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People v. Moore

July 11, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 01-CF-1197 Honorable George J. Bakalis, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gilleran Johnson


At approximately 9 p.m. on February 6, 2001, the defendant, Jasper Moore, was stopped for improper lane usage by Officer Cornell Owens of the Woodridge police department. Traveling with the defendant were four passengers, including a female whose parents owned the car. A search of the car revealed a handgun, later identified as belonging to the defendant. The defendant was arrested and charged with aggravated unlawful use of weapons (720 ILCS 5/24--1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(c) (West 2000)). The defendant moved to quash the arrest and suppress the evidence derived from it, generally alleging that the stop, search, and arrest violated the federal and state constitutions. U.S. Const., amend. IV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §6. The motion was granted and the State appealed. We reverse and remand.

Officer Owens was the sole witness at the suppression hearing and testified to the circumstances of the stop. He initially pulled the defendant over because the defendant was driving south in a northbound lane at a high speed and was passing other vehicles. At the time of the stop, the defendant's speech was nervous, and he appeared to be shaking. He did not have his driver's license or any other form of identification with him, but he gave Officer Owens his name and birth date. Officer Owens returned to the squad car to check the defendant's driver's license status. While waiting, he saw "some motions going on in the front car, like they were trying to hide something in the car basically." These motions were not noted in his police report.

Officer Owens testified that he felt uneasy about the number of people inside the car and that he was not sure if anyone had any weapons or drugs. After determining that the defendant had a valid driver's license, Officer Owens returned to the car and asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle. Based on the defendant's nervous behavior and the motions inside the car indicating that the occupants were trying to hide something, Officer Owens conducted a pat-down search of the defendant, in which the officer discovered nothing. Officer Owens asked if any contraband was present in the car, to which the defendant replied that he was not aware of any. Officer Owens then sought permission to search the car, which he received from the female passenger. The female explained that the car was her parents' but that she had permission to use it.

Due to the number of people in the car, Officer Owens's partner called for backup shortly after the initial stop of the vehicle. Officer Owens was not sure when the backup units actually reached the scene. However, by the time he and his partner searched the vehicle, three or four other units had arrived. Officer Owens's partner found a handgun under the front passenger seat of the car. Later at the police station, Officer Owens wrote the defendant a citation for improper lane usage.

The trial court granted the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence. The trial court explained that the case boiled down to whether Officer Owens's explanation of furtive movements in the vehicle was a sufficient basis to justify detention of the vehicle. The trial court determined that it was not. However, the trial court did not find Officer Owens's testimony to be incredible; rather, the trial court found that his observation of furtive movements was not explained with enough specificity since he could not articulate the specific movements inside the vehicle or who was moving. The trial court emphasized that Officer Owens simply testified that he saw some type of movement. Additionally, the trial court noted that Officer Owens did not include an explanation of the furtive movements in his police report. The trial court therefore determined that based on People v. Brownlee, 186 Ill. 2d 501, 519 (1999), Officer Owens should have written the citation and completed the stop, at the latest, after the pat-down search. Thereafter, Officer Owens should have informed the defendant that the purpose of the stop was complete before asking for permission to search the vehicle.

The State now challenges the trial court's basis for granting the motion, arguing that neither People v. Brownlee, 186 Ill. 2d 501, 519 (1999), nor the federal or state constitution mandates the suppression order. The defendant has not filed an appellate brief, but this appeal is amenable to decision on the merits under the principles of First Capitol Mortgage Corp. v. Talandis Construction Corp., 63 Ill. 2d 128, 133 (1976).

In reviewing the trial court's decision regarding a motion to suppress, we accord great deference to the trial court's factual findings and credibility assessments and will reverse those findings only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. People v. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d 425, 431 (2001). However, we review de novo the ultimate finding with respect to probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699, 134 L. Ed. 2d 911, 920, 116 S. Ct. 1657, 1663 (1996); Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d at 431. In the present case, the facts are undisputed and Officer Owens was the only testifying witness. The trial court did not find Officer Owens's testimony to be incredible. We will, therefore, review de novo the trial court's legal determination as to reasonable suspicion.

Because a vehicle stop constitutes a seizure of the vehicle's occupants, a vehicle stop is subject to the fourth amendment's requirement of reasonableness. People v. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d 220, 226-27 (2003). In determining the reasonableness of a traffic stop, courts are guided by the Supreme Court's observation that the usual traffic stop is more analogous to a Terry investigative stop (see Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968)) than to a formal arrest. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 226. Therefore, as a general rule, a fourth amendment challenge to the reasonableness of a traffic stop is analyzed under Terry principles. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 226.

Under Terry, a law enforcement officer may, within the strictures of the fourth amendment, conduct a brief, investigative stop of individuals, absent probable cause to arrest, provided the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 227. Terry recognized that officers can detain individuals to resolve ambiguities in their conduct, and thus accepts the risk that officers may stop innocent people. Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 126, 145 L. Ed. 2d 570, 577, 120 S. Ct. 673, 677 (2000). If a detention exceeds what is permissible as a Terry investigative stop, a subsequent consent to search may be found to be tainted by the illegality. Brownlee, 186 Ill. 2d at 519.

A Terry analysis includes a dual inquiry: (1) whether the officer's action was justified at its inception and (2) whether it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the interference in the first place. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 228. In determining whether police questioning during the course of a traffic stop satisfies the second inquiry, we must first determine whether it is related to the initial purpose of the stop. If so, no fourth amendment violation occurs. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 235. If the questioning is not reasonably related to the purpose of the stop, we must next consider whether the law enforcement officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that would justify the questioning. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 235. If the questioning is justified, no fourth amendment violation occurs. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 235. Finally, in the absence of a reasonable connection to the purpose of the stop or a reasonable, articulable suspicion, we must consider whether, in light of all the circumstances and common sense, the questioning impermissibly prolonged the detention or changed the fundamental nature of the stop. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 235. Since we rely on Gonzalez in determining whether the police questioning satisfied the second prong of Terry, we find it important to note that Gonzalez was handed down while this case was pending. As such, neither the trial court, in making its decision, nor the parties, when preparing their briefs for this case, had the benefit of its holding.

In this case, the trial court, relying on Brownlee, ruled that Officer Owens's search exceeded the strictures of Terry. In Brownlee, the police stopped a car for failure to signal a lane change as it left an area known for its crack houses. After checking the identification of the driver and passengers, the officer involved determined that no warrants were outstanding for any of them. The officer then returned the driver's insurance card and license and told him no citations would be issued. Both officers present then paused outside the vehicle for a "couple of minutes" and then asked the driver for permission to search the car. Brownlee, 186 Ill. 2d at 506. The driver consented, and the search revealed marijuana. Brownlee, 186 Ill. 2d at 506-07. The court held that the detention of the driver after the traffic violation was cleared, without any showing of reason for the further detention, was improper. Brownlee, 186 Ill. 2d at 521.

Turning to the case at bar, we hold that the trial court's reliance on Brownlee in suppressing the evidence recovered from the defendant was improper. Here, unlike the officer in Brownlee, Officer Owens had not completed issuing a citation to the defendant before he asked to search the vehicle. Moreover, unlike the situation in Brownlee, the record herein reveals that the officer's questioning of the defendant about contraband and asking for ...

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