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The People of the State of Illinois v. Joseph G. Seiler

December 22, 2010


Appeal from Circuit Court of Coles County No. 09CF434 Honorable Mitchell K. Shick, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Pope

JUSTICE POPE delivered the opinion of the court: In March 2010, the trial court held a hearing on defendant Joseph G. Seiler's motion to suppress evidence found during a warrantless search of a closed bullet-shaped container. The court denied defendant's motion to suppress. In May 2010, after a stipulated bench trial, the court found defendant guilty of methamphetamine possession (720 ILCS 646/60(a) (West 2008)). Defendant appeals, arguing the court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence for the following reasons: (1) the nature or configuration of the closed container did not proclaim its contents; (2) his rights, as a nonprobationer, were violated during the probation search; and (3) the probation officer's search of the closed container was not incident to an arrest.

Defendant asks this court to reverse his conviction. The State argues the trial court properly denied defendant's motion to suppress because the search of the container was justified (1) as a probation search, (2) as a search incident to arrest, and (3) because the bullet-shaped container was a single- purpose container. We affirm the court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress as the search of the closed container was justified as part of a valid probation search.


In September 2009, the State charged defendant by information with one count of methamphetamine possession, less than five grams of a substance containing methamphetamine (720 ILCS 646/60(a) (West 2008)). In January 2010, defendant filed a motion to suppress the contents of the closed container, which were discovered as a result of a warrantless search of the container.

In March 2010, the trial court held a hearing on defendant's motion to suppress. Jini Watson, an officer with the court services department for Coles and Cumberland Counties, testified she received information from a reliable confidential source who related that he or she had detected the odor of anhydrous ammonia at Teri Owen's residence and that Owen and defendant were injecting methamphetamine at the residence. Watson testified she forwarded the information to Stacey Fisher, Owen's supervising probation officer.

Stacey Fisher, a probation officer, testified she was supervising Owen in September 2009. Owen was on probation for driving under the influence of alcohol. After receiving the information from Watson, she consulted with her supervisor, Officer Steve Kelly, deputy director of Coles County court services, and they decided to conduct a home visit.

On the evening of September 24, 2009, probation officers Fisher, Kelly, Maria Moran, and Brandon Stollard executed a home visit at Owen's home. Owen answered the door. Fisher asked Owen permission to enter the home and then the officers went inside. Chad Greisheimer and defendant were in the immediate area when they entered the home. Fisher testified she told Owen, Greisheimer, and defendant to stay in one spot and sit down.

At first, Owen, Greisheimer, and defendant all sat down. (Apparently, defendant did not comply with the request to sit down for very long, if at all. The stipulated evidence for the bench trial reflects Fisher requested Owen, Greisheimer, and defendant to sit down and keep their hands visible for officer-safety purposes. According to the stipulated evidence, defendant did not comply with Fisher's request to sit down and continued wandering around the common area of the residence.) Fisher testified it appeared as if defendant could not control his movements. He was moving his hands and his torso and appeared anxious and nervous. Based on her training and experience, Fisher believed defendant was under the influence, possibly of methamphetamine.

Fisher testified she observed defendant lunge at a table in the living room. While Kelly dealt with defendant, Fisher took Owen into another room to talk. Owen told Fisher she snorted, smoked, and injected methamphetamine with defendant the day before and used cannabis that day.

Kelly testified he had worked for Coles County proba- tion for nearly 30 years. Kelly stated he had been involved in hundreds of visits to the homes of individuals on probation.

According to Kelly, when they arrived at Owen's home, Fisher made contact with Owen, identified herself, and asked if the officers could enter the home. Owen gave the officers permission to enter. Besides Owen, defendant and Greisheimer were present in the living room of the home. Kelly testified the room appeared to be a room used for common gathering and common access.

When the officers went into the home, Fisher requested the people inside the home to sit down. Defendant kept standing up and sitting down and started to walk around the table. After Fisher explained she wanted him to sit down for purposes of officer safety, defendant sat down near Kelly but continued to move his hands in and out of his pockets. Kelly asked defendant to stop moving his hands and keep them in plain sight.

Kelly described defendant's demeanor as erratic. Defendant was making involuntary gestures with his head, neck, arms, eyes, and legs. Kelly described defendant's behavior as one of the more extreme cases he had seen. Based on his training and experience, Kelly testified defendant appeared to be under the influence of either amphetamine or methamphetamine.

At that point, defendant lunged toward a table in the living room, which was in a common area of the house. It appeared to Kelly defendant grabbed something off the table. Kelly did not see any one particular object on the table and did not know what, if anything, defendant grabbed. Kelly grabbed defendant's arm and asked him what he got off the table. Defendant answered "nothing" or he ...

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