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People v. Brown

December 29, 2003


Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 02CF1942 Honorable Jeffrey B. Ford, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook


Following an encounter with a police officer, defendant Antonio B. Brown, was charged with obstructing justice (720 ILCS 5/ 31-4(a) (West 2002)). He moved to suppress the evidence obtained by the police officer, and the trial court granted this motion. The State appeals, having certified under Supreme Court Rule 604(a)(1) (188 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1)) that its ability to prosecute Brown would be substantially impaired without the evidence that was suppressed.

At the hearing on Brown's motion to suppress (labeled a "motion to quash arrest"), the only witness was Officer Dennis Baltzell of the Champaign police department. The following statement of facts is taken solely from his testimony. On Saturday, November 9, 2002, Baltzell was patrolling Champaign in his squad car. At 6:46 p.m., he was driving past 904 North Fourth Street when he saw Brown standing alone in the parking lot. The building at that address is a small strip mall containing a grocery store, a restaurant, and two or three other businesses. Brown was standing in front of the grocery store, approximately 5 or 10 feet from its door. The store was closed, but the restaurant next door was open. Brown was between 15 and 20 feet from the door of the restaurant.

Baltzell "thought it was odd" that someone was standing in front of a closed business, so he circled the block and pulled into the parking lot. Brown had not moved, but as the squad car entered the parking lot, he began to walk away. Baltzell testified that at this point he "asked [Brown] if he would stop so [Baltzell] could talk to him." Brown did stop, about 15 or 20 feet from the squad car, and Baltzell identified himself. He then told Brown that he wanted to speak to him about why he was standing in front of a closed business.

Baltzell asked Brown for identification, and Brown replied that he had none. When Baltzell asked for Brown's name, address, and date of birth, Brown responded that he was Tony B. Brown, born on March 4, 1983. Baltzell radioed Metcad, the computer-aided dispatch service, with this information. Finding an outstanding City of Champaign warrant for Brown's arrest, Baltzell arrested him.

Based on this encounter, the State originally charged Brown with one count of obstructing justice. The information alleged that Brown, intending to prevent his own apprehension, "knowingly furnished false information to Dennis Baltzell ***, namely: a name of Tony Brown, as opposed to the correct name of Antonio B. Brown." The State's Attorney later added two more counts, one alleging that Brown had falsely stated that he was not carrying identification, and the other alleging that he had given a false name (Tony B. Brown) when asked what name appeared on his birth certificate.

After hearing the evidence presented at the hearing, the trial court found that Brown had been stopped without justification and ordered that Brown's answers to the police officer's questions be suppressed. The State appeals that decision, arguing that the trial court erred in granting the motion because (1) Brown was not "seized" within the meaning of the fourth amendment; (2) if he was seized, it was a lawful seizure; and (3) in any case, the State should be allowed to use the evidence under what it terms the "distinct-crime" exception to the fruit- of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine.

Where a motion to suppress evidence involves factual determinations or assessments of credibility, we will reverse the trial court's ruling only if it manifestly erroneous. People v. Anthony, 198 Ill. 2d 194, 200-01, 761 N.E.2d 1188, 1191 (2001).

A manifestly erroneous decision is one that is arbitrary, unreasonable, and not based on the evidence. People v. Ceja, 204 Ill. 2d 332, 347, 789 N.E.2d 1228, 1239 (2003). We give deference to the trial court's decision on a motion to suppress, because it is best placed to determine the credibility of the witnesses, the weight to be given to their testimony, and the inferences to be drawn from the evidence. People v. Ballard, 206 Ill. 2d 151, 162, 794 N.E.2d 788, 798 (2002). Even if the facts are not disputed, if reasonable persons could draw different inferences from them, it is left to the trier of fact to resolve those questions. See Jackson v. TLC Associates, Inc., 185 Ill. 2d 418, 424, 706 N.E.2d 460, 463 (1998).

The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const., amend. IV. The cases interpreting the amendment have produced three levels of encounter between police and citizens. People v. Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d 165, 176, 784 N.E.2d 799, 806 (2003). First, the police may arrest a citizen only with probable cause that a crime has been committed. Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d at 176, 784 N.E.2d at 806. The middle level is the brief investigatory seizure known as the Terry stop, which requires a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968); Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d at 177, 784 N.E.2d at 806. Finally, there are purely consensual encounters between police and citizen, which do not involve a seizure at all. Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d at 177, 784 N.E.2d at 806.

An individual has been seized in the fourth amendment sense when an officer "'has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.'" Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d at 177-78, 784 N.E.2d at 807, quoting Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434, 115 L. Ed. 2d 389, 398, 111 S. Ct. 2382, 2386 (1991). This is so when, in view of all the relevant circumstances surrounding the incident, the individual would not feel free to terminate the encounter with the police officer. Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d at 178, 784 N.E.2d at 807. In this case, it is undisputed that Brown was standing in a parking lot doing nothing illegal when Baltzell arrived in his squad car. When Brown began to leave, Baltzell spoke to him. The trial court found: "The officer said stop. There is no testimony the officer said, 'may I please talk to you?' and that the defendant turned around and said 'sure.' The testimony is he asked him to stop, which is more of a command than a request to talk to him." Based on these findings, the trial court found that Brown had been seized, and we will not lightly disturb that determination.

The State argues that even if Brown was seized, the seizure was lawful. Conceding that a lawful seizure under these circumstances would require Baltzell to have a reasonable suspicion that Brown was engaged in or about to be engaged in criminal activity, the State argues that this standard has been met. A police officer may conduct a Terry stop only when he can point to specific and articulable facts that, taken together with rational inferences, reasonably warrant the intrusion. People v. Cox, 202 Ill. 2d 462, 467, 782 N.E.2d 275, 278 (2002). The only facts that the State identifies in support of its argument are that Brown was standing alone in front of a closed business, which was next to an open one, at 6:46 p.m. on a Saturday night. The trial court therefore found that Baltzell did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Brown. Giving appropriate deference to the trial court's factual findings, we cannot say that this determination was manifestly erroneous.

Finally, the State argues that even if Baltzell did seize Brown without reasonable suspicion, it should be allowed to use evidence of the seizure in prosecuting Brown because of the "distinct-crime" exception to the fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine. The fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine holds that where the police obtain evidence through the violation of a person's constitutional rights, the State ordinarily may not use that evidence in prosecuting that person. People v. McCauley, 163 Ill. 2d 414, 448, 645 N.E.2d 923, 940 (1994). In People v. Abrams, 48 Ill. 2d 446, 271 N.E.2d 37 (1971), however, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that when an unconstitutional search leads to retaliation by the person whose constitutional rights have been violated, the State may use evidence of that retaliation. The court in that case refused to ...

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