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People v. Lomas

June 11, 2004


[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Marion County. No. 02-CF-388 Honorable Dennis E. Middendorff, Judge, presiding.

[9] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn

[10]   On December 20, 2002, Tony W. Lomas was traveling the streets of Centralia, Illinois, a passenger in his brother Johnny's car. Two friends of the Lomas brothers, Jeff and Jody, were also along for the ride, as was something that dangled from the car's rearview mirror.

[11]   Officer Sean Richards was on patrol that day. He cruised the same Centralia byways traveled by Johnny Lomas and his passengers.

[12]   Richards patrolled with a piece of recently received information conveyed to the Centralia police department by some unknown caller. The department learned from an anonymous voice that four men had just made a purchase of Sudafed at the local Wal-Mart store. The dispatcher passed on this anonymous claim to the officers on patrol.

[13]   Sometimes, people buy Sudafed to relieve the discomforts of a common cold. It can also be used to make the illegal drug methamphetamine. Would-be drug dealers buy Sudafed in large quantities. The officers who patrolled Centralia's streets that day were familiar with its unlawful uses.

[14]   No one knows how Sean Richards linked the foursome in Johnny Lomas's car to the individuals who purportedly purchased Sudafed at the Centralia Wal-Mart. No one bothered to ask him how he made that connection.

[15]   Richards did not testify that Johnny Lomas and his three passengers fit a description of the four males who had purchased the Sudafed. Indeed, he did not testify that the unknown tipster even provided a description. Nor did Richards say that the tipster reported how the four males had left the store or whether the tipster described any vehicle in which they had departed. There was no testimony that the presence of four young men cruising Centralia streets on a winter's day was particularly odd, uncommon, or suspicious.

[16]   For some reason that was never made clear, Richards immediately targeted the foursome riding in Johnny Lomas's car for a stop and detention because he somehow believed that they were the four men who had made the Wal-Mart Sudafed purchase.

[17]   Richards knew full well that he could not act upon the information that he possessed. There was no way to credit it. Nonetheless, he decided to shadow the Lomas vehicle. Richards candidly admitted that he pursued the Lomas vehicle in order to fulfill his desire to search it, and its occupants, for illegal drugs. He believed, based upon the Sudafed purchase, an event the occurrence of which depended entirely upon the word of an anonymous caller, that a search of Lomas's car would uncover illegal drugs. And so, Richards tailed the vehicle, in order to observe Johnny Lomas's driving. Richards was intent upon conducting a drug investigation. The fulfillment of that desire awaited the observation of Johnny Lomas's breach of some rule of the road. Richards knew that any minor infraction could provide the means to conduct a probe more in line with his true goal, and the curiosity that fed it.

[18]   As Richards tailed Johnny Lomas's vehicle, waiting for a reason to legally bring it to a halt, he radioed for assistance. He wanted the assistance to be there when he executed his plan to search the car and its occupants. Three other patrol cars heeded his request and converged upon the area where Richards was following the Lomas automobile. The first patrol officer to find Richards, Officer Stevenson, fell in line behind Richards' squad car and the targeted vehicle. Shortly thereafter, other officers did the same. Soon, four police cars tailed the Lomas vehicle. They loomed behind Johnny Lomas, awaiting that moment when he would grant them a valid reason to stop and detain him.

[19]   Finally, Richards saw it. We do not know whether it was an oversized pair of Styrofoam dice, a pair of baby shoes, Mardi Gras beads, a St. Christopher medal, or simply a parking pass. Richards only referred to it as "an object."

[20]   Whatever was dangling from the rearview mirror in Johnny Lomas's car provided Richards with the welcomed reason to engage his overheads and bring Johnny Lomas to a halt. It provided the probable cause to seize Lomas and his passengers. It provided a means to the officers' desired end. The four officers were not there to investigate a windshield's partially obstructed view. They were there to probe for illegal drugs during the traffic stop's detention period.

[21]   After Lomas was brought to a curbside stop, Richards approached him. Richards asked for a driver's license and proof of insurance. Thereafter, he asked everyone in the vehicle for some form of identification.

[22]   Richards testified that it is routine operating procedure for all Centralia patrol officers to check the validity of registrations and licenses. It is also common practice, even on minor traffic violations, to run a criminal history check on drivers and on all their passengers.

[23]   After collecting everyone's identifications, Richards gave them to Stevenson. While Richards examined Lomas's license and proof of insurance, Stevenson took the identifications that Richards had obtained, placed them into his mobile data computer, and ran a criminal history check on everyone. When the computer checked for Tony Lomas, the existence of two prior drug possession convictions popped up.

[24]   After the criminal history check was completed, Richards directed Johnny Lomas to step out of the car. Lomas complied. Richards still had Lomas's license and proof of insurance. He had not started to write a citation for anything. Richards did not ask anything about the rearview mirror's decor. He did not ask about the license, the registration, or the proof of insurance. Richards' mind was not on the rules of the road.

[25]   Richards immediately turned his attention to the real reason that he had stopped the vehicle. He was interested in finding guns, drugs, or anything else that might constitute illegal contraband. He asked Lomas if he had guns, illegal drugs, or any other kind of contraband in his automobile. When Lomas responded in the negative, Richards asked for permission to check it out for himself. Lomas consented to a search of his car. The Centralia police officers then fulfilled their true objective in stopping the Lomas motor vehicle.

[26]   Richards and his fellow officers searched. During the search, they found a small quantity of methamphetamine inside a nylon lunch bag lying on the back seat of the passenger side of the car. None of the officers asked any of the car's occupants about ownership of the lunch bag before it was searched. They apparently assumed that it belonged to Johnny Lomas, the only member of the group of potential owners who consented to the search. See People v. James, 163 Ill. 2d 302, 645 N.E.2d 195 (1994) (where the driver lacked the apparent authority to give an effective consent to the search of his companions' belongings).

[27]   After the contraband was discovered, Tony Lomas claimed ownership of the bag and the methamphetamine that it contained.

[28]   The State charged Tony Lomas (the defendant) with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. After a bench trial on stipulation, the defendant was found guilty and was sentenced to 18 months of ...

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