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People v. Biagi

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

January 5, 2017

CHRISTOPHER BIAGI, Defendant-Appellee.

          Rule 23 Order Filed: October 18, 2016

          Motion to Publish Granted: January 5, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Marion County, No. 15-DT-03 Honorable Mark W. Stedelin, Judge, presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant Patrick Delfino, Director, David J. Robinson, Acting Deputy Director, Jennifer Camden, Staff Attorney, Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor, Hon. Bill J. Milner, State's Attorney, Marion County

          Attorneys for Appellee Michael J. Pelletier, State Appellate Defender, Ellen J. Curry, Deputy Defender, Elizabeth M. Crotty, Assistant Appellate Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Fifth Judicial District

          PRESIDING JUSTICE MOORE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Chapman concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Welch dissented, with opinion.



         ¶ 1 The plaintiff, the People of the State of Illinois (State), appeals the April 13, 2015, order of the circuit court of Marion County that granted the motion of the defendant, Christopher Biagi, to suppress evidence and granted his petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension (SSS) of his driver's license. For the following reasons, we reverse.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 On January 3, 2015, the defendant received a citation for driving under the influence, pursuant to section 11-501 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-501 (West 2014)). A confirmation of the SSS of the defendant's driving privileges was entered in the circuit court on January 28, 2015. The defendant filed a petition to rescind the SSS and a motion to suppress evidence on February 6, 2015, and February 24, 2015, respectively.

         ¶ 4 A hearing was conducted on April 1, 2015. Seth Williams testified that he is employed as a trooper with the Illinois State Police and has been so employed for over six years. Besides basic field sobriety training, Williams completed Advanced Roadside Impairment Driving Enforcement, a training to execute field sobriety testing, to recognize the indicators of drug impairment, and to learn about different types of drugs and the correlating impairment that may be shown when those drugs are used. Williams estimated that he had conducted approximately 50 stops that involved drug impairment with no alcohol involved.

         ¶ 5 Williams recalled that on January 3, 2015, at 12:44 a.m., he was on duty and patrolling Red Stripe Road, which is covered with oil and chip and has no lane markings. Williams testified that while traveling eastbound, he noticed a vehicle ahead of him that was traveling the same direction. He noted that there were no other vehicles on the road other than his and the one in question. Williams stated that the speed limit on Red Stripe Road is 55 miles per hour and the subject vehicle was traveling 32 miles per hour.

         ¶ 6 Williams testified that he did not activate his headlights to initiate a stop, but the vehicle ahead of him continued to decrease its speed, partially pulled onto the shoulder, and came to a stop at the top of a hill. Williams explained that the shoulder along Red Stripe Road is "pretty much nonexistent" and because the subject vehicle was large, it was parked on the shoulder only two or three feet, and the rest of it extended into the roadway. Williams's first inclination was to pass the vehicle, but he realized that he was approaching the defendant's vehicle at the top of the hill and would be unable to see any westbound traffic on the other side of the hill. He indicated that there were two driveways at the top of the hill, either of which the driver could have pulled into but did not.

         ¶ 7 Williams then surmised that the driver-who was later discovered to be the defendant- must be having car trouble because of the slow speed and because "nobody would stop at the top of the hill like that." Accordingly, Williams notified dispatch that he was conducting a motorist assist, pulled in and parked behind the vehicle, activated his takedown lights to illuminate the area in front of him, and activated his rear-facing emergency lights to divert any traffic that may approach from behind. Williams explained that the takedown lights are bright LED lights-also known as fog lights-that point to the front and light up a large span of area. He indicated that he used them only so he could see as he approached the vehicle and that the defendant was free to pull away and leave up to the time when he made contact with him.

         ¶ 8 Williams testified that he approached the defendant and asked him what was wrong. The defendant replied, "Good afternoon, " and handed Williams his driver's license and insurance card. Williams indicated that he found the defendant's statement extremely odd, given the time was 12:44 a.m. and it was unmistakably dark outside. Williams noted that the defendant's speech was slow, he appeared slumped in his seat, and his movements were "extremely slow and delayed for an appropriate individual." He also noticed that the defendant's "pants were unbuttoned about half way down his thighs, " which he also found very unusual. Williams testified that at that point, he no longer deemed the situation a "motorist assist, " but now saw it as a traffic stop under investigation for driving under the influence of some form of drugs, as there was no detectable smell of alcohol.

         ¶ 9 Williams testified that the defendant informed him that he and his passenger were just out driving around and he had pulled over because "he didn't want to be pushed, " meaning that he was traveling slower than Williams and he wanted to get out of the way. Williams testified that the defendant already had his driver's license out and offered it to Williams, who returned to his squad car with the driver's license. After confirming the validity of the license, Williams returned and asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle. He also obtained identification from the defendant's passenger, who turned out to be the defendant's wife. Williams testified that as the defendant stepped out of the vehicle, his movements were slow and methodical. Meanwhile, an assisting officer arrived on the scene, and Williams moved his car to the front of the defendant's vehicle because he needed a flat surface to conduct field sobriety tests.

