Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 01-CF-218 Honorable Robert P. LeChien, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Chapman
After a routine traffic stop of the defendant, Carlos Jones, police discovered in his possession a small wooden box, which contained a pipe and cannabis, and two loaded handguns. Following a stipulated bench trial, the defendant was convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. Prior to the trial, the defendant moved to suppress the seized evidence. The defendant appeals the trial court's order denying this motion. For the reasons stated below, we reverse the trial court's order denying the defendant's motion to suppress, and we reverse the defendant's conviction and sentence.
On the evening of February 18, 2001, the defendant and his young son were driving on Route 15 in Belleville when Illinois State Trooper Christopher Gebke observed that the defendant's taillights on his pickup truck were not operating. Gebke effected a routine traffic stop that ultimately yielded a small wooden box, which contained a four-inch-long pipe and a small amount of cannabis, and two loaded handguns. The defendant was arrested and charged by information on February 20, 2001, with one count of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in violation of section 24-1.6 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A) (West 2000)). The criminal information alleged that the defendant had knowingly carried an uncased, loaded revolver in his vehicle. On July 24, 2001, the defendant filed a motion to suppress. The motion sought to exclude the seized evidence on the basis that he had been arrested without a warrant or probable cause following an illegal search of his person and vehicle. The trial court conducted a hearing on the motion on December 13, 2001, where Gebke and the defendant testified.
A. Trooper Christopher Gebke's Testimony
Gebke testified that on February 18, 2001, he observed the defendant's vehicle traveling east on Route 15 at approximately 10:35 p.m. The vehicle's taillights were not working, so he initiated a traffic stop. He approached the defendant's vehicle and informed the defendant that his taillights were not working. He asked the defendant to produce his driver's license and the defendant complied. At this point, Gebke did not suspect the defendant of having committed any crime other than having inoperable taillights.
Gebke further testified that when the defendant leaned forward, his shirt pocket opened and he observed a small wooden box that he recognized as drug paraphernalia. He made this conclusion based on his training and experience. He asked the defendant what he had in his pocket, and the defendant replied that he had cigarettes. Gebke stated, and the defendant disputed, that the defendant voluntarily handed him the box. Once Gebke had the box in his custody, he opened it and confirmed that it contained a pipe and what he thought was cannabis. He asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle, and he testified that his purpose in doing so was to secure the defendant with handcuffs. After he asked the defendant to step out but before the defendant complied, it appeared to Gebke that the defendant was pushing something in between the seats, because he observed the defendant's right hand moving. Gebke observed the butt of a gun protruding from the front seat cushion the moment the defendant exited the vehicle.
Gebke testified that he handcuffed the defendant, retrieved the weapon (which was loaded), and placed the defendant in the squad car. He did not have a warrant, nor did he ask the defendant if he could search the truck. When he returned to the defendant's vehicle, the defendant's son was crying, so he asked him if he would like to sit in the squad car with his father. Once the defendant's son was secured, Gebke searched the defendant's vehicle and discovered another loaded handgun behind the seat in a small black bag, which also contained bullets. Gebke stated that he returned to the defendant's vehicle to perform an inventory search incident to the arrest, because he planned to have the vehicle towed.
With regard to the box, Gebke testified that he did not know where to purchase one like it and that he did not know the purpose for which it was manufactured. He described the dimensions of the box as approximately two inches wide, four and a half inches tall, and three-quarters of an inch thick. He stated that the box had a small lid on top. He conceded that the box could contain a variety of nonillicit items and that it did not have only one purpose.
The defendant was the only other witness to testify at the suppression hearing. The defendant testified that Gebke approached his vehicle, informed him that his taillights were out, and asked him for some identification. Gebke never advised him that he was going to search him or his vehicle, nor did he produce a warrant to do so. Further, Gebke did not inform him that he did not have to agree to being searched, and the defendant did not feel free to leave.
The defendant further testified that he had a wooden box in his front shirt pocket. He recalled Gebke asking him what he had in his pocket and that he had responded that he had cigarettes. Gebke did not ask him what was inside the box. The defendant disputed that he handed the box to Gebke voluntarily. Instead, the defendant testified that Gebke took the box from his pocket after the defendant attempted to button his pocket closed. Gebke opened the box and looked inside, at which time he asked the defendant to exit the vehicle and placed him in handcuffs.
Like Gebke, the defendant testified that the box could have contained other items-that it could serve purposes other than holding cannabis. At the conclusion of the hearing and in support of his motion, the defendant asked the court to consider People v. Evans, 259 Ill. App. 3d 650, 631 N.E.2d 872 (1994), and People v. Innis, 237 Ill. App. 3d 289, 604 N.E.2d 389 (1992), for the proposition that the box found in the defendant's possession was not a single-purpose container.
C. Trial Court's Findings and Orders
On January 2, 2002, the trial court entered an order granting the defendant's motion in part and denying the motion in part. The trial court suppressed the evidence seized as a result of Gebke's search of the box and denied the motion with ...