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People v. Lee

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

August 1, 2018

ALFRED G. LEE, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Whiteside County No. 15-CF-62 Illinois Honorable Stanley B. Steines, Judge, Presiding

          JUSTICE SCHMIDT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Holdridge specially concurred, with opinion. Justice O'Brien specially concurred, with opinion.



         ¶ 1 On February 24, 2015, the State charged defendant, Alfred G. Lee, by information with knowingly possessing more than 15, but less than 100, grams of a substance that contained cocaine. Police seized the substance from defendant's home while executing a search warrant in an unrelated criminal investigation. Defendant's pretrial motion to suppress argued that the substance was the fruit of an improper search because it was outside the warrant's scope and not in plain view. The trial court denied the motion. A jury convicted defendant; he now appeals the conviction. He claims that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by making a frivolous legal argument in support of the motion to suppress; counsel also failed to renew the motion after the officer who found the contraband testified at a subsequent compulsory joinder hearing. Defendant does not challenge his sentence or the trial court's rulings on his motion to suppress and compulsory joinder motion. We affirm defendant's conviction.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In October 2014, Sterling police investigated defendant's involvement in a shooting. A witness identified defendant as the shooter. Police obtained a warrant to search defendant's home for evidence related to the shooting. Several law enforcement officers executed the warrant on October 19, 2014. Detective Alex Chavira found the substance under defendant's bed sheets. After the State charged defendant, defense counsel filed a motion to suppress the cocaine substance at issue. Defendant's motion argued that the substance fell outside of the warrant's scope and was not in plain view; police could not expect to find evidence related to the shooting under defendant's bed sheets.

         ¶ 4 The trial court heard the motion to suppress on April 28, 2015. Chavira testified that he obtained the search warrant and assisted in its execution. After he pulled back defendant's bed sheets, Chavira found knotted, plastic bags that contained a brown, powdery substance. The bags were concealed in a larger plastic bag. In Chavira's experience, this packaging method suggested that the bags contained illicit drugs. He believed that the substance was either heroin or a "bad batch" of cocaine. The court denied defendant's motion to suppress. It concluded that Chavira and the other officers lawfully accessed the location where Chavira found the substance; they saw the substance in plain view while conducting a legal search.

         ¶ 5 On August 4, 2015, defense counsel filed a motion to dismiss. The motion alleged a speedy trial violation premised on compulsory joinder. Counsel filed a compulsory joinder motion on September 22. It claimed that the State failed to try defendant's drug case within the statutory period (725 ILCS 5/103-5 (West 2016)), which began immediately after police executed the search warrant. Counsel argued that compulsory joinder principles required the State to file the drug charges and join them with the shooting charges immediately after police seized the cocaine substance in October 2014. Instead, the State filed the drug charges after the crime lab confirmed that the substance contained cocaine in February 2015.

         ¶ 6 Detective Chavira testified at the compulsory joinder hearing on October 6, 2015. For the most part, he restated his previous testimony. However, he added that he had "no idea" what the plastic bags contained when he discovered them during the search. He believed the substance looked like oatmeal. He did not conduct a field test. He did not list the substance as "suspected contraband" in the inventory record from the search. Chavira never knew the substance contained illicit drugs until the crime lab returned its test results in February 2015.

         ¶ 7 The court denied defendant's speedy trial and compulsory joinder motions. The court stated:

"I think too that because of the unknown substance, the State did not have charges they could file [when police seized the substance] *** it is fair not only to the State but also to any defendant that the State not file any charges until they know *** that that substance is contraband."

         Neither the State nor police knew the substance's composition until the crime lab tested it and returned the results several months after Chavira seized it. The court also noted that "even if joinder were applicable, we know that it would be prejudicial to the Defendant to try these two cases together" because the shooting and drug charges were unrelated.

         ¶ 8 Defendant's trial began on October 13, 2015. The substance and the crime lab's test results served as the State's primary evidence. The jury convicted defendant. The court entered the conviction and sentenced him to six years in prison. On December 11, defense counsel filed a motion for a new trial, which renewed the compulsory joinder issue and argued that the State ...

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