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People v. Pitman

June 17, 2004


[6] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

[7]  Docket No. 95783-Agenda 2-March 2004.

[8]  Defendant, Shane Pitman, was indicted in the circuit court of Macoupin County on one count of unlawful manufacture of cannabis, in that he knowingly manufactured more than 500 grams but not more than 2,000 grams of a substance containing cannabis. 720 ILCS 550/5(e) (West 1998). Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence and quash arrest. Defendant moved to suppress, inter alia, marijuana plants seized following a search of a farm occupied by defendant. At the close of a hearing, the circuit court granted defendant's motion to suppress. The State brought an interlocutory appeal to the appellate court pursuant to our Rule 604(a)(1) (188 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1)). The appellate court, with one justice dissenting, reversed the circuit court's suppression order and remanded the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings. No. 4-01-0620 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

[9]  We allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)). We now reverse the judgment of the appellate court, affirm the suppression order of the circuit court, and remand the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings.


[11]   The following witnesses testified at the suppression hearing: Alan Bondy, Sherry White, Dale Reels, Ron Lewis, Amy Curtis, and Mary Pitman. The hearing adduced the following pertinent evidence.

[12]   Mary Pitman owned a 93-acre farm in Macoupin County, east of the Village of Shipman. Pitman is defendant's mother and Sherry White's aunt; White is defendant's cousin. The farm contained two residences, a farmhouse and a trailer. In July 1999, White lived in the farmhouse; defendant, his girlfriend Amy Curtis, and their two children lived in the trailer.

[13]   On Friday, July 16, or Saturday, July 17, 1999, White drove behind a person she believed to be a police officer. She followed him to his home. Unbeknownst to White, the officer was Alan Bondy, the chief of police for the Village of Shipman. White knocked on his front door and they spoke on his porch. According to White:

[14]   "I knocked on the door and told him I had a question to ask him, because I was living at a farm and keeping the upkeep, and someone else that was living on the same farm, but down the road, was growing marijuana, and I was wanting to know if I would get into any trouble, or if the person that owned the land would get their farm taken away, and if there was a couple that lived there, and if they would get their kids taken away."

[15]   According to White, Bondy responded:

[16]   "He said, `It wouldn't be the Pitman farm out there, would it?' I didn't say nothing, and I could tell he could tell by the look on my face. But *** I said, `Well, if you know if it's the Pitman farm, why don't you go out there and bust him?' He said he knew Shane Pitman had been growing marijuana for a while, and they was after the bigger guys, that they weren't going to bother him."

[17]   At the end of their conversation, according to White: "he told me that I wouldn't get in no trouble, I more or less just took it that that would be it. *** I turned around and left and went home *** [b]ack to the farm." Their entire conversation lasted under a minute.

[18]   White testified that she did not describe the location of the plants. She did not give Bondy permission to come onto the premises to search. She did not ask Bondy to have defendant arrested and the plants removed. Between that day and July 20, White was never contacted by anyone from the Illinois State Police. No law enforcement officer ever asked her anything about the plants. She never gave anyone permission to come onto the premises.

[19]   Alan Bondy testified as follows. White knocked on his front door and he answered. According to Bondy: "She introduced herself as Sherry White, said she was renting a farm from her Aunt Mary out east of town." Further: "She was concerned over cannabis being grown on the property and was curious whether she would get in trouble or the owner of the property, being her Aunt Mary, would be subject to lose the property because of the cannabis being grown." Bondy asked White if defendant was growing the marijuana, and White responded "yes." White asked Bondy that if he knew that defendant was growing the marijuana, why did Bondy not go out to the farm and arrest defendant? Bondy told White that the farm was located outside of his jurisdiction.

[20]   Further, according to Bondy, White gave him details as to where the marijuana was growing on the premises:

[21]   "She said that she had found 13 Dixie cups with starter plants in them, she had found a patch of plants growing behind the barn, behind the house that she lived in. The barn was behind the house that she stayed in, and it was growing behind the barn, and there was another patch across the creek that was growing, on the other side of a hill or somewhere."

[22]   White informed Bondy that "Shane was cultivating, he was taking care of the plants, and that's what made her nervous." However, White was somewhat relieved when Bondy offered his opinion that the farm was not in jeopardy because White came forward with this information, and because Mary Pitman had no knowledge of defendant's activity.

[23]   Bondy told White that he would have to relay the information to the proper authorities. He told White that "the Drug Task Force would be out there and do an investigation, and they would contact her." The entire conversation lasted "[n]ot more than 5 to 10 minutes."

