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The People of the State of Illinois v. Cedric J. Sinegal

April 28, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CEDRIC J. SINEGAL,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Union County. No. 09-CF-55 Honorable Mark M. Boie, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Chapman

Rule 23 order filed March 30, 2011;

Motion to publish granted April 28, 2011.

PRESIDING JUSTICE CHAPMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Welch and Donovan concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

The defendant, Cedric J. Sinegal, appeals his conviction for unlawful possession of cannabis. He argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence because officers who pierced the side of a plastic-wrapped package containing the cannabis lacked probable cause to search the package. We affirm.

The defendant's conviction stems from a stop of his vehicle at a gas station near Interstate 57 in Union County, Illinois. Trooper Rodger Goines initially stopped the vehicle because the defendant was exceeding the speed limit and his car had tinted windows and did not have a front license plate. After stopping the vehicle, Trooper Goines learned that the defendant's vehicle was registered in Louisiana. Illinois requires vehicles to have two license plates, while Louisiana does not, and at the relevant time, Illinois prohibited tinted windows for the windshield and the windows to each side of the driver, while Louisiana does not. It is not illegal to drive an out-of-state vehicle into Illinois that fully complies with the requirements of the state in which it is registered; however, Trooper Goines did not realize that the car was registered in Louisiana until he made the stop. During the course of the stop, Trooper Goines discovered a large package wrapped in opaque green plastic. He suspected that the package contained narcotics. He therefore called for backup, arrested the defendant and a passenger in his vehicle, and searched the vehicle. Sergeant Steven Lawrence arrived and pierced the side of the package, revealing that it contained cannabis.

The defendant and his passenger were charged with unlawful possession with intent to deliver cannabis, cannabis trafficking, and unlawful possession of cannabis. Their cases were consolidated for purposes of a series of hearings on their motions to quash their arrests and suppress evidence of the cannabis.

At the first hearing on the motions, Trooper Goines testified that he saw the defendant's vehicle traveling at a speed of 68 miles per hour in a 65-mile-per-hour zone. He also noticed that the vehicle had no front license plate and had black tinted windows on each side of the driver and on the rear windows. He followed the defendant's vehicle as the defendant exited the interstate. At the top of the exit ramp, the vehicle did not come to a complete stop. In addition, it appeared to begin to turn right but then turned left instead. Trooper Goines testified that he followed the vehicle into a Travel Hut located near the interchange. There, both the driver and the passenger immediately jumped out of the car. They stated that they needed to buy gas and both needed to use the restroom. Trooper Goines patted down each defendant and allowed them to use the restroom one at a time.

Trooper Goines testified that he asked the defendant for permission to look at his gas gauge and that the defendant consented. When Trooper Goines opened the car door to look at the gauge, he saw a 24- by 12-inch package wrapped tightly in opaque green plastic shrink wrap. The package was lying on the driver's seat. He immediately suspected that it contained narcotics. He called for backup, placed both defendants under arrest, and searched the defendant's car. The search did not turn up any additional contraband. Sergeant Steven Lawrence arrived on the scene and pierced the side of the package, revealing a leafy substance the officers suspected to be cannabis.

After his testimony, Trooper Goines left the courtroom, and the attorneys for the defendants and the State began their arguments. The State argued that once Trooper Goines saw the package in plain view on the front seat of the defendant's car, it was "rather obvious" to him that the package contained narcotics. In response, the defendants argued that there was no evidence to support the officer's suspicion that the package contained drugs. They argued that there was no suspicious behavior on the part of either defendant to support this conclusion and that Trooper Goines' search of the car and pat-down searches of both defendants yielded no evidence of any additional contraband or drug paraphernalia. The court then made the following observation: "I didn't hear any testimony from the trooper that he even had any previous drug experience, any previous experience that would lead him to believe that the bundle was anything about drugs." The court continued the hearing to allow the parties time to address the applicability of Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. ____, 173 L. Ed. 2d 485, 129 S. Ct. 1710 (2009). That case, which was decided five days after the search and seizure at issue in this case occurred, placed limits on the ability of officers to search a vehicle incident to an arrest. Gant, 556 U.S. at ____, 173 L. Ed. 2d at 501, 129 S. Ct. at 1723-24. Although relevant at the trial court level, the case is not relevant to the issues raised in this appeal. The defendant concedes that Trooper Goines discovered the package after being given consent to open the door to look at the gas gauge and that the search of the vehicle did not turn up any other incriminating evidence.

A few days after the first hearing, the State filed a motion to strike the defendants' motions to quash arrest and a motion to reopen direct examination and allow additional witnesses. The defendants promptly filed an objection to the State's motions. The court held a second hearing to address these pending motions. The court denied the motion to strike, finding that it was untimely and moot. The court found that it had never closed the evidence in the first hearing; therefore, over the defendants' objections, the court ruled that the State would be permitted to present additional evidence without the need to reopen the case.

The court then held a third hearing in the matter. Trooper Goines again took the stand. This time, he testified that he asked the passenger about the package and that the passenger told him that the package did not belong to him and that he did not know what was in the package or how it got there. Trooper Goines also testified that he questioned both defendants about where they were going. The defendant, who was the driver, told him that they were going to Indianapolis. The passenger said that he was just going along for the ride and did not know where they were going.

Trooper Goines further testified that he immediately suspected that the package contained some type of narcotics because of the way it was wrapped as well as the defendants' behavior. He explained that he had some training in drug interdiction, from which he had learned that plastic wrap was used by drug traffickers to conceal narcotics. He further explained that although many drivers appear to be nervous when stopped for routine traffic violations, both defendants here acted more nervous than the typical motorist. Trooper Goines acknowledged that he did not know what type of narcotic he could expect to find in the package. He suspected it contained cocaine because he ran a warrant check on both ...


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