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People v. Walker

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

August 13, 2013

MINDI L. WALKER, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 11DT268 Honorable John R. Kennedy, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE POPE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Knecht and Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 In May 2011, the State charged defendant, Mindi L. Walker, with (1) driving under the influence (DUI) based on the presence of cannabis in her urine (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(6) (West 2010)) and (2) leaving the scene of an accident resulting in damage to property (625 ILCS 5/11-404 (West 2010)). Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence and statements, alleging (1) evidence of cannabis ingestion discovered in her purse and car, as well as evidence obtained during the ensuing DUI investigation, were the fruits of a fourth amendment violation, and (2) her alleged statements to a police officer following her arrest were the product of a custodial interrogation and were made before she had been informed of her Miranda rights (see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)).

¶ 2 In October 2011, following a hearing, the trial court granted defendant's motion to suppress her alleged statements but denied suppression of all other evidence obtained during, and as a result of, the search of her purse. That same month, defendant consented to a stipulated bench trial for the purpose of preserving her fourth amendment claim, and the State agreed to dismiss the charge of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in damage to property. The court found defendant guilty of DUI and, in December 2011, sentenced her to 24 months of probation, 180 days in jail, 75 hours of public service, and various fines and fees. Defendant appeals, arguing (1) the court erred in denying her motion to suppress all evidence obtained during and as a result of the search of her purse, and (2) this court should reverse her conviction outright because, after suppression is granted, the remaining evidence would be insufficient to sustain a conviction. For the reasons that follow, we agree and reverse the court's denial of the motion to suppress and remand for further proceedings.


¶ 4 The following facts were gleaned from (1) evidence presented at the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, which consisted entirely of the testimony of Detective Nathan Rath and Sergeant James Rein of the Champaign police department, and (2) the stipulated facts presented at defendant's October 2011 bench trial.

¶ 5 On May 23, 2011, at 12:41 p.m., Detective Rath and Sergeant Rein were on patrol in their unmarked police van when they received a radio dispatch indicating a blue car, with front-end damage and a license plate starting with the letter "H, " had struck a light pole in the parking lot of a lumber supply company in Champaign and left the scene. At the time of the dispatch, Rath and Rein were stopped at a red light on Bradley Avenue, at the intersection of Prospect Avenue, facing west. After receiving the dispatch, Rath noticed a blue car with front- end damage and a license plate starting with the letter "H" stopped across the intersection in the eastbound lane of Bradley Avenue. Rath used his radio to notify dispatch he may have located the car involved in the accident. He requested a marked squad car to aid in initiating a traffic stop.

¶ 6 After turning their van around (it is unclear which officer was driving), Rath and Rein followed the blue car, a Chevy Impala, east on Bradley Avenue. Shortly thereafter, Deputy Chief John Murphy of the Champaign police department, who was traveling in a marked squad car, initiated a traffic stop of the blue car near the intersection of Bradley Avenue and Market Street. The car came to a stop in an eastbound lane of Bradley Avenue, immediately west of Market Street, in what Rath described as "the middle of the street." To the immediate left of the car was a left-turn lane which allowed eastbound traffic to turn north onto Market Street. To the immediate right of the car was an eastbound lane of traffic. Murphy positioned his squad car behind the blue car, leaving approximately six to eight feet of space between the two vehicles. Rath and Rein's van was parked behind Murphy's squad car. Rath testified there was a "significant amount" of traffic.

¶ 7 Sergeant Rein and Deputy Chief Murphy exited their vehicles and approached the driver's side of the blue car, while Detective Rath exited and approached the passenger's side. Two women were in the car. Rein asked the driver, whom he identified at the hearing as defendant, to exit her car and stand in the space between her car and Murphy's squad car. Rein and Rath confirmed defendant was approximately 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 90 pounds. In the space between Murphy's squad car and defendant's car, Rein asked defendant for her identification. Defendant told Rein her identification was in her purse, which was in her car. With defendant's permission, Rein retrieved the purse from the car and brought it back to where defendant and Murphy were standing. Rein testified he believed the purse was average-size, with soft sides.

