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People v. Williams

June 09, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 01-CF-1467 Honorable Ann Brackley Jorgensen, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Bowman


Defendant, Michele Williams, was indicted for the unlawful use of weapons (720 ILCS 5/24--1(a)(4) (West 2000)) and unlawful possession of firearms (720 ILCS 5/24--3.1(a)(1) (West 2000)) after a .38-caliber revolver was found in the trunk of her parked car at Hinsdale Central High School. The circuit court of Du Page County granted defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence and denied the State's subsequent motion to reconsider. The State filed a certificate of impairment and a timely notice of appeal. The State contends on appeal that the trial court committed reversible error in granting defendant's motion.

We begin by noting that defendant has not filed an appellee's brief. We do not automatically reverse a trial court's judgment merely because the appellee has not filed a brief. First Capitol Mortgage Corp. v. Talandis Construction Corp., 63 Ill. 2d 128, 131 (1976). Under such circumstances, we may choose to address the merits of the appeal where the record is simple and the issues are such that the court can easily resolve them without the aid of an appellee's brief. Talandis, 63 Ill. 2d at 133. We determine that this case meets these criteria and choose to address the merits. That said, we will not serve as the appellee's advocate or search the record for reasons to sustain the judgment. Talandis, 63 Ill. 2d at 133.

The following evidence was adduced at the suppression hearing. Defendant testified that she was a high school senior on May 23, 2001. On that day, she drove herself to school in her car. Sometime after she arrived at school, she was called into the office of one of the high school deans, Dean Bylsma, and had a conversation with Bylsma about "some illegal activities." After speaking with Bylsma, defendant called her mother at work and left her a message. Defendant then went to class. At about 2 p.m., Bylsma came to defendant's classroom and told defendant that she needed the keys to defendant's car and that defendant was not to leave the school. Bylsma did not tell defendant why she needed the car keys, nor did she ask defendant's permission to search her car. Defendant gave Bylsma her keys. She denied giving Bylsma or anyone else permission to search her car.

Defendant's mother, Ilene Harris, testified that she received a message from defendant at about 10 a.m. Harris contacted the high school at about 11 a.m. and again at 2 p.m, when she spoke with the high school's Dean Leverance. Leverance explained the situation, and Harris told him that she did not want him to search defendant's car. She also told him that she was on her way to the high school. When Harris arrived at the high school, the police had surrounded defendant's car and were searching it.

Mark Keller, an officer with the Hinsdale police department, testified that on May 23, 2001, he was the school resource officer for Hinsdale Central High School and had been so assigned for four years. On the date in question, he was investigating a burglary and trying to locate a handgun that had been stolen during the burglary. During the morning of May 23, he spoke with several high school students, including defendant and Nicole Ynke, in connection with the burglary.

Based on information he received, Keller went to the apartment of Paul Grinkevisius to look for the stolen handgun. While he was searching the apartment, he received word that high school officials were looking for him. Keller spoke to Dean Bylsma, who told him that she had received information that the handgun was in a student's car in the student parking lot. Bylsma had received this information from a student, Nicole Ynke, who said that between classes, at approximately 12:20 to 12:25 p.m., defendant had told her that the gun was in her car.

Keller returned to the high school. En route, one of the high school deans told him that permission had been obtained to search defendant's car. A high school security officer met Keller in the student parking lot, where they located defendant's car. Keller testified that defendant's keys had been given to Dean Leverance, who gave the keys to Keller and asked him to search the car. Prior to receiving the keys, the dean's secretary informed Keller by radio that defendant's mother did not give permission to search the vehicle. Keller never asked defendant whether she consented to a search.

Keller never attempted to obtain a warrant to search defendant's car. He testified that "a lot of" high school seniors were about to be dismissed from school when he searched the car. To prevent the gun from disappearing or "falling into the wrong hands" when the seniors were let out of class, Keller wanted to retrieve the gun rather than wait for a search warrant.

Keller searched the passenger compartment of defendant's car but did not find the gun. He then searched the trunk, where he located it. Neither defendant nor her mother was present when Keller searched defendant's car.

After hearing the evidence, the trial court granted defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The court ruled that there was no consent to search, that Nicole Ynke was an unreliable informant, and that there were no exigent circumstances that justified a warrantless search. When deciding the State's motion to reconsider, the court explained that the appropriate standard to apply to the circumstances was probable cause, not reasonable suspicion. The court determined that probable cause was lacking and denied the State's motion to reconsider.

When reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence, we must accord great deference to the trial court's factual findings, and we will reverse those findings only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. People v. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d 425, 431 (2001). Our review of the ultimate ruling on a motion to suppress, however, is de novo. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d at 431.

Our first task is to determine whether the trial court applied the appropriate fourth amendment (U.S. Const., amend. IV) standard for determining whether a warrantless search was justified. The State asserts that Officer Keller needed only reasonable suspicion, rather ...

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