[24]   According to Bondy, the extent of his involvement was that he took a statement from White and relayed that information to the Illinois State Police: "I was given information. I relayed the information on. I jotted the information down on a piece of notebook paper, so that when the information was relayed on I got it correct, and that was inadvertently thrown away." Bondy telephoned the Task Force and left a message. The following week, Dale Reels returned Bondy's call, and Bondy gave Reels the information. Bondy told Reels that White "had came by the house, she had expressed concern over the plants that were being grown on the property and where they were being grown." Bondy told Reels that White "wanted them [the marijuana plants] removed, and she wanted Shane arrested."

[25]   Dale Reels was a patrolman with the Carlinville police department, assigned to the South Central Illinois Drug Task Force, which was a unit of the Illinois State Police. At approximately 1 p.m. on Monday July, 19, 1999, Officer Reels telephoned Bondy. According to Reels, Bondy told him: "She [White] went to him [Bondy] because she was concerned for the welfare of the farm and concerned for her own welfare, because her cousin, Shane Pitman, was growing cannabis on the farm." Reels had known defendant for a few months because defendant had been a confidential informant for the Drug Task Force. The next day, Tuesday, July 20, 1999, Officer Reels drove to the Pitman farm. During his testimony, Reels was asked whether there was "ample time for you to go obtain a search warrant for the premises on the basis that there is cannabis growing there," to which he answered, "There would have been time, yes."

[26]   Officer Reels arrived at the Pitman farm at approximately 2:25 p.m. With him was Macoupin County deputy sheriff Ron Lewis, also assigned to the Drug Task Force. Neither Reels nor Lewis had spoken with White prior to that time. They went to the premises to interview White.

[27]   The 93-acre farm was located along a road that ran north and south. The farm was on the west side of the road; the farmhouse faced the road to the east. A driveway off of the road was located on the north side of the house. On one side of the driveway was a sign that read "Private Property" and on the other side a sign that read "No Trespassing." Defendant's trailer was located "at least a football field's length" north of the house. The trailer had its own driveway off of the road. Reels and Lewis had previously been to defendant's trailer when defendant had been an informant.

[28]   The testimony conflicts at this point. According to Reels and Lewis, they both exited the automobile. They went to the front door of the house, knocked, and called, "Anybody home?" Hearing no answer, they went to the back door and knocked. Upon hearing no answer, they walked toward the barn located behind the house.

[29]   However, Amy Curtis, defendant's girlfriend, testified that on the afternoon of July 20, 1999, she was driving past the farm when she saw an automobile parked in the driveway. From previous encounters, she recognized the automobile as an unmarked police car. She pulled into the driveway behind the police car and exited her car. She saw one man on the front porch at the door and another sitting in the police car. According to Curtis: "I asked him [the man at the door] `Can I help you?' And he said `I am looking for Sherry White.' " Curtis responded that White was at work, but would return home between 3 and 3:30 p.m. Curtis then returned to her car, backed out of the driveway, and drove up the road to her trailer. She saw the police car back out of the driveway and drive away from the house.

[30]   Reels and Lewis were each asked whether a woman drove to the house and asked them why they were there. Each responded that he could not remember. Also, neither Reels nor Lewis could remember seeing the "Private Property" and "No Trespassing" signs posted on the driveway.

[31]   According to Reels and Lewis, after they received no answer at the back door of the house, they walked away from the house and toward the barn. That building was one of several outbuildings west of the house. The barn was located approximately 50 yards directly behind the house. The barn had large doors on the east and west sides. The south side of the barn did not have a wall; rather, it had a canopy off of it that covered a feedlot.

[32]   The east doors of the barn were open. Reels and Lewis entered the east side of the barn. Once inside, they first saw rolls of carpet and loose straw. The officers next observed marijuana plants growing in the feedlot on the south side of the barn. Some of the plants were planted in five-gallon buckets and some were planted in the ground. These mature plants were at least four feet tall; many were taller than six feet. The plants were interspersed with thick horseweeds that were six to eight feet tall. In addition to these mature plants, Reels and Lewis observed small marijuana plants in Dixie cups, known as starter plants, located outside along the southwest side of the barn.

[33]   Reels and Lewis testified that they did not see the marijuana plants from any road, from the driveway, or even at the open doorway on the east side of the barn. Rather, they could see the plants only after they entered the barn.

[34]   Reels and Lewis returned to their car and left the farm; they were on the premises for no longer than five minutes. Approximately two hours later, they returned with a third officer, Joe Konnecker. The three officers set up surveillance at several points around the barn. At approximately 5 p.m., defendant appeared and entered the barn. The officers then took defendant into custody and seized the marijuana plants.

