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People v. Morales

November 03, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ELIZABETH MORALES, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 01CM836 Honorable James E. Souk, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

PUBLISHED

In June 2001, the State charged defendant, Elizabeth Morales, with possession of drug paraphernalia (720 ILCS 600/3.5(a) (West 2000)) and possession of cannabis (not more than 2.5 grams of a substance containing cannabis) (720 ILCS 550/4(a) (West 2000)). In December 2001, defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence against her, alleging that it was obtained during an illegal search. Following a December 2001 hearing, the trial court granted defendant's motion to suppress evidence.

The State appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by granting defendant's motion to suppress evidence. We reverse and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

In lieu of a transcript of trial court proceedings, the parties have submitted to this court a document that is entitled "Bystander's Report of Motion to Suppress Hearing," which is signed by both parties. The report does not bear certification by the trial court, as is required under Supreme Court Rule 323(c) (166 Ill. 2d R. 323(c)). However, even without certification, we may accept the parties' agreed statement of facts as a substitute for a report of proceedings under subsection (d) of Supreme Court Rule 323. 166 Ill. 2d R. 323(d); see People v. Gerwick, 235 Ill. App. 3d 691, 692-93, 602 N.E.2d 93, 94-95 (1992) (in which this court accepted the parties' agreed statement of facts, although it was labeled a bystander's report and lacked the trial court's certification). The parties' agreed statement of facts summarizes the testimony and argument presented at the December 2001 hearing on defendant's motion to suppress evidence as follows.

Normal police officer Nathan Poehlman testified that around 1 a.m. on February 25, 2001, he noticed a parked car in a public park with the motor running and the lights off. A Normal ordinance provides that city parks close at 11 p.m. Poehlman spoke with the car's two occupants--Michael Garcia, seated in the driver's seat, and defendant, seated in the front passenger's seat. Poehlman learned that (1) Garcia's driver's license had been suspended; (2) an active De Witt County warrant was outstanding for Garcia's arrest; and (3) the license plate to Garcia's car had been suspended. Based on this information, Poehlman decided to arrest Garcia.

Prior to arresting Garcia, Normal police officer Shane Hackman arrived at the scene. After Garcia was arrested and secured in a squad car, Poehlman asked defendant to get out of the car. While Poehlman spoke with defendant outside the car, Hackman conducted a search of the car that was incident to Garcia's arrest, as well as an inventory search, given that the car was going to be towed due to expired plates. Defendant was not wearing a coat when she was standing outside the car. Defendant did not inform Poehlman that (1) she had any personal property in the car, or (2) she needed to retrieve anything from inside the car.

Hackman pulled a jacket from the "console area," searched it, and asked defendant if it belonged to her. She acknowledged that the jacket belonged to her, and Hackman asked Poehlman to look inside the jacket pocket. When he did, Poehlman found a black film canister that contained "suspected cannabis" and a blue metal "one-hitter" pipe with burnt cannabis residue. The officers then arrested defendant. Neither Poehlman nor Hackman obtained defendant's consent to search the jacket. Prior to the search, defendant did not give the officers any reason to suspect her of criminal activity.

Hackman testified that around 1 a.m., he arrived at the scene to assist Poehlman. Hackman testified similarly to Poehlman regarding the bases for the search of the car--that is, incident to Garcia's arrest and as an inventory search. During the search, Hackman found a jacket in the console area of the car. He did not try to determine who owned the jacket before searching it. He felt the outside of the jacket, looking for weapons. He felt a hard object in the pocket area of the jacket, which he believed to be drug paraphernalia. He then asked defendant if the jacket belonged to her, and she responded that it did. He handed the jacket to Poehlman and asked him to look inside the pocket.

Defendant testified that around 1 a.m. on the day in question, she was a passenger in a car being driven by Garcia, whom she was dating. While she and Garcia were sitting in the car in a public park, the police approached the car and spoke with Garcia. They arrested Garcia for having a suspended license, and Poehlman asked defendant to get out of the car. She was not wearing a jacket when she did so. She thought she had left her jacket in the backseat. An officer searched the car, discovered her jacket, and asked if it belonged to her. She did not consent to the search of her jacket, and she did not tell either officer that she had any personal property in the car or that she needed to retrieve any personal property from the car.

Defense counsel argued that the evidence against defendant should be suppressed under People v. James, 163 Ill. 2d 302, 645 N.E.2d 195 (1994), because, absent probable cause, the officers were not justified in searching her jacket without her consent.

The State argued that the search of defendant's jacket was justified as (1) a search incident to Garcia's arrest, and (2) an inventory search. The State relied on New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 69 L. Ed. 2d 768, 101 S. Ct. 2860 (1981), and People v. Bailey, 159 Ill. 2d 498, 639 N.E.2d 1278 (1994), for its argument that a search incident to a custodial arrest extends to any containers found within the passenger compartment of the car.

In January 2002, the trial court entered an order granting defendant's motion to suppress evidence. In that order, the court found, in pertinent part, as follows:

"3. Officers made no attempt to determine the ownership of the coat until finding suspected contraband in the pocket, at which time ...

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