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People v. Gott

January 21, 2004

[5] THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
SUSAN LYNN GOTT AND CLYDE MURREL GOTT, JR., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Fayette County. Nos. 02-CF-10 & 02-CF-11 Honorable James R. Harvey, Judge, presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Donovan

[8]  Rule 23 order filed December 18, 2003; Motion to publish granted January 21, 2004.

[9]  Defendants Susan Gott and Clyde Gott were charged with one count of unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance that consisted of more than 400 grams but less than 900 grams of methamphetamine in violation of section 401(a)(6.5)(C) of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act (Act) (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(6.5)(C) (West 2000)) and with a second count of unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance that consisted of more than 900 grams of a substance containing methamphetamine in violation of section 401(a)(6.5)(D) of the Act (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(6.5)(D) (West 2000)). Defendants moved to suppress the drugs seized, arguing that they had been obtained during a warrantless search without probable cause or exigent circumstances. The trial court granted defendants' motion. The State now appeals the Fayette County circuit court's decision granting defendants' motion to suppress. For the following reasons, we affirm.

[10]   BACKGROUND

[11]   On January 18, 2002, Dennis Ramsey, the owner of Okaw Valley Campground in Fayette County, Illinois, rented a cabin to Susan Gott. The cabin is approximately 10 feet by 10 feet, with a window on each side of the cabin, a small window on the front of the cabin, a small porch, and its own parking area, fire pit, and grill. The grill is located a few feet from the front of the cabin door. Inside the cabin, there is a bed on one side and bunk beds on the other side. The cabin does not have toilet facilities or running water. The checkout time of 11 a.m. was posted inside the cabin.

[12]   On January 19, 2002, sometime around 1 p.m., Mr. Ramsey noticed that the cabin was still occupied. Around 2 p.m., Mr. Ramsey saw that defendants' car was gone and approached the cabin to see if it was still occupied. He knocked on the door, and Susan's husband, Clyde, opened the door a "slit," exited, and quickly shut the door behind him. Clyde told Mr. Ramsey that he and Susan intended to stay and that Susan had gone to town to obtain money for the additional night. Mr. Ramsey instructed Clyde to put the money in the night deposit box.

[13]   Growing suspicious because Susan and Clyde had not yet paid for the additional night and their car was not there, Mr. Ramsey called the sheriff's department around 3 p.m. Deputy Gary Washburn responded to Mr. Ramsey's request for assistance. He walked around the cabin and knocked on the door. Deputy Washburn saw a plastic Wal-Mart bag with a small pitcher in it on the porch of the cabin and a burnt blister pack in the grill. On the blister pack he could make out a part of the word "ephedrine." The grill was not warm, but there was also no snow on the blister pack. He also noticed an unusual chemical odor.

[14]   Mr. Ramsey asked Deputy Washburn to look in the cabin. Deputy Washburn had reservations about doing this, so he contacted the State's Attorney, who instructed him not to accompany Mr. Ramsey on a search of the cabin and, instead, recommended surveillance. Deputy Washburn acknowledged that up to that point he knew he needed more information before he could proceed further. Based on Deputy Washburn's suspicion of a methamphetamine lab, Deputy Washburn told Mr. Ramsey that although he could not search the cabin, Mr. Ramsey could. Deputy Washburn and Mr. Ramsey then had a discussion about methamphetamine labs, and Deputy Washburn showed Mr. Ramsey law enforcement materials on the topic, complete with photos and descriptions of paraphernalia sometimes found in locations where methamphetamine is being produced.

[15]   Mr. Ramsey entered the cabin while Deputy Washburn remained in the campground office. Mr. Ramsey returned and reported to Deputy Washburn that he had seen a handgun with pellets next to it, a hunting knife, rock salt, drain opener, and a cooler and that he had noted a chemical odor. Mr. Ramsey agreed to allow the police to conduct surveillance from his property. Deputy Washburn left the campground at roughly 3 or 4 p.m. to prepare.

[16]   Deputy Washburn contacted Deputy Lay, Deputy Halleman, and Trooper Smith for assistance in investigating defendants' cabin. Around 6 p.m., Deputy Washburn and Deputy Lay went to the campground and proceeded to conduct surveillance from a second floor room above the campground office with a view of the cabin. The officers noticed that there was now a vehicle outside the cabin. Trooper Smith and Deputy Halleman waited at a nearby truck stop for further directions.

[17]   Susan left the cabin sometime after 6 p.m. driving an older model Crown Victoria. Deputy Halleman followed Susan to a gas station and convenience store. He lost track of her, but it was not because she was in any way attempting to elude him. Susan returned around 6:45 p.m., dropped something off in the night deposit box, and went into the cabin.

