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People v. Veal

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

May 2, 2017

ISRAEL VEAL, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. No. 14 CR 49, Honorable Arthur F. Hill, Jr., Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hyman and Justice Pierce concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          MASON, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Following a 2014 bench trial, defendant Israel Veal[1] was convicted of several counts arising out of his possession of a handgun, all of which merged into his armed habitual criminal conviction, for which he was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment. Veal's sole argument on appeal is that the trial court erroneously denied his pretrial motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence of the gun. Finding no error, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Veal was charged with four counts of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, two counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and one count of armed habitual criminal after an officer recovered a gun on Veal's seat during a traffic stop on December 5, 2013, in Chicago. Prior to trial, Veal moved to quash his arrest and suppress evidence of the gun.

         ¶ 4 At the suppression hearing and at trial, Officer Wojciech Kanski testified to the events of that night. Officer Kanski was assigned to the area north saturation team, which was dispatched to violent neighborhoods where there were high incidences of shootings and gang conflicts. Officer Kanski was on routine patrol with his partner, Officer Pelayo, in the area of 4258 West Washington Boulevard. Officer Pelayo pulled up next to a Honda Civic at a red light, at which time Officer Kanski observed that the rear two passengers of the car were not wearing seatbelts. After the light changed, Officer Pelayo executed a traffic stop of the Civic. The officers pulled to the side of the Civic after it had come to a stop, and Officer Kanski, who was next to the rear passenger on the driver's side, exited his vehicle and approached the Civic. As Officer Kanski was 5 to 10 feet away from the car, he observed the rear passenger closest to him, identified in court as Veal, making movements toward his waist, as though he was trying to cover something. Specifically, Officer Kanski testified that Veal moved his hands towards his waist on the right side of his body and pushed his waist down.

         ¶ 5 Upon observing Veal's movements, Officer Kanski ordered the car's occupants to raise their hands for reasons of officer safety. While three of the occupants immediately complied, Veal did not. Officer Kanski testified that Veal instead moved his hands up and down. Officer Kanski did not did not see anything in Veal's hands.

         ¶ 6 Officer Kanski initially ordered the driver out of the car, whereupon he patted him down, handcuffed him, and had him stand outside behind the Civic.[2] He then ordered Veal out of the car and opened the door for him. As Veal exited the car, Officer Kanski saw a handgun underneath where Veal had been sitting, and he immediately secured Veal and took possession of the weapon.

         ¶ 7 The trial court denied the motion to quash and suppress, finding that the seatbelt violation, coupled with Veal's furtive movements and his failure to comply with the officer's request to raise his hands, justified ordering Veal out of the car.

         ¶ 8 At trial, Officer Kanski was the sole State witness. His trial testimony echoed his testimony at the suppression hearing. At the close of the State's evidence, the court denied Veal's motion for a directed finding. Veal rested without putting on evidence, and the court found Veal guilty on all counts, which were merged into the most serious charge of armed habitual criminal. Following the denial of his posttrial motion, Veal was sentenced and timely appealed.

         ¶ 9 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 10 The sole issue on appeal is the court's ruling on Veal's motion to quash and suppress. A ruling on a motion to suppress is subject to a mixed standard of review. People v. Pitman, 211 Ill.2d 502, 512 (2004). The trial court's factual findings are entitled to deference, given that the trial court is in a superior position to weigh the credibility of witnesses, and we will uphold such findings unless they are contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Id. However, the ultimate legal question of suppression is subject to de novo review. Id.

         ¶ 11 Pursuant to the fourth amendment of the United States Constitution, people have the right to protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const., amend. IV; see also People v. Jones, 215 Ill.2d 261, 268 (2005). Ordinarily, a search and seizure is reasonable under the fourth amendment if supported by a warrant showing probable cause. Jones, 215 Ill.2d at 269 (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967)). But there are several exceptions to the warrant requirement, including the circumstance where a police officer briefly stops a person for questioning when the officer reasonably believes that person has ...

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