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The People of the State of Illinois v. Ron Johnson

December 23, 2010

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
RON JOHNSON,
DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. No. 07 CR 05097 Honorable Mary M. Brosnahan,Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Joseph Gordon

JUSTICE JOSEPH GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Howse and Epstein concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Defendant, Ron Johnson, was arrested for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and the trial court granted defendant's motion to quash that arrest and suppress evidence on the ground that he was improperly restrained by handcuffs during his search . On appeal, the State contends that the trial court erred in granting defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence because: (1) the officers properly detained and searched defendant pursuant to an investigatory Terry stop; and (2) the arresting officers had probable cause to arrest defendant for obstructing a peace officer. For the following reasons, we disagree with the State's contention that the arresting officer properly handcuffed and searched defendant pursuant to an investigatory stop, but agree with the State that the officer had probable cause to arrest defendant for obstructing a peace officer. Therefore, handcuffing defendant at the time of his apprehension was lawful.

BACKGROUND

On February 28, 2007, defendant was charged with nine counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, arising from an incident which occurred on February 19, 2007. In response to the charges, defendant filed a motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence in which he alleged that his arrest was made without the authority of a valid search or arrest warrant and without probable cause.

A hearing on defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence was held on October 10, 2008. At the hearing, Chicago police officer Marian Hartley testified that on the evening in question, she was on patrol in plainclothes with Officer Kevin Rake in an unmarked police vehicle, in a high-crime area targeted for aggressive patrol. At 9:46 p.m., Officer Hartley made a traffic stop of an older, white, four-door Chevy at 71st Street and Hoyne Avenue, after the car failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. After Officer Hartley activated the car's emergency lights, the Chevy pulled over and both officers exited their vehicle. As Officer Hartley approached the Chevy, all she could see was the back of the heads of the two individuals sitting in the car, and she could not see if either of them had any weapons or drugs. Aside from the traffic violation, Officer Hartley did not see the two occupants of the vehicle break any laws.

As Officer Hartley was about to ask the driver for his license, defendant, who was in the passenger seat, exited the vehicle and started running. She testified that less than a second or two elapsed between the time that she walked up to the vehicle and the time that defendant ran out of the passenger side. Officer Hartley did not expect defendant to run out of the vehicle, and did not see anything in defendant's hands or on his person, and the officer testified that she did not know why he was running. She immediately got into the police vehicle and started to follow defendant, while Officer Rake ran after him. Officer Rake caught defendant less than a block away, and the officers then detained and handcuffed him for officer safety. At that point, Officer Rake did a protective pat down and discovered a gun on the front side of defendant's waistband. The pat down that Officer Hartley observed her partner perform consisted of moving his hand across defendant's waist. Officer Hartley further testified that the police officers put handcuffs on defendant because they were in a high-crime area, replete with general crime, narcotic and gang activity, and did not know what defendant had on his person or why he was fleeing. Defendant was placed into custody after the officers found the gun, and Officer Rake then performed a custodial search of defendant. When the officers returned to the scene where they had stopped the white Chevy, the driver had left.

Officer Hartley acknowledged giving her testimony at a preliminary hearing on February 26, 2007. According to defendant, that testimony implied that defendant's pat down was performed after he was taken into custody. The officer admitted that she had previously testified as follows:

"A. My partner started to follow [defendant] on foot, and I drove around No. 1-09-0518 and we eventually apprehended him and placed him into custody.

Q. Was a pat down custodial search performed?

A. Yes.

Q. What was discovered?

A. One nine millimeter steel handgun."

Although her previous testimony may have suggested that the search was incident to an arrest, Officer Hartley stated, at the hearing on the motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence, that when the officers put handcuffs on defendant and performed the protective pat down, he was not officially under arrest. She also testified that she and her partner prepared a police report after the incident, which stated:

"RO then conducted an officer safety check of [defendant's] person which revealed one Larson nine millimeter blue steel handgun with a live round in the chamber and three in the magazine. RO located stated handgun in the front waistband of [defendant]. RO placed [defendant] into custody, read him his Miranda and transported him to the 7th District for processing."

