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People v. Harris

November 20, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
RAYMOND HARRIS, APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

UNPUBLISHED

Docket No. 92783-Agenda 19-September 2002.

At issue in this case is whether a police officer, having obtained an identification card from a passenger in a vehicle during a traffic stop, may perform a check to determine whether there are outstanding warrants for the passenger's arrest. We hold that, under the circumstances at bar, the warrant check was outside the scope of the traffic stop and was impermissible.

BACKGROUND

At approximately 4:30 p.m. on September 27, 1997, Officer Vernard Reed of the Will County sheriff's department, observed a vehicle, driven by Keith Weathersby, make an illegal left turn from Route 53 onto Mills Road. Officer Reed initiated a traffic stop. During the course of the traffic stop, Officer Reed requested identification from defendant, a passenger in the vehicle. Officer Reed performed a check on defendant's identification card and discovered that defendant had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court. Officer Reed placed defendant under arrest. In an ensuing search, officer Reed recovered a pea-sized rock of cocaine and a "Chore Boy" *fn1 from defendant's pocket.

Defendant was charged by indictment, in the circuit court of Will County, with the unlawful possession of a controlled substance, a Class 4 felony. 720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 1996). He filed a motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence, arguing that Officer Reed had neither a warrant to search him nor probable cause to believe that he had committed a crime.

At a subsequent hearing on the motion, defendant testified that he was a passenger in the car stopped by Officer Reed. The officer told the driver that he had made an illegal left turn and requested identification from the driver. Sometime later, the officer approached defendant and asked him for identification. Defendant complied, giving the officer a state identification card. The officer returned to the squad car, ran a warrant check, and discovered that defendant had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court. The officer had defendant step out of the car, handcuffed defendant and searched him. Defendant stated that at no point during the stop did Officer Reed inform defendant that he wanted to see defendant's identification to determine whether defendant had a valid driver's license.

Officer Reed testified that when he first initiated the traffic stop, he requested identification from the driver of the vehicle. The driver, Keith Weathersby, stated that he did not have his driver's license on his person. The driver gave his date of birth, and identified himself as either Darren or Darryl Weathersby. Officer Reed transmitted the driver's information to county dispatch and learned there was no valid driver's license for anyone by that name. Officer Reed confronted the driver, who then gave his correct name and admitted that his license was either suspended or revoked. Officer Reed transmitted the new information to county dispatch and confirmed that Weathersby's license was suspended or revoked.

Officer Reed testified that it was his usual practice, once he determined that a driver could not legally drive, to request identification from the passengers in the car to determine whether another person could drive the car. In keeping with this practice, Officer Reed asked defendant for identification, intending to release the vehicle to defendant if defendant had a valid driver's license. At no time during the traffic stop, however, did Officer Reed ask defendant whether defendant was able to drive the car. Further, defendant's behavior had not aroused suspicion and Officer Reed did not believe that defendant had committed any wrongdoing. Having obtained defendant's identification card, Officer Reed ran the information through county dispatch and discovered that defendant had an outstanding warrant. Officer Reed advised defendant of the outstanding warrant, placed defendant under arrest, handcuffed defendant and searched him, finding the pea-sized rock of cocaine and the "Chore Boy." Officer Reed also searched the car incident to defendant's arrest. Officer Reed found another pea-sized rock of cocaine on the back seat and arrested Weathersby.

Lastly, Officer Reed testified that an officer has the authority to arrest any person driving with a suspended license. Pursuant to such an arrest, the officer also has the authority to impound the vehicle and perform an inventory search. Officer Reed stated that he had the right to search the car once he found out that Weathersby's license was suspended.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court denied defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The court found that Officer Reed requested identification from defendant in order to determine whether defendant had a valid driver's license. Officer Reed intended to release the car to defendant, if defendant could legally drive the car, in order to avoid towing the vehicle. The cause proceeded to trial.

At trial, Officer Reed testified that when he activated his emergency lights, Weathersby pulled the car to the side of the road. Although Officer Reed stated that he requested identification from defendant in order to determine whether defendant could drive the vehicle, officer Reed acknowledged that, in his police report, he stated that the car was legally parked. Officer Reed also testified that once he determined there was no valid driver's license for a Darrell Weathersby, he confronted the driver and obtained the driver's correct name. Officer Reed then turned to defendant and asked him for identification. Having obtained defendant's identification card, Officer Reed ran a check on both defendant and Weathersby. County dispatch informed him that Weathersby's license was suspended and that defendant had an outstanding warrant. Officer Reed arrested defendant and searched him, finding the cocaine at issue. Because Officer Reed found a controlled substance on defendant, Officer Reed searched the car to see if it also contained drugs. Officer Reed explained, however, that in the absence of a passenger eligible to drive the vehicle, he would have done an inventory search of the vehicle and recovered the cocaine from the back seat.

The jury found defendant guilty of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Subsequently, the circuit court sentenced defendant to 28 days in jail with credit for 28 days previously served and to a term of probation for 24 months. The court also ordered defendant to pay court costs and certain fines.

Defendant appealed, arguing that the circuit court should have granted the motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The appellate court agreed. The court held that defendant did not voluntarily comply with Officer Reed's request for identification. Officer Reed conveyed the message that compliance with the request for identification was mandatory. Under the circumstances, no reasonable person would have felt free to disregard the officer and terminate the encounter without tendering identification. 325 Ill. App. 3d 262, 266.

We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill. 2d R. 315.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

As an initial observation, we note that the case at bar involves only the suppression of the evidence recovered from defendant during the course of the traffic stop. We are not called upon to determine any charges pressed upon defendant pursuant to the outstanding warrant for his arrest. As noted above, the circuit court denied defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. Generally, a motion to suppress evidence presents mixed questions of law and fact: the trial court first weighs the evidence and determines the facts surrounding the complained-of conduct, after which it decides whether, as a matter of law, these facts constitute an unconstitutional seizure. People v. Thomas, 198 Ill. 2d 103, 108 (2001); People v. Shapiro, 177 Ill. 2d 519, 524 (1997). A reviewing court accords great deference to the factual findings of the trial court. Thomas, 198 Ill. 2d at 108. However, the reviewing court ...


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