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People v. Stehman

December 19, 2002


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rarick

Docket No. 92287-Agenda 14-September 2002.

Defendant, Michael Stehman, was arrested for unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia (720 ILCS 600/3.5(a) (West 1998)). His motion to suppress evidence and quash arrest was granted by the circuit court of De Kalb County and the State appealed. 188 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1). The appellate court affirmed, with one justice concurring in part and dissenting in part. 324 Ill. App. 3d 54. We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a).

At the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress evidence and quash arrest, defendant testified that, on January 13, 2000, he was working at Genoa Pizza in Sandwich, Illinois. Defendant was returning to the restaurant at around 5 p.m. after making pizza deliveries when, as he pulled his vehicle into the employee parking lot, he saw a police squad car sitting in a parking lot across the street. Defendant stated that he parked his vehicle, exited carrying the pizza delivery bags and began to walk towards the restaurant. Defendant testified that he left his car keys and the money bag for his deliveries in the vehicle, which was parked 7 to 10 feet from the restaurant's entrance with the windows rolled up and the driver's door closed. As defendant reached the restaurant's entrance, he heard someone call his name and, when he turned around, saw that it was a uniformed officer. Defendant also noticed that the officer's squad car was parked right behind defendant's vehicle. Defendant approached the officer after handing the delivery bags to his brother, Ron Stehman, who also worked for the restaurant and was standing just outside the door. The officer asked defendant if his name was Michael Stehman, and when defendant said yes, the officer told defendant that he had a warrant to arrest defendant for his failure to appear in court. At the hearing, defendant admitted that he had failed to appear on a scheduled court date, but stated that he did not remember why he was required to appear.

Defendant further testified that, after arresting him, the officer performed a pat-down search of defendant, placed him in handcuffs, and put him in the back seat of the squad car. Defendant stated that the officer got into the front seat, talked on the radio and was "writing down stuff' for several minutes. The officer then got out of the squad car and walked toward defendant's vehicle. Defendant testified that he never gave the officer permission to search his vehicle and, when the officer was three to four feet from the squad car, defendant yelled from the back seat that he did not want the officer searching his vehicle. Defendant stated that, because all the doors and windows in the squad car were closed, he believed the officer could not hear him. Defendant then told his brother, Ron, who was now standing in the parking lot, to tell the officer that he could not search defendant's vehicle. Defendant saw Ron approach and speak to the officer, and saw the officer respond. The officer motioned for Ron to go inside the restaurant. Defendant then saw the officer proceed to search defendant's vehicle. After searching a few minutes, the officer found a pipe and held it up, showing it to defendant, then put it back down and closed the car door. Defendant testified that he was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, the pipe, when he arrived at the police station.

Ron Stehman testified in general accord with defendant. Ron stated that when defendant was in the squad car, he approached to hear what defendant was yelling. Defendant told Ron that the officer did not have permission to search defendant's vehicle. Ron then relayed this message to the officer, who replied: "I don't give a fuck what he has to say." At this point, the officer told Ron to get away from the squad car, and Ron went and stood on the sidewalk.

Officer Thomas Richardson, a Sandwich police officer, testified that, at around 8 p.m. on January 13, 2000, he was on duty when he received information over his mobile data terminal of an outstanding warrant for defendant's arrest. The dispatcher informed Officer Richardson of where defendant worked, the type of vehicle defendant drove and its license plate number. Officer Richardson then drove to Genoa Pizza, parked across the street and waited for defendant. Officer Richardson stated that after seeing a vehicle matching the dispatcher's description enter the restaurant's parking lot, he pulled his squad car in behind defendant while defendant was still in his vehicle. Both defendant and Officer Richardson exited their automobiles at the same time. Officer Richardson stated that he verified defendant's identity and then placed him under arrest.

Officer Richardson further testified that the only reason he approached defendant was to arrest him on the outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court. There were no other warrants and Officer Richardson had no knowledge that defendant had committed any other offense. Officer Richardson admitted that he did not have a warrant to search defendant's vehicle and that he never asked defendant for permission to search his vehicle. Officer Richardson testified that he searched defendant's vehicle incident to defendant's arrest and also as an inventory search pursuant to the police department's tow policy. At the time Officer Richardson entered defendant's vehicle, he intended to have it towed, but later defendant convinced him to release the vehicle to his brother. No documents were produced evidencing the department's tow policy, and Officer Richardson stated that because the vehicle was not towed, his report reflected only that the vehicle was searched incident to arrest.

Officer Richardson testified that he did not see a weapon or any item of contraband in plain view from outside defendant's vehicle, and he did not discover the item of drug paraphernalia until he had entered and searched the vehicle. Officer Richardson further stated that he suspected there was something in defendant's vehicle because defendant's brother was objecting to the search so adamantly. Officer Richardson testified that he did not believe defendant could escape, as defendant was secured in the back of the squad car, but Richardson had some concern for his safety because defendant's brother was being "mouthy." Officer Richardson admitted that defendant's brother never threatened him in any way.

