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People v. Cassino

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

June 7, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MARK CASSINO, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 13 CR 6051 Honorable Carl Boyd, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Connors dissented, with opinion.

          OPINION

          CUNNINGHAM JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Appellant, the People of the State of Illinois (State), seeks reversal of the order of the circuit court of Cook County granting defendant-appellee Mark Cassino's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Defendant was driving a rental car when he was pulled over by a state trooper for speeding. During the traffic stop, the state trooper prolonged the stop while he contacted the rental car company (Hertz), who told the trooper that defendant was not an authorized driver under the vehicle's rental agreement. A Hertz employee asked the trooper to recover the vehicle for Hertz. Defendant was handcuffed and placed in the squad car. The trooper then searched the rental vehicle and discovered narcotics. The defendant was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.

         ¶ 4 On June 29, 2017, defendant filed a "motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence" (the motion to suppress), asserting that his "detention, search and arrest" were without reasonable suspicion and that the search of the rental car was unlawful.

         ¶ 5 On August 9, 2017, the trial court conducted a hearing on the motion to suppress. The defense called a single witness, Trooper Garet Lindroth of the Illinois State Police. Trooper Lindroth testified that on the afternoon of defendant's arrest, he was stationed in his police vehicle "working a speed-enforcement detail."

         ¶ 6 At approximately 1:38 p.m., a Ford vehicle passed him, traveling at a speed of 89 miles per hour in a 55-mile-per-hour zone. Trooper Lindroth pursued the vehicle and initiated a traffic stop. At approximately 1:40 p.m., he approached the stopped vehicle, which was driven by defendant. He informed defendant that he had been stopped for speeding. Trooper Lindroth asked defendant "for his driver's license and his rental agreement." Trooper Lindroth testified that, when he approached the vehicle, he "had already [run] the registration," which indicated that it was a Hertz rental car.

         ¶ 7 Defendant provided the trooper with his driver's license and the rental agreement. At that time, he "indicated [to Trooper Lindroth] that he was not on the rental agreement."[1] Trooper Lindroth did not ask defendant any questions about the rental agreement or how he came to possess the rental car. Instead, Trooper Lindroth "went back to [his] squad car and contacted Hertz about any third-party drivers." He did so although there was no "general order" of the Illinois State Police directing officers to contact a rental company under such circumstances. Additionally, he testified that he did not suspect that the car was stolen.

         ¶ 8 Before he contacted Hertz, Trooper Lindroth used a computer to check defendant's driver's license and confirmed that the license was valid. Trooper Lindroth stated that this check was completed in "under a minute."

         ¶ 9 Trooper Lindroth testified that it took "a few minutes" for him to contact Hertz. He called the company and "was connected to their emergency police side of Hertz, and provided them with information they were asking of the vehicle, and they informed