¶ 8 Rein asked defendant if he could retrieve her identification from the purse. Defendant said yes. Rein opened the purse, looked inside, and put his hand into the purse. He could see the contents of the purse "for the most part" and did not see any weapons, nor did he smell anything. Before Rein could find defendant's identification, and before he had time to "feel objects inside" the purse, defendant grabbed the purse away from Rein and held it, but did not reach into it. Rein then took the purse away from defendant, placed it on the trunk of the car, two or three feet away from defendant, and told defendant "not to put her hands in the purse."

¶ 9 Meanwhile, Detective Rath explained to the passenger, Brenda, he was investigating a possible hit and run. He asked Brenda if the driver had been drinking alcohol, and Brenda said, "No." He did not ask whether the driver had consumed any other substances. Rath also asked Brenda if the car had insurance. Brenda said she did not know, opened the glove compartment, and found a stack of paperwork. Rath offered to look through the paperwork for insurance information, and Brenda handed it to him. While he was talking to Brenda, Rath could not hear the conversation taking place between defendant and the other officers. Rath took the paperwork to the rear of defendant's car, where Rein, Murphy, and defendant were standing, and began looking through the papers.

¶ 10 When asked if he saw defendant making any movements or actions, Detective Rath testified, as follows:

"A. I know that I heard, again, know [sic] who said it, but an officer telling her had, or instructing her to quit going towards her purse, to quit, you know, trying to get into her purse, or getting control of her purse. And then I know that her purse had been set down on the back of the trunk, and that she then made another movement to get towards her purse.
Q. Did you see her make the movement?
A. The last one I did. Prior to that I had only heard the officer's instructions.
Q. What did she do?
A. Just made a—she was standing, again just generally behind, between her vehicle and Deputy Chief Murphy's vehicle, speaking, interacting with these officers. And her purse was on the trunk of the car, and she just made a movement to get to her purse with her outstretched arm."

Rath testified Sergeant Rein then placed defendant in handcuffs.

¶ 11 Sergeant Rein testified, after he took the purse away from defendant and set it on the trunk of her car, he instructed defendant to sit on the rear bumper of her car "because she kept trying to get at that purse, kept trying to grab at the purse." Rein then testified, "And she did comply for a few seconds, and then she got up and kept trying to go at the purse, kind of walking around, like anxious. And at that point I made the decision to secure her in handcuffs." Detective Rath was looking through the paperwork when Rein secured defendant in handcuffs behind her back and again seated her on the rear bumper of her car. Rein testified, after defendant was handcuffed and seated, she was unable to reach the purse, which remained on top of the trunk. She did not turn around or attempt to reach for the purse after being handcuffed.

¶ 12 Sergeant Rein testified he observed defendant as being anxious and jittery. Detective Rath initially testified the only thing he observed unusual about defendant's behavior was that she was "generally excited." After refreshing his memory by referring to his police report, Rath recalled defendant was "crying and acting very nervous." He later elaborated, as follows:

"I mean, [defendant's] demeanor was not that of a normal person who had just been in an accident. I mean, granted, she could have been nervous about just having had general contact with the police, she could have been nervous about the fact that she was just involved in an accident, and left the scene. But she was excited to such a point where, you know, Sergeant Rein felt it was necessary to control her with handcuffs for her safety, to keep her from getting hit, you know, by a car, or getting—stepping out of the lane of traffic. Between her making these—for no reason that we could think of, these movements towards her purse to gain control of her purse, I mean, to me those are actions that would suggest that either something's going on with her. Now does that mean that it's absolutely is she under the influence of drugs or alcohol? No. But does it raise my suspicion that she is? Yes."

¶ 13 Both Detective Rath and Sergeant Rein testified defendant was not under arrest at the time she was placed in handcuffs and seated on the bumper. Rath understood that Rein took the precaution to prevent defendant from accessing her purse or walking out into traffic, "[f]or her safety, to keep her under control." As far as the testimony reveals, none of the officers frisked defendant's person during the course of the encounter.

¶ 14 Detective Rath testified, after Sergeant Rein placed defendant in handcuffs and seated her on the bumper of the car, Rath put down the paperwork and "then went directly to her purse and opened it up, you know, to view the contents of it, to see what is it that she's trying to—why is she trying to gain control of this purse so bad?" Thereafter, on direct examination by defense counsel, Rath testified as follows:

"Q. At that time did you observe anything to indicate that Mindi Walker would have a weapon?
A. No.
Q. Had you received any information that Mindi Walker was involved in any type of offense that ...

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