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People v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

June 6, 2013

MICHAEL R. WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from Circuit Court of Woodford County No. 09CF148 Honorable John B. Huschen, Judge Presiding.

Justices Appleton and Knecht concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 In this case, we are asked to decide whether a police officer's detecting the "strong odor of cannabis" emanating from the interior of a lawfully stopped vehicle provides the police with the probable cause and exigent circumstances necessary to perform a warrantless search of a passenger in that vehicle. We conclude that it does.


¶ 3 In December 2009, the State charged defendant, Michael R. Williams, with unlawful possession of cannabis (720 ILCS 550/4(d) (West 2008)). In April 2010, defendant filed a motion to suppress the cannabis that was the basis of that charge.

¶ 4 At a May 2010 hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, the parties stipulated to the facts, which were contained in the arresting officer's December 2009 police report, and argued only whether those facts justified the warrantless search of defendant as a passenger in a lawfully detained vehicle. The following summary of facts was gleaned from that police report.

¶ 5 In December 2009, Illinois State Trooper R. Slayback was running a radar speed gun at a rest stop off Interstate 39 when he measured a Chrysler Aspen traveling 16 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Slayback initiated a traffic stop and found Olympia R. Cook driving the vehicle, defendant in the front passenger seat, and the couple's two children in the backseat. As Cook lowered the window, Slayback "immediately detected a strong odor of cannabis [emanating] from the vehicle." Upon request, Cook and defendant provided identification and explained that they were traveling to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the holidays.

¶ 6 Slayback asked Cook to exit the vehicle so that he could question her outside defendant's presence. Cook claimed that the vehicle belonged to her cousin and that she was not responsible for anything inside the vehicle. Two other troopers arrived, and shortly thereafter, Slayback asked defendant to exit the vehicle, which he did. Slayback patted down defendant as a safety precaution. During that patdown, defendant told Slayback that he had approximately $1, 200 in cash in his front pocket. Defendant claimed that he was planning to use the money to purchase Christmas presents when he arrived in Indianapolis. Slayback asked defendant to remove his shoes and defendant vehemently refused, positing that Slayback was violating his rights. Slayback thereafter handcuffed defendant and placed him in the backseat of his squad car "for not complying with [his] request."

¶ 7 The other troopers began searching the vehicle, which resulted in the recovery of "six unknown pink pills" and a "stun gun." The troopers thereafter arrested Cook, who, as previously stated, had been driving the vehicle. Slayback then returned to his squad car and removed defendant's shoes. That search revealed 43 grams of cannabis.

¶ 8 On this evidence, defendant argued that Slayback lacked probable cause to search his person based solely on the odor of cannabis emanating from the vehicle. Defendant asserted that Slayback had probable cause to search the vehicle and Cook but lacked probable cause to search him as a passenger. The prosecutor responded that the odor of cannabis provided probable cause to search each person in the vehicle, arguing as follows:

"Now, [defendant]*** takes exception saying, well, a passenger is different from the driver. And I would argue that that's not the case. They're both people. They either — if you have four people in the car and you smell an odor of cannabis coming from the car, it makes no sense that you have permission to search the driver but not the other passengers when the cannabis can be concealed on any one of the four occupants that are within the car."

¶ 9 Following a short recess to consider the facts, arguments, and applicable case law, the trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress, finding that "if the driver can be searched *** because it's his person instead of his thing, being a purse or a container, then I don't see why the police officer with probable cause *** would be prohibited from likewise searching the passenger[—]a passenger could just as easily conceal evidence of the crime as the driver."

ΒΆ 10 Following a June 2010 stipulated bench trial, the trial court convicted defendant of unlawful possession of cannabis (720 ILCS 550/4(d) (West 2008)). The court later sentenced ...

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