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In re Maurice J.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

June 20, 2018

In re MAURICE J., a Minor,
Maurice J., Respondent-Appellant. The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 17 JD 00647, The Honorable Kristal Royce Rivers, Judge Presiding.

          LAVIN JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Fitzgerald Smith and Howse concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          LAVIN JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Minor respondent Maurice J. was adjudicated delinquent for committing the offense of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon (AUUW) by carrying a firearm on his person while under 21 years of age. On appeal, respondent asserts that (1) the trial court erroneously denied his pretrial motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of an unreasonable traffic stop, (2) the evidence was insufficient, and (3) the trial court erroneously allowed the State to reopen its case to present evidence of respondent's age after he had moved for a directed verdict. For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On March 26, 2017, the State filed a petition for an adjudication of wardship based on offenses respondent allegedly committed the day before. The State later filed an amended petition alleging four counts of AUUW and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm. Specifically, the amended petition alleged that respondent committed AUUW by carrying a weapon on his person, outside his land, home, or place of business, (1) without a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) Card (counts 1 and 3) and (2) while under 21 years of age (counts 2 and 4). 720 ILCS 5/24-1.6(a)(1) (West 2016). Two of those counts also alleged that this was respondent's second offense (counts 1 and 2). The amended petition further alleged that respondent committed unlawful possession of a firearm in that he possessed a firearm while under 18 years of age. Id. § 24-3.1(a)(1). Meanwhile, respondent filed a motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence, and an evidentiary hearing was held.

         ¶ 4 According to 22-year-old Davon Wells, a student at Richard Daley College and an employee of Auto Zone, he was driving respondent and Icesis Priest home at about 10 p.m. on the night in question. Wells testified that, although it was dark out, streetlights were on. In addition, Wells had known respondent for about six years, had known Priest for about two years, and considered them to be his friends. Respondent sat in the front passenger seat, and Priest sat in the backseat.

         ¶ 5 Wells testified that they were in the area of 109 West 85th Street when the police activated their siren and bright lights, which Wells acknowledged "see inside of the car." Additionally, the police car was a sport utility vehicle (SUV) and sat higher than Wells's car. Wells did not, however, see respondent or Priest pass anything. Prior to the police activating their siren and lights, Wells was not speeding or driving erratically. He denied swerving to avoid a speed bump.

         ¶ 6 After Wells pulled over his car, one officer approached the driver side door, and a second officer approached the passenger side door. Neither officer had his firearm drawn. In addition, the police did not request Wells's license and registration. Wells complied with a request to exit the vehicle, however, and the officer near him placed him in handcuffs before searching him and the area in which he had been sitting. Meanwhile, the other officer had respondent exit the vehicle and handcuffed him. Finally, Priest exited the car and was handcuffed. The officers then searched the entire car and announced that they found a firearm. Wells testified that he previously was unaware that a weapon was present. After recovering the firearm, the police arrested respondent and Priest but did not arrest Wells.

         ¶ 7 Officer Delgado Fernandez testified that at the time in question, he was working with two partners, Officer Kerr and Officer Findysz, in an unmarked SUV. Officer Fernandez observed a car commit a minor traffic violation in that the driver "went around the speed bump." Specifically, the driver went toward the curb so that one set of tires was on the speed bump and the other set was level. Although the driver steered around the bump, he did not swerve. Officer Fernandez acknowledged that his reports did not say Wells avoided the speed bump.

         ¶ 8 After the traffic violation, Officer Fernandez activated the emergency equipment in order to curb the vehicle. From 12 to 15 feet away, he "observed the front passenger pass a handgun to the rear passenger." Officer Fernandez testified that he could clearly see that the object was a handgun and could see that three people were in the vehicle.

         ¶ 9 When the vehicle came to a stop, Officer Fernandez approached on the driver side, Officer Kerr approached the passenger side, and Officer Findysz approached the trunk. The officers' firearms were not drawn. Officer Fernandez then ordered the occupants out of the vehicle and secured them for officer safety. Officer Fernandez testified that he knew to look for the firearm "[i]n the direction [that] the offender gave it to the co-offender." Moreover, the officers searched the occupants and found a firearm in Priest's purse. Officer Fernandez put on gloves to recover the loaded .45-caliber pistol and called for assisting units. Wells was released with a traffic citation for driving around the speed bump.

         ¶ 10 The trial court found this was a "he said, he said" situation but ultimately believed the testimony of Officer Fernandez. Accordingly, the court denied respondent's motion and proceeded to a bench trial.

         ¶ 11 At trial, the parties stipulated to Officer Fernandez's prior testimony. He was also recalled and testified, in pertinent part, that respondent did not admit to possessing the firearm. In addition, Officer Fernandez did not know whether any DNA results were available from the recovered firearm. The officer further testified that the firearm was recovered in a place that was not respondent's home or place of business and that he was not engaging in activities under the Wildlife Code. See 720 ...

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