[35]   According to Reels and Lewis, after defendant was taken into custody, White made her presence known to the officers, invited them into the farmhouse, and made a handwritten statement. In her statement, White stated that defendant had been planting many marijuana plants around the barn and at various locations on the farm. She further stated: "[I] went in town to ask Shipman Cop what I should do about all pot plants." She stated: "[I] was wondering if Aunt Mary would get her farm taken away or if Amy would get kids taken away or if I would get in any trouble because I lived on farm," and "I was going to pull every plant just to keep the rest of us out of trouble." However, White testified that she wrote the statement only after the officers threatened her with a felony charge.

[36]   The officers left defendant at the farm. On December 3, 1999, defendant was indicted on one count of unlawful manufacture of cannabis (720 ILCS 550/5(e) (West 1998)). Defendant was arrested on January 18, 2000.

[37]   Defendant moved to quash his arrest and to suppress, inter alia, the seized marijuana plants. At the close of the suppression hearing, the trial court granted defendant's motion. The circuit court found that White never consented to the officers' entry onto the property. Accordingly, the circuit court concluded that "the search was improper because it was done as part of a trespass." The circuit court suppressed the marijuana plants.

[38]   On appeal, the appellate court, with one justice dissenting, reversed the circuit court's suppression order. The appellate court held that defendant did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the barn area because: (1) the area was outside of the curtilage of defendant's trailer and the farmhouse, and (2) the barn was abandoned. Accordingly, the appellate court concluded that the officers' entry into the barn did not violate defendant's constitutional rights. In light of that conclusion, the appellate court did not address whether White consented to the search. No. 4-01-0620 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). Justice Cook dissented, stating:

[39]   "I respectfully dissent and would affirm the decision of the trial court. Defendant, who resided on the farm with the owner's permission, clearly had standing to object to a search. I would defer to the trial court's factual decision that the area in which the search occurred was one in which defendant had a legitimate expectation of privacy. It also seems clear that Sheri [sic] White never consented to the July 20 entry onto the property."

[40]   The appellate court remanded the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings. We allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)). Additional pertinent facts will be discussed in the context of the issues raised on appeal.


[42]   Defendant contends that the appellate court erred in reversing the circuit court's order granting his motion to suppress. In reviewing a circuit court's ruling on a motion to suppress, mixed questions of law and fact are presented. Findings of historical fact made by the circuit court will be upheld on review unless such findings are against the manifest weight of the evidence. This deferential standard of review is grounded in the reality that the circuit court is in a superior position to determine and weigh the credibility of the witnesses, observe the witnesses' demeanor, and resolve conflicts in their testimony. People v. Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d 165, 175 (2003); People v. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d 425, 430-31 (2001). However, a reviewing court remains free to undertake its own assessment of the facts in relation to the issues presented and may draw its own conclusions when deciding what relief should be granted. Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d at 175-76, quoting People v. Crane, 195 Ill. 2d 42, 51 (2001). Accordingly, we review de novo the ultimate question of whether the evidence should be suppressed. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d at 431.

[43]   This standard of review, based on Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 134 L.Ed. 2d 911, 116 S.Ct. 1657 (1996), supplants what had been the traditional standard of review for suppression orders. See Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d at 430-31. This court formerly stated that a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress would not be disturbed on appeal unless that ruling was manifestly erroneous, but de novo review was appropriate where neither the facts nor the credibility of witnesses was questioned. See, e.g., People v. Mitchell, 165 Ill. 2d 211, 230 (1995); People v. Foskey, 136 Ill. 2d 66, 76 (1990). We note for both bench and bar that in our recent opinions in People v. Morris, 209 Ill. 2d 137, 153-54 (2004), and People v. Ledesma, 206 Ill. 2d 571, 576 (2003), our reference to Mitchell was in error and does not signal a return by this court to the previous standard of review. Therefore, to the extent that the discussion of the standard of review in Morris and in Ledesma are inconsistent with this opinion, those portions of Morris and Ledesma are overruled. We reiterate today our adherence to the standard of review set forth in Ornelas and adopted by Sorenson.

[44]   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; see also Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 213, 4 L.Ed. 2d 1669, 1675, 80 S.Ct. 1437, 1442 (1960) (observing that the fourth amendment applies to state officials through the fourteenth amendment). Similarly, article I, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution provides that the "people shall have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and other possessions against unreasonable searches [and] seizures." Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, ยง6. This court has interpreted the search and seizure provision found in section 6 in a manner that is consistent with the fourth amendment jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court. Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d at 176; Fink v. Ryan, 174 Ill. 2d 302, 314 (1996). Warrantless searches are generally considered unreasonable unless they fall within a few specific ...

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