Following Officer Hartley's testimony, the defense rested and the State made a motion for directed verdict, which the trial court denied. The State then rested. After closing arguments, the trial court stated that defendant's flight from the vehicle that was involved in the traffic stop in a high-crime area warranted the police officers to do an investigatory stop of defendant. The court subsequently stated that it had "not been given a reason to justify that cuffing which occurred prior to the protective pat down, so [the court found] that was an arrest without probable cause."

Accordingly, the trial court granted defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress the handgun. The State subsequently filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied. Thereafter, the State filed a certificate of substantial impairment and a notice of appeal, and later filed a motion for leave to a file late notice of appeal docketed under No. 1-09-0518 and a late notice of appeal.

ANALYSIS

On appeal, the State contends that the trial court erred in granting defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence because there was probable cause to arrest defendant for obstructing a peace officer after defendant suddenly fled from a valid traffic stop as officers approached. Alternatively, the State argues that even if the officers did not have probable cause to arrest defendant, they properly detained and searched defendant pursuant to a Terry investigatory stop.

Defendant responds that although the officers had the right to detain him pursuant to a Terry stop, there was no evidence to support a finding of probable cause to arrest or that the pat down search was justified. Defendant also maintains that the trial court correctly found that handcuffing him converted the stop into an illegal arrest.

As explained below, we disagree with the State's contention that handcuffing defendant was a proper restraint during a Terry stop. However, we agree with the State that the officers had probable cause to arrest defendant at the time of his apprehension, so that further restraint became proper to effectuate the arrest.

The trial court's findings of fact pursuant to a motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence will be upheld on appeal unless those findings are against the manifest weight of the No. 1-09-0518 evidence. People v. Pitman, 211 Ill. 2d 502, 512, 813 N.E.2d 93, 100-01 (2004); People v. Moore, 378 Ill. App. 3d 41, 46, 880 N.E.2d 229, 233 (2007). This deferential standard recognizes that the trial court is in a superior position to determine the credibility of the witnesses and weight to be given their testimony, observe their demeanor, and resolve conflicts in their testimony. Pitman, 211 Ill. 2d at 512, 813 N.E.2d at 100-01. Nevertheless, although we are deferential to findings of fact made by the trial court, we review de novo the application of the law to those facts to determine if suppression is warranted under those facts. People v. Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d 165, 175, 784 N.E.2d 799, 805 (2003). Accordingly, the supreme court has held that the trial court's ultimate determinations with respect to probable cause or reasonable suspicion are reviewed de novo. People v. Sorenson, 196 Ill. 2d 425, 431, 753 N.E.2d 1078, 1083 (2001) (citing Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699 (1996)).

Having addressed the standard of review, we can now turn to the substantive issues involved in this appeal. We first address the question of whether the trial court erred in finding that Officer Rake's actions in handcuffing defendant before moving his hand across defendant's waist constituted an arrest, rather than a Terry stop.

The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution provides "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches [and] seizures." U.S. Const., amend. IV. Similarly, the Illinois Constitution provides citizens with "the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and other possessions against unreasonable searches and seizures." Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, Ãé§6. Reasonableness, under those provisions, requires that "[a]n arrest executed without a warrant is valid only if supported by No. 1-09-0518 probable cause." People v. Jackson, 232 Ill. 2d 246, 274-75, 903 N.E.2d 388, 403 (2009). However, a limited exception to that requirement was recognized by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 22 (1968), where the Court held that a police officer, under appropriate circumstances, may briefly stop a person for investigatory purposes and, if necessary for safety, conduct a limited protective search for weapons. See also People v. Flowers, 179 Ill. 2d 257, 262, 688 N.E.2d 626, 629 (1997). Under this exception, a police officer may briefly detain an individual for temporary questioning if the officer reasonably believes that the person has committed, or is about to commit, a crime. Terry, 392 U.S. at 22. Further, if the officer reasonably believes that the person detained is armed and dangerous, the officer may subject the person to a limited ...


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