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People v. Bunch

August 21, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
BERNARD BUNCH, APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Fitzgerald

UNPUBLISHED

Docket No. 93472-Agenda 5-November 2002.

Following a bench trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant Bernard Bunch was convicted of possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to a four-year term of imprisonment. The appellate court determined that the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence and reversed defendant's conviction. 327 Ill. App. 3d 979. We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal (see 177 Ill. 2d R. 315) and now affirm.

BACKGROUND

Defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence proceeded simultaneously with his trial. Officer Lukensmeyer testified that at 1:10 a.m. on February 1, 2000, he was working alone in a marked police vehicle in the area of 35th Street and Wentworth Avenue in Chicago. He observed a 1990 Pontiac, which was proceeding westbound on 35th Street, slow down and come to a brief stop. Lukensmeyer did not see the car's brake lights activate. As the Pontiac continued on its way, Lukensmeyer shined his MARS lights, his take-down lights, and his bright headlights onto the rear of the car. Lukensmeyer testified that he saw the driver lean forward twice toward the dashboard before the driver pulled the vehicle over and stopped. One other person was in the car, defendant, who was in the front passenger seat. Lukensmeyer approached the vehicle on the driver's side and commanded to both, "Don't move." Lukensmeyer then asked the driver for his license. When the driver could not provide a license, Lukensmeyer asked him to step out of the vehicle and placed him under arrest. He handcuffed the driver and walked him to the rear of the car.

According to Lukensmeyer, he then walked around to the passenger side and asked defendant to exit the car and step to the rear of the vehicle, where the driver was standing. Lukensmeyer testified that he asked defendant out of the car so that he could take charge of the vehicle, i.e., because the driver was arrested Lukensmeyer was going to have the car transported to the station where it would be towed to an impound lot. At some point during the traffic stop, Lukensmeyer learned that the driver was the owner of the vehicle, but he could not recall whether this occurred before or after he asked defendant to exit the car.

Lukensmeyer testified further that after defendant exited the vehicle, he asked him, "What's your name? Where you [sic] coming from?" When questioned as to why he asked defendant his name, Lukensmeyer responded, "I'm a policeman[.] I want[ed] to know who he was and I was curious to find out exactly who he was. That's all."

Defendant provided his name and additionally asked Lukensmeyer why the driver was being arrested. Lukensmeyer answered defendant's question. During this conversation, in which the two men were about one foot apart, Lukensmeyer twice shined his flashlight in defendant's face. Lukensmeyer explained that when he is working nights, he shines his flashlight in everyone's face because there is a "[s]trong possibility they may have something in their mouths." Lukensmeyer denied that he questioned defendant merely to see if there was anything in defendant's mouth. Both times Lukensmeyer shined his flashlight in defendant's face, he observed a small, clear plastic item, containing something white, in defendant's mouth. Based on 35 years of experience as a police officer and his participation in more than 2,000 narcotics arrests, Lukensmeyer believed that the white substance was either heroin or cocaine. Lukensmeyer informed defendant he was under arrest, and ordered him to spit the object out of his mouth, which he did. Lukensmeyer recovered one plastic bag containing a white powder. Lukensmeyer handcuffed defendant and called for assistance. During his search of the Pontiac, Lukensmeyer recovered two similar plastic bags, also containing what he believed to be heroin, from a space in the dashboard. At this point, according to Lukensmeyer, defendant made an unsolicited statement that "[a]ll the heroin you found is mine." Lukensmeyer later tested the brakes on defendant's vehicle, which were working properly. The parties stipulated to the chain of custody and that the white powder tested positive for the presence of heroin.

In connection with his motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence, defendant argued that the officer did not have probable cause to ask him to exit the vehicle, to step to the rear of the car, or to interrogate him. The State maintained that moving defendant to the rear of the vehicle was minimally intrusive and that no interrogation took place. Rather, defendant engaged the officer in conversation.

