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People v. Gipson

February 21, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

At issue are two questions concerning inventory searches: (1) whether a police officer's unrebutted testimony about police policy on inventory searches can be sufficient evidence of such a policy if the State does not introduce a written policy into evidence; and (2) whether a policy requiring the police to inventory items of value is sufficient to allow the opening of closed containers if the policy does not specifically mention closed containers.


The State charged defendant in the circuit court of Cook County with one count of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) with the intent to deliver (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(2)(A) (West 1996)). Defendant moved to quash his arrest and to suppress the evidence that was found during a search of his car.

At the hearing on the motion to suppress, defendant testified as follows. At 12:25 a.m. on January 8, 1998, defendant was driving home from work. When defendant reached the intersection of Jackson and Homan in Chicago, a police car began to follow him. The police car followed him for several minutes. The police car's lights went on when defendant crossed Kedzie, and defendant pulled over. The police officer approached defendant's car and told defendant that he was driving on a revoked license. Defendant gave the officer his identification and proof of insurance, following which the officer put defendant into the back seat of his squad car and locked it. The officer put some information into his computer and told defendant that if he did not have any outstanding warrants, he was free to go.

According to defendant, the officer never told him that he was under arrest. The officer then got out of the squad car and looked under the hood of defendant's car. He searched the passenger compartment of the car and then came back to the squad car. The officer started typing on his computer again and then went back to defendant's car, took the keys out of the ignition, and opened the trunk. Defendant testified that he had a yellow plastic Ameritech bag tied closed in the trunk. Inside of the Ameritech bag was a black plastic bag, containing rocks of cocaine, that was also tied closed. According to defendant, he never gave the officer permission to search his car, and the officer never told him that the car would be towed or that the officer was conducting an inventory search. The officer never told defendant he was under arrest before he searched the car.

The State presented the testimony of Sergeant David Byrd of the Illinois State Police. Byrd testified that he initially began following defendant's car because it had a cracked windshield. A "registration response" on defendant's license plate revealed that the owner's name was Curtis Gipson and that Gipson's driver's license had been revoked. Byrd pulled over defendant and informed him that the reason for the stop was that the car had a defective windshield and that the car's owner had a revoked license. When defendant confirmed that he was Curtis Gipson, Byrd placed defendant in the back of his squad car.

Once defendant was in the car, Byrd called a tow truck and conducted an inventory search of defendant's vehicle. Byrd explained that the State Police policy is to tow the vehicle when someone is arrested for driving on a revoked license. When a vehicle is towed following an arrest, the police policy is that a tow inventory search should be conducted. When asked to explain the police policy on tow inventory searches, Byrd responded:

"We are required to check the passenger compartment, and trunk area for any valuables, or just for our own-we don't want anything to leave us that might be of value without checking it first and putting it down on the tow sheet."

When Byrd opened the trunk, he found a yellow Ameritech bag. He opened the bag and noticed two smaller bags inside. He opened these and observed what appeared to be crack cocaine. Byrd testified that he never told defendant that he would be free to go at some point. Rather, defendant was arrested and taken into custody. Byrd gave defendant a ticket for having a cracked windshield and driving on a revoked license.

Following arguments by the attorneys, the trial judge recalled Sergeant Byrd to the stand. The following colloquy ensued:

"THE COURT: You are still under oath, sergeant.

Is there a printed procedure regarding towing by the Illinois State police?

THE WITNESS: Yes, there is, your Honor. It's in our policy manual.

THE COURT: It's in the policy manual?

THE WITNESS: Right, and we teach it to all our cadets when they ...

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