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People v. Jones

March 25, 2004


[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois, No. 02-CF-1573 Honorable Richard Schoenstedt, Judge, Presiding.

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

[8]  The defendant, Kenneth K. Jones, was convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon (720 ILCS 5/24--1.6(a)(3) (West 2002)). He was subsequently sentenced to 24 months' probation. On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. We agree.

[9]  I. FACTS

[10]   At the suppression hearing, University Park Police Officer Todd Tomany testified that he was on a routine patrol in Will County at approximately 1:55 a.m. on January 31, 2003. Tomany was traveling on Western Avenue when he observed the defendant's vehicle pass by in the opposite direction. The defendant was traveling on the shoulder of the road. Tomany then turned around to pursue the defendant for this traffic violation. By the time Tomany had caught up, the defendant had made a right turn onto Loves Lane. As Tomany followed the defendant, the defendant appeared to be traveling "well over" the 35 mile-per-hour speed limit. After the officer activated his squad lights, the defendant continued on for approximately one-quarter mile before pulling over.

[11]   Tomany exited his squad car and approached the vehicle. As he did so, he observed the defendant (the sole occupant of the vehicle) reach toward the passenger side of the vehicle. The officer immediately questioned the defendant about this movement. The defendant indicated that he had been retrieving his insurance information. That information was in his hand, and the defendant offered the insurance information and his license to Tomany. Tomany asked who owned the vehicle, and the defendant indicated that it was his uncle's. The officer returned to his squad car to inquire into the status of the defendant's license.

[12]   After this check revealed the license to be valid, the officer returned to the vehicle and asked the defendant to step outside. The officer testified that at this point he intended to issue a citation for improper lane usage, but he had not yet done so. He believed the investigation of the traffic stop was not complete because "there was some suspicion on why he was driving on the shoulder, why he was traveling at such a high rate of speed, why he was reaching towards [sic] the passenger side, why the vehicle wasn't registered to him."

[13]   After the defendant stepped outside, the officer asked if there were any drugs or weapons in the car. The defendant responded, "I don't know. It's not my vehicle." Tomany then asked for consent to search the vehicle, and the defendant gave verbal consent. The defendant declined to sign a written consent form because it was not his vehicle. A second police officer, Officer Stroud, watched the defendant while Tomany searched the vehicle. It was during this search that a loaded, uncased, semi-automatic handgun was found under the passenger seat. After this discovery, Tomany placed the defendant under arrest.

[14]   At trial, the judge denied the defendant's motion to suppress. The trial judge found that Tomany had a reasonable, articulable suspicion of unlawful activity to ask the questions he did and to seek consent for a search of the vehicle. This appeal followed.


[16]   On appeal, the defendant argues that the search of the vehicle in this case violated his federal and state constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

[17]   The ruling of a trial court on a motion to suppress evidence frequently presents mixed questions of fact and of law. Because the trier of fact is in the best position to review the evidence and weigh the credibility of the witnesses, the findings of fact of the trial court will not be disturbed unless they are manifestly erroneous. People v. Simac, 321 Ill. App. 3d 1001, 748 N.E.2d 798 (2001). However, on questions of law, the finding of the trial court is subject to de novo review. Simac, 321 Ill. App. 3d 1001, 748 N.E.2d 798.

[18]   The fourth amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees 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. Likewise, article I, section 6, of the Illinois state constitution provides similar protections. Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §6. Illinois courts have interpreted the search and seizure language found in section 6 in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court's fourth amendment decisions. Fink v. Ryan, 174 Ill. 2d 302, 673 N.E.2d 281 (1996). These constitutional provisions apply to all seizures of the person, including those of only a brief detention short of an arrest. United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 45 L. Ed. 2d 607, 95 S. Ct. 2574 (1975). Routine traffic stops fall within that category. People v. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d 220, 789 N.E.2d 260 (2003).

[19]   Based on their brevity, traffic stops are analyzed by applying the rule set forth in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968). Under Terry, a police officer may briefly detain a person for questioning if the officer reasonably believes that the person has committed, or is about to commit, a crime. The reasonableness of the officer's actions involves a two-part inquiry: (1) whether the stop was justified at its inception; and (2) whether it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place. Gonzalez, 204 Ill. 2d 220, 789 N.E.2d 260 (citing Terry, 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868).

[20]   In Gonzalez, the Illinois Supreme Court developed a three-tiered test for determining whether police questioning during a traffic stop satisfies the Terry scope requirement. First, no fourth amendment violation occurs if the question is reasonably related to the purpose of the stop. However, if the question is not reasonably related, we must then consider whether the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that would justify the question. If he had a reasonable, articulable suspicion, no constitutional violation occurred. If he did not, we must next determine whether the inquiry impermissibly prolonged the detention or changed the nature of the stop. If the inquiry did, ...

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