The trial court denied defendant's motion. In its oral ruling, the trial court indicated that it found the officer's testimony straightforward and credible. The trial court concluded that there was nothing impermissible in asking defendant his name and that moving defendant to the rear of the car had no legal significance. The trial court further noted that the officer had numerous reasons to have a conversation with defendant, including explaining to him the reason for the arrest and determining if defendant could be an alternative driver. According to the trial court, shining the flashlight in defendant's face merely allowed the officer to assess defendant at 1 o'clock in the morning. Finally, the trial court found that the officer had probable cause to arrest defendant, based on his observation of the object in defendant's mouth.

Following the trial court's denial of defendant's motion, the bench trial continued with defendant's testimony. Defendant offered a different version of the vehicle stop. Defendant testified that when the driver of the vehicle, his brother, asked Officer Lukensmeyer why he stopped them, the officer replied, "Because I saw two black men in the car." The officer made no mention of the Pontiac's brake lights and never examined them. According to defendant, after arresting and cuffing his brother, Lukensmeyer placed his brother in the police vehicle. He then approached defendant and asked him to get out of the car. Once outside the vehicle, Lukensmeyer told defendant to turn around and then placed handcuffs on him, saying that it was for the officer's own safety. As Lukensmeyer spoke to him, the officer shined a flashlight in defendant's face. Defendant testified that he did not have anything in his mouth and that the officer never asked him to spit out anything. After placing defendant in the police car, Lukensmeyer removed a black case from the trunk and returned to the Pontiac. A short while later, Lukensmeyer returned to the police car and told defendant and his brother that he found drugs inside their car. Defendant denied having narcotics in his possession that day and denied telling Lukensmeyer that any drugs in the car belonged to him.

The trial court found defendant guilty of possession of a controlled substance and subsequently sentenced him to a four-year term of imprisonment. The appellate court reversed, concluding that the arrest of defendant violated the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. IV). 327 Ill. App. 3d at 983-84. The appellate court stated, in relevant part:

"[A] police officer has to have some lawful authority to ask a defendant for identification ***.

In this case, the officer did more than ask for identification. He ordered the defendant out of the car and to the rear of it because he was `curious.' The defendant submitted. We believe the defendant was detained at that point without lawful authority. Curiosity is not a good reason to detain. Everything that flowed directly from that unlawful detention must be suppressed." 327 Ill. App. 3d at 983.

For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

ANALYSIS

I.

Generally, a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress will not be disturbed unless it is manifestly erroneous. This deferential standard applies when the disposition of the suppression motion turns on factual determinations and credibility assessments. Where, however, no dispute exists as to the facts or witness credibility, the trial court's ruling will be reviewed de novo. People v. Anthony, 198 Ill. 2d 194, 200-01 (2001); People v. Gonzalez, 184 Ill. 2d 402, 411-12 (1998). In the present case, the trial court found Officer Lukensmeyer's testimony credible. Such finding was not manifestly erroneous. Accordingly, we conduct de novo review under the officer's version of events. See People v. Love, 199 Ill. 2d 269, 274-75 (2002); Gonzalez, 184 Ill. 2d at 412.

II.

Before considering the merits of this appeal, we briefly review the principles relevant to deciding whether a vehicle stop comports with fourth amendment jurisprudence.

The temporary detention of individuals-passengers and drivers alike-during a vehicle stop constitutes a "seizure" of "persons" within the meaning of the fourth amendment. People v. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d 220, 225 (2003), citing Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809-10, 135 L. Ed. 2d 89, 95, 116 S. Ct. 1769, 1772 (1996). Vehicle stops are, therefore, subject to the fourth amendment's requirement of reasonableness. Because a 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, the reasonableness of a traffic stop is analyzed under Terry principles. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 226. A Terry analysis involves 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 which justified the interference in the first place.' " Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 228, quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 19-20, 20 L. Ed 2d at 905, 88 S. Ct. at 1879.

In this case, no issue exists concerning the lawfulness of the initial stop of the vehicle-the first prong of the Terry analysis. Rather, this appeal concerns the lawfulness of the officer's conduct following the initial stop, and thus concerns the second prong of the Terry analysis. Under the second prong we consider the length of the detention and the manner in which it was carried out. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 233. That is, " `an investigative detention must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop,' " and " `the investigative methods employed should be the least intrusive means reasonably available to verify or dispel the officer's suspicion in a short period of time.' " Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d at 233, ...


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