At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, the trial court first found Officer Richardson's testimony relating to a concern for his safety to be incredible, stating: "When you come here and start making up stories-well, your thought your safety and all, that is absolutely nonsense. There's nothing about this that gives any indication of any safety issues." The trial court further found incredible Officer Richardson's testimony that the search was based on the department's tow policy, noting: "You looked in that vehicle having nothing to do with towing and you come here and you want to testify in this court that this had something to do with towing and then you say, well, I don't even know what the towing policy is." The trial court then held Officer Richardson's belief that he had the right to search incident to arrest was erroneous and that the search was invalid, reasoning as follows:

"This is a case where you didn't stop this vehicle. This vehicle was already stopped. This defendant was walking across a parking lot when you first put him under arrest. That was his testimony. That was his brother's testimony and you don't know. You do know that he was out of the car but you know this individual had nothing to do with the car at the time you arrested him on a failure to appear in court, other than he had parked his car there. *** There's nothing about a failure to appear in court that has anything to do with the car. *** I think you suspected something might be [in the car] *** but the search incidental to arrest is not a wide open situation where every time an officer makes an arrest that gives him the right to then invade other property that belongs to somebody just to see what the officer can find and that's what happened here."

Accordingly, the trial court granted defendant's motion to suppress evidence and quash arrest.

The appellate court affirmed the trial court's ruling, holding that the search of defendant's vehicle was not a search incident to arrest pursuant to either New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 69 L. Ed. 2d 768, 101 S. Ct. 2860 (1981), or Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685, 89 S. Ct. 2034 (1969). 324 Ill. App. 3d at 63-64. In a partial dissent, Justice Bowman argued that Belton was applicable and that the determination of whether the search was proper incident to arrest was controlled by People v. Bosnak, 262 Ill. App. 3d 122 (1994). 324 Ill. App. 3d at 64 (Bowman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Justice Bowman concurred in the majority's further holding that the search of defendant's vehicle could not be justified as an inventory search incident to the vehicle being towed (324 Ill. App. 3d at 64 (Bowman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part)), and the State does not seek review of that issue here. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

Generally, a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence is subject to reversal only if manifestly erroneous. People v. Dilworth, 169 Ill. 2d 195, 201 (1996). This deferential standard of review applies where the suppression motion turns upon findings of fact and is grounded in the reality that the trial court is in a superior position to determine and weigh the credibility of the witnesses, observe their demeanor, and resolve conflicts in their testimony. People v. Gonzalez, 184 Ill. 2d 402, 412 (1998). In the case at bar, after hearing the testimony and observing the demeanor of the witnesses during the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, the trial court determined, inter alia, that Officer Richardson was not a credible witness, that the officer was not in danger when the search was conducted, and that defendant had stopped his car and was walking across the parking lot when he was arrested. Upon review of the record, we agree with the appellate court that "these findings of fact were not manifestly erroneous." 324 Ill. App. 3d at 58. Accordingly, we now conduct a de novo review of the State's legal challenge based upon the trial court's findings of fact. See Gonzalez, 184 Ill. 2d at 412.

The State contends that the appellate court's holding that the search of defendant's vehicle was not a lawful search incident to arrest "is contrary to Illinois precedent and contravenes the purpose of the bright-line rule stated in Belton." We disagree.

Both the United States Constitution and the Illinois Constitution protect every person from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const., amend. IV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §6. It is well settled that a warrantless search or seizure is per se unreasonable unless it comes within one of a few recognized and limited exceptions. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 454-55, 29 L. Ed. 2d 564, 576, 91 S. Ct. 2022, 2032 (1971); People v. Bailey, 159 Ill. 2d 498, 503 (1994). One such exception, which has been found reasonable under the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution, is a search incident to a lawful arrest. United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 224-26, 38 L. Ed. 2d 427, 434-36, 94 S. Ct. 467, 471-73 (1973); Bailey, 159 Ill. 2d at 503.

In Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 762-63, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685, 694, 89 S. Ct. 2034, 2040 (1969), the United States Supreme Court developed the doctrine of search incident to arrest, holding that an officer making a lawful custodial arrest may search the person of the arrestee and the area within his immediate control, into which the arrestee might reach in order to obtain a weapon or to destroy evidence. In New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 460, 69 L. Ed. 2d 768, 775, 101 S. Ct. 2860, 2864 (1981), the Court addressed the applicability of this doctrine to searches of automobiles, holding that "when a policeman has made a lawful custodial arrest of the occupant of an automobile, he may, as a contemporaneous incident of that arrest, search the passenger compartment of that automobile."

By applying a bright-line rule that the passenger compartment lies within the reach of the arrested occupant, Belton sought to avoid case-by-case evaluations of whether the arrestee's area of control within the automobile extended to the precise place where the officer found the weapon or evidence. United States v. Fafowora, 865 F.2d 360, 362 (D.C. Cir. 1989). Indeed, "the Court in Belton `remarked upon the desirability of a rule under which police could in most instances reach a correct determination beforehand, and the undesirability of litigation in every case over the existence of supporting reasons.' " Bailey, 159 Ill. 2d at 503-04, quoting United States v. Karlin, 852 F.2d 968, 970 (7th Cir. 1988). This court, in Bailey, 159 Ill. 2d at 503-05, adopted the bright-line rule of Belton, and the courts of this state have consistently applied this bright-line principle to analogous situations. See People v. Gonzalez, 316 Ill. App. 3d 354 (2000) (upholding Belton search of passenger compartment after defendant's car was stopped, his person searched pursuant to search warrant, and he was arrested for possession of cocaine); People v. Allibalogun, 312 Ill. App. 3d 515 (2000) (holding Belton search of vehicle justified after defendant was stopped for speeding and then arrested pursuant to an outstanding bench warrant); People v. Tripp, 306 Ill. App. 3d 941 (1999) (upholding Belton search of footlocker in passenger compartment of vehicle after defendant, who was sitting in driver's ...

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