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The People of the State of Illinois v. Ronnie Grant

February 7, 2013

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
APPELLANT,
v.
RONNIE GRANT,
APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

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

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 After a stipulated bench trial, the circuit court of Cook County found defendant Ronnie Grant guilty of Class 4 possession of cocaine and sentenced him to three years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant argued police lacked probable cause to arrest him, and the circuit court erred in denying his motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. A divided appellate court agreed, and reversed defendant's conviction and vacated his sentence. 2011 IL App (1st) 091107. We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal, and now reverse the judgment of the appellate court.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Defendant's conviction arose from his 2008 arrest for soliciting unlawful business on a public way, a municipal offense. Chicago Municipal Code §10-8-515 (added Apr. 1, 1998). After his arrest, defendant was initially charged with possession of less than 15 grams of cocaine, possession of cannabis, and soliciting unlawful business. Subsequently, in a two-count information, the State formally charged him with possession of cocaine with intent to deliver within 1,000 feet of a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) building (count I), and possession of cocaine with intent to deliver (count II).

¶ 4 Prior to trial, defendant moved to quash his arrest and suppress evidence. At the hearing on the motion, Chicago police officer Stephen Hefel testified as the only witness. At about 11 p.m. on November 29, 2008, Hefel was one of several officers involved in a narcotics suppression mission. He was in the front passenger seat of an unmarked car, the first of two police vehicles traveling west on Fifth Avenue in Chicago. From a distance of about 100 to 150 feet, Hefel spotted defendant standing at the entrance of a CHA building, in an area known as a "highly used narcotics sales spot." Hefel testified that this particular area was known as "the weed spot." When Hefel was about 20 to 25 feet from defendant, he "specifically observed" defendant yelling "dro, dro" to a passing vehicle. According to Hefel, who was familiar with terms used in the sale of narcotics, "dro, dro" is "basically said for the sale of cannabis." Hefel explained that he had been a police officer for nearly three years, had made "[a] couple hundred" narcotics arrests, and had learned the meaning of "dro, dro" from "numerous" past arrestees. Hefel testified further that after observing defendant yell "dro, dro," he conferred with the other two officers in his car. The three of them agreed that "that's what he said," and determined they would detain defendant.

¶ 5 Hefel's car pulled up to a spot a few feet from defendant, who looked in the officers' direction but did not run. "Basically it was as if he just froze." The three officers exited the car and arrested defendant for solicitation of unlawful business. Hefel acknowledged that defendant had nothing in his hands, and Hefel did not see defendant drop anything. Hefel also acknowledged he did not observe defendant involved in any narcotics sales. A custodial search of defendant recovered four plastic bags containing a green leafy substance the officers believed to be cannabis. Defendant was then taken to the police station, where a second custodial search recovered a plastic bag from defendant's rear waistband. That bag contained four smaller bags of a white rock-like substance believed to be cocaine. Police also recovered $160. Hefel acknowledged they did not have an arrest warrant or a search warrant.

¶ 6 Defendant argued the police lacked probable cause that he violated the city ordinance and their search incident to arrest was unwarranted. The circuit court disagreed and denied defendant's motion. The court found Officer Hefel testified "credibly," noting in particular his three years' experience as a police officer and his "numerous narcotics arrests." The court also noted that defendant was in a "high narcotic[s] area" when he was detained.

¶ 7 The State dismissed count I of the information, and removed the intent language from count II. The case then proceeded to a stipulated bench trial on the amended charge of possession of a controlled substance. In addition to Hefel's testimony, the parties stipulated to the chain of custody of the four bags believed to contain cocaine, and to the results of the crime lab analysis that one of the bags tested positive for less than 0.1 grams of cocaine and the total estimated weight of all four bags was 0.3 grams. Defendant was found guilty of Class 4 possession of cocaine (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 2008)) and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. On appeal, the appellate court majority reversed the denial of defendant's motion to quash and suppress, concluding the facts elicited from Officer Hefel did not constitute probable cause that defendant violated the city ordinance. 2011 IL App (1st) 091107, ¶¶ 34-35, 37. There was thus no probable cause to support defendant's warrantless arrest. Id. ¶ 35. The court also reversed defendant's conviction outright because "[w]ithout the evidence that should have been suppressed, the State cannot prove the defendant's guilt." Id. ¶ 37.

¶ 8 ANALYSIS

¶ 9 Section 10-8-515 of the Chicago Municipal Code, titled

"Soliciting unlawful business," provides, in pertinent part:

"(a) No person may: (i) stand upon, use or occupy the public way to solicit any unlawful business; or (ii) interfere with or impede any pedestrian or anyone in a vehicle on the public way, ...


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