[18]   Susan left again around 7:30 p.m. Deputy Halleman followed her to a different convenience store. Again, she showed no sign of knowing that she had been followed. She returned to the cabin around 8 p.m. Shortly thereafter, Deputy Halleman and Trooper Smith drove up to the cabin with their lights off. Deputy Washburn and Deputy Lay moved to within 15 to 20 feet of the cabin to see what was being carried in and to detect any odor from the area. After 8 p.m., Deputy Washburn saw Clyde exit the cabin carrying a clear container and dump clear liquid on the ground. Immediately after he dumped the liquid, there was a strong smell of ether. Based on his experience in several methamphetamine lab investigations, Deputy Washburn was aware of the smell of ether. Deputy Washburn testified that ether is used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Around this same time, Deputy Lay and Deputy Halleman proceeded to the front door while Trooper Smith and Deputy Washburn waited on the side of the cabin by one of the windows. Deputy Washburn and Trooper Smith could see into the cabin through an opening in the blinds.

[19]   Deputy Lay and Deputy Halleman knocked on the door but did not identify themselves as police. As soon as they knocked, Trooper Smith and Deputy Washburn saw Clyde pick up a glass container, set it inside a thermos, and put a lid on the thermos. They also saw Susan take a container and a bottle and put them under some clothing. From his position, Trooper Smith could not see the shelf where Mr. Ramsey had said the gun was located. Neither defendant made any effort to answer the door. Instead, Clyde turned off the lights. Until Clyde turned off the lights, Trooper Smith had not seen anyone pour anything on the floor or burn or destroy anything. The officers moved to the front door, knocked, and announced "Sheriff's Department," and all four police officers went through the door. Trooper Smith handcuffed Susan, took her outside, and put her in his squad car. Trooper Smith then read Susan her Miranda rights (Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966)) and had no further conversation with her. Deputy Washburn went to the front porch and read Clyde his Miranda rights and asked for his consent to search the cabin. After Clyde talked to Susan, he signed a written consent to search the cabin. Upon searching, the officers found, among other things, a pellet handgun, ether cans, lithium battery packs, tubing, a hot glue gun, muriatic acid, drain opener, knives, a needle on a plate, and a substance that was later determined to be methamphetamine.

[20]   On January 22, 2002, defendants Clyde and Susan were charged with unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance that consisted of more than 400 grams but less than 900 grams of methamphetamine in violation of section 401(a)(6.5)(C) of the Act (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(6.5)(C) (West 2000)). On March 22, 2002, defendants were charged with a second count of unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance that consisted of more than 900 grams of a substance containing methamphetamine in violation of section 401 (a)(6.5)(D) of the Act (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(6.5)(D) (West 2000)). Defendants filed motions to quash the arrest and suppress the evidence obtained. The court held hearings on June 21 and 26, 2002.

[21]   On July 29, 2002, the trial court issued its order granting the motion to suppress. The court barred all the evidence seized from the cabin and the subsequent statements as "fruits of the poisonous tree." The trial judge, in his detailed, written, mixed findings of law and fact, drew the following conclusions: Deputy Washburn could rightfully approach the cabin at Mr. Ramsey's request and knock on the door; Deputy Washburn was authorized to observe the Wal-Mart bag outside the defendants' cabin and detect the unknown chemical odor; the blister packs were properly discovered since there had been no effort to protect them from view and they had been discarded; Mr. Ramsey's search was undertaken as an agent of the police since the police gave Mr. Ramsey a training brochure on what items someone would find on the premises being used for the manufacture of methamphetamine, and, as a result, Mr. Ramsey's search of the cabin was unconstitutional; the court concluded that the officers smelling ether from 25 feet away was neither an exigent circumstance nor probable cause to search the cabin; and even if the pellet gun observed by Mr. Ramsey was considered, it did not create exigent circumstances. Finally, the trial judge concluded that since this was a one-room cabin, without a telephone or plumbing, and with only one road leading in or out, if the pouring of the clear liquid believed to be ether was sufficient to create probable cause, there was no reason why the officers could not have waited outside the cabin while a warrant was obtained.

[22]   The State filed a motion to reconsider on August 16, 2002, and on August 26, 2002, the trial court denied the motion. Defendants then moved to dismiss the charges. On August 28, 2002, the State filed its notice of appeal and a certificate of impairment.

[23]   ARGUMENT

[24]   When arguing a motion to suppress, the defendant has the burden of proving that the search and seizure were unlawful. 725 ILCS 5/114-12(b) (West 2000). The function of the trial court at the hearing on the motion to suppress is to determine the credibility of the witnesses, the weight to be given their testimony, and the inferences to be drawn from the evidence. People v. Garcia, 296 Ill. App. 3d 769, 776, 695 N.E.2d 1292, 1297 (1998). "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.

[25]   Where, however, no dispute exists as to the facts or witness credibility, the trial court's ruling will be reviewed de novo." People v. Bunch, 207 Ill. 2d 7, 12, 796 N.E.2d 1024, 1028 (2003); see also People v. Anthony, 198 Ill. 2d 194, 200-01, 761 N.E.2d 1188, 1191 (2001). In the present case, what occurred is largely ...


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