to the right" while Woolford wrote the citations. Just before Woolford began the canine search, Cox told defendant to get out of the car. Cox then conducted a pat-down search of defendant, which revealed cigarettes, Rolaids, and other miscellaneous items. When Woolford instructed Cox to detain defendant, Cox handcuffed defendant and then conducted a more thorough search of defendant's person. Cox found a small plastic bag containing a "round, chalk-like, white substance" (later determined to be cocaine) in the right coin pocket of defendant's jeans. Defendant at no time asked Cox if he could leave and walk home.

Defendant testified that when Cox first approached him while he was sitting in the car, he made eye contact with Cox "from time to time." After Cox told him to get out of the car, he asked if he could walk home and Cox told him he could not.

The State also introduced into evidence a videotape of the traffic stop.

Following the hearing, the trial court took the matter under advisement. Later in March 2001, the court entered a written order denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence and stating, in pertinent part, as follows:

"1. Notwithstanding that the stop of the vehicle in question was a pretext in order to pursue [defendant], the court finds that the stop was valid because the officer observed the rear license plate was not illuminated and because the license plate registration belonging to [Roberts], was learned by the officer to be suspended.

2. The court further finds that the consent given by [Roberts] to search her vehicle was a consent validly given, which precipitated the defendant's subsequent exit from the vehicle.

Specifically, the court finds that the stop occurred at 2:01:25 a.m. and that consent was given by [Roberts] to search the vehicle in an emphatic manner at approximately 2:20:08 a.m. The court finds that under this evidence, the intervening time of somewhat more than 18 minutes was not unduly long in order to accomplish the stop, make the investigation of the status of [Roberts'] license plates registration, and the actual issuing of the two citations (the issuance of said citations being ...

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