         ¶ 10 Prior to administering a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, Williams shined his flashlight on the defendant's face. Upon doing so, Williams noticed the defendant's pupils were dilated. Williams explained that normal pupil range in darkness is six millimeters or less and he quickly noticed that the defendant's pupils were much larger than that, an estimated seven to seven-and-a-half millimeters. Williams added that the defendant's pupils did not change when the flashlight was shined in his face, but remained dilated. Williams asked the defendant if he had consumed any form of illegal narcotics or prescription medication, and the defendant replied that he had not. Notwithstanding the defendant's response, at the conclusion of the field sobriety tests, Williams believed that he was under the influence of something.

         ¶ 11 In addition to the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the defendant performed the walk-and-turn and the one-leg stand, his performance on both of which Williams described as "extremely bad." Williams asked the defendant's wife if the defendant had consumed any form of narcotic or prescription medication, and she stated that he had not, but that he had "been up for quite a while and was tired." Williams in turn asked the defendant about being tired and the defendant responded that he had been awake since New Year's Eve, which was approximately 48 hours prior. The defendant added that "I stay up for long periods and then I relax." The defendant's statement alerted Williams to the possibility of amphetamine abuse, with which Williams is quite familiar.

         ¶ 12 Williams testified that he arrested the defendant for driving under the influence based on his observations of the defendant and the defendant's performance of the field sobriety tests. Williams then searched the defendant incident to arrest and found an orange, 20 milligram amphetamine salt pill in the defendant's front pocket. He also found two other pills that he was unable to identify.

         ¶ 13 Andrew Smith testified that he is employed as a trooper with the Illinois State Police and has been so employed for four years. Smith was on duty and patrolling in Marion County on January 3, 2015. At approximately 12:50 a.m., Smith was dispatched to the scene to assist Williams. He confirmed that when he arrived, the defendant and Williams were parked on a hill and the defendant had already stepped out of his vehicle and was talking to Williams. Smith noticed that the defendant "seemed to be having a hard time focusing on the directions that Trooper Williams was instructing him on. Almost as if he was struggling for him to focus [sic]." Smith explained that "he almost had a sense of being paranoid with quick movements of the head and looking around, eyes darting back and forth." Like Williams, Smith did not smell any alcohol on the defendant. Smith testified that he had completed standard field sobriety test training as well as advanced impaired driver enforcement, which involves DUI drug enforcement. Smith concluded that the defendant was under the influence of something, based on the fact that his ability to comprehend instructions was "definitely out of the ordinary."

         ¶ 14 At the close of evidence, the circuit court took the matter under advisement and entered an order on April 13, 2015, that granted both the motion to suppress evidence and the petition to rescind the SSS. The State filed a motion to reconsider on May 13, 2015, which the circuit court denied on June 17, 2015, following a hearing. The State filed a notice of appeal on June 17, 2015, and filed a certificate of impairment on June 18, 2015. Additional facts will be added as necessary in our analysis of the issues.

         ¶ 15 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 16 The State raises the following issues on appeal: (1) whether the circuit court erred by granting the defendant's motion to suppress evidence and (2) whether the circuit court erred by granting the defendant's petition to rescind the SSS of his driver's license.

         ¶ 17 I. Motion to Suppress Evidence

         ¶ 18 A. Standard of Review

         ¶ 19 "In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence, we apply the two-part standard of review adopted by the Supreme Court in Ornelas v. United States [citation]." People v. Luedemann, 222 Ill.2d 530, 542 (2006). "[W]e give great deference to the trial court's factual findings, and we will reverse those findings only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence." Id. "A reviewing court, however, remains free to undertake its own assessment of the facts in relation to the issues and may draw its own conclusions when deciding what relief should be granted." Id. "Accordingly, we review de novo the trial court's ultimate legal ruling as to whether suppression is warranted." Id.

         ¶ 20 B. State's Concession in the Circuit Court

         ¶ 21 As a threshold matter, we note that the State acknowledged in its opening brief that it conceded in its motion to reconsider that the interaction between Williams and the defendant was not a consensual encounter, but a community caretaking stop. The State additionally conceded that Williams's activation of the steady white lights on his patrol car was a seizure. Notwithstanding these concessions in the circuit court, the State now argues on appeal that the interaction between Williams and the defendant was consensual and not a detention at all, thereby rendering inapplicable any fourth amendment implications.

         ¶ 22 The defendant argues that the State is estopped from asserting this argument on appeal because of the concessions it made below. We reject this argument because a reviewing court is not bound by a party's concession. See People v. Horrell, 235 Ill.2d 235, 241 (2009). ...

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