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People v. Gonzalez

April 17, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN A. GONZALEZ, APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Fitzgerald

PUBLISHED

Docket No. 92305-Agenda 8-May 2002.

The issue we consider is whether, during the course of a routine traffic stop, a police officer's mere request for identification from a passenger runs afoul of the federal and state constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable seizures. See U.S. Const., amend. IV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §6. We hold that such a request passes constitutional muster.

BACKGROUND

The salient facts in this case are not in dispute. On December 9, 1998, Officers McCarthy and Lee of the Naperville police department were on routine patrol. Both officers were in plain clothes in an unmarked vehicle. At approximately 4 p.m., while patrolling Route 59, they stopped a vehicle, in which defendant was the passenger, for not having a front license plate. Lee approached the car on the driver's side; McCarthy approached the car on the passenger's side. McCarthy, who observed no criminal conduct by defendant either before or immediately after the stop, asked him for identification. Defendant complied, producing a traffic ticket, in lieu of other identification. Thereafter, McCarthy ran a criminal history of defendant. The ensuing encounter between McCarthy and defendant resulted in a search of defendant's person, revealing a packet of cocaine. Defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance (less than 15 grams of a substance containing cocaine). See 720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 1998).

Defendant filed a motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence, arguing that his arrest constituted an unreasonable seizure under the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution. See U.S. Const., amend. IV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §6. Defendant maintained that Officer McCarthy had no lawful basis to ask him for identification, thus tainting the subsequent search. The trial court agreed, concluding that, absent any suspicion of criminal conduct by defendant, Officer McCarthy's request for identification was unreasonable. The trial court, therefore, granted defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The State appealed.

The appellate court, with one justice dissenting, affirmed the trial court's judgment. 324 Ill. App. 3d 15. We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal (see 177 Ill. 2d R. 315) and now reverse the judgment of the appellate court.

ANALYSIS

I.

Preliminarily, we note that defendant has not filed an appellee's brief in this case. Nonetheless, we will decide the merits of the appeal under the principles set forth in First Capitol Mortgage Corp. v. Talandis Construction Corp., 63 Ill. 2d 128, 133 (1976) ("if the record is simple and the claimed errors are such that the court can easily decide them without the aid of an appellee's brief, the court of review should decide the merits of the appeal").

Before proceeding to the merits, we consider the appropriate standard of review. When a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress involves factual determinations or credibility assessments, the court's ruling will not be disturbed on review unless it is manifestly erroneous. People v. Anthony, 198 Ill. 2d 194, 200-01 (2001); People v. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d 425, 430-31 (2001); see also People v. Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d 165, 175 (2003). Where, however, the facts are not in dispute, the ultimate question posed by the legal challenge to the trial court's ruling is reviewed de novo. Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d at 175; Anthony, 198 Ill. 2d at 201. As already indicated, the facts relevant to this appeal are not in dispute. We, therefore, review de novo the State's legal challenge to the suppression order.

II.

At the outset, we reject the State's contention that the fourth amendment is not implicated in this case because Officer McCarthy's request for identification qualified as "community caretaking."

"Community caretaking" is a label used to describe consensual police-citizen encounters that typically involve the safety of the public. People v. Murray, 137 Ill. 2d 382, 387 (1990); see also 324 Ill. App. 3d at 22 (collecting cases). This type of encounter involves no coercion or detention and thus requires no legal justification. Murray, 137 Ill. 2d at 387. The State fails to explain in what way the request for identification from defendant served a public-safety function, and we glean no facts from the record which would warrant using the community-caretaking label in this case. Accordingly, we turn to an examination of the fourth amendment in the context of this traffic stop.

III.

The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const., amend. IV; see Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 213, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1669, 1675, 80 S. Ct. 1437, 1442 (1960) (fourth amendment prohibition is applicable to state officials through the fourteenth amendment). Similarly, article I, section 6, of our state constitution guarantees that the "people shall have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and other possessions against unreasonable searches, [and] seizures." Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §6. We have construed the search and seizure language found in section 6 in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court's fourth amendment jurisprudence. Fink v. Ryan, 174 Ill. 2d 302, 314 (1996).

The fourth amendment's imposition of a reasonableness standard is intended to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by government officials, including law enforcement agents. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653-54, 59 L. Ed. 2d 660, 667, 99 S. Ct. 1391, 1396 (1979). A particular law enforcement practice is thus judged by "balancing its intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against its promotion of legitimate governmental interests." Prouse, 440 U.S. at 654, 59 L. Ed. 2d at 667-68, 99 S. Ct. at 1396; see also Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 331, 148 L. Ed. ...


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