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The People of the State of Illinois v. Vladislav Kats

March 9, 2012


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County, Illinois. Circuit No. 08-CF-1178 Honorable Walter D. Braud, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Holdridge

JUSTICE HOLDRIDGE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justice Carter concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Presiding Justice Schmidt specially concurred, with opinion.


¶ 1 The defendant, Vladislav Kats, was charged with unlawful possession with intent to deliver cannabis in violation of section 5(f) of the Cannabis Control Act (720 ILCS 550/5(f) (West 2008)). The defendant filed a motion to quash his arrest and suppress the evidence seized against him. After conducting a hearing, the trial court denied the motion. However, the trial court subsequently granted the defendant's motion to reconsider and entered an order suppressing the evidence. The State timely filed an interlocutory appeal of the trial court's suppression order under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 604(a)(1). Ill. S. Ct. R. 604(a)(1) (eff. July 1, 2006).


¶ 3 Sergeant Clint Thulen of the Illinois State Police was the only witness to testify during the hearing on the defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. Thulen had been a police officer for 19 years and was specially trained in drug interdiction. He had also received special training in drug searches during the 10 years that he served as a K-9 handler.

¶ 4 Thulen testified that, on November 3, 2008, at approximately 9:30 p.m., he was on duty driving in his squad car. As he attempted to merge onto I-80 eastbound, he saw a Toyota Sequoia traveling parallel to him in the right lane. Instead of passing Thulen's squad car or allowing it to merge in front of him, the driver of the Toyota slowed as Thulen slowed, so the cars remained parallel. Thulen slowed down below the minimum speed limit to avoid hitting the Toyota. The Toyota then slowed down, moved in front of Thulen, and pulled over onto the shoulder. Thulen turned on his squad car lights and pulled behind the Toyota, which had stopped on the shoulder. Thulen stopped his car and notified dispatch that he was effecting a motorist assist. He then exited his squad car and approached the Toyota on the passenger's side.

¶ 5 Thulen spoke to the defendant, who was the driver of the Toyota. The defendant told Thulen that he had pulled over to change his shoes. At that point, Thulen decided that it would be appropriate to give the defendant a written warning for failure to merge. The defendant presented a California driver's license, but the rented vehicle he was driving was registered in Arizona. Thulen examined the rental agreement, which revealed that the vehicle had been rented in Las Vegas for approximately $950. The defendant told Thulen that he was moving from Las Vegas to Buffalo, New York. However, Thulen noticed that there were mattresses and other large items in the vehicle which Thulen did not believe were the type of items that people who are moving usually have in their vehicles.

¶ 6 Thulen told the defendant that he was going to give the defendant a written warning and asked the defendant to accompany him to his squad car while he wrote the ticket. The defendant sat next to Thulen in the passenger seat of the squad car. Thulen began writing the ticket, notified dispatch that the motorist assist had turned into a traffic stop, called for a non-emergency assist, and ran routine computer checks on the driver and the vehicle by radio. The person performing the computer checks informed Thulen by radio that the defendant had an FBI number. Thulen claimed that the defendant appeared nervous and trembled continuously from the beginning of the traffic stop.

¶ 7 After Thulen wrote the ticket, he and the defendant exited the squad car, and Thulen handed the defendant the ticket. The defendant then began to walk away. Thulen then said "Sir?" In response, the defendant turned around started walking back toward Thulen. Thulen told the defendant that the traffic stop was over and that he was free to go and asked if he could ask the defendant a few questions. Thulen asked the defendant if there was anything illegal in the vehicle and if there was any possibility that anyone else had put something in the vehicle of which the defendant was not aware. The defendant answered "no" to both questions. Thulen then asked the defendant if he was responsible for everything in the vehicle, and the defendant responded that he was. Thulen then asked if he could search the vehicle and its contents for contraband. The defendant answered "yes." Thulen told the defendant that he could wait in Thulen's squad car "where it was a little warmer" while Thulen conducted the search. The defendant did so.

¶ 8 Thulen then began to search the vehicle. While he was searching inside the vehicle, Trooper Steen arrived on the scene. Thulen told Steen that he had suspicions that there was contraband in the car, and the two officers began searching the interior of the car together. They found two Motorola "hand held walkie-talkie type" radios, a plane ticket with the name McHugh on it, an energy drink, and fast-food wrappers on the floorboard. However, they did not find any drugs or other contraband visible in the car's interior. Nevertheless, Thulen testified that, based upon his training, education, and experience, the contents of the vehicle and the observations that Thulen had made from the beginning of the traffic stop "led [him] to believe that criminal activity was afoot."

ΒΆ 9 After searching for approximately eight minutes, Thulen went back to his squad car to get a screwdriver. He brought the screwdriver back to the defendant's vehicle and he used it to pop off the dashboard panel. Thulen testified that he did this because, according to his experience and training, the space behind the dashboard panel is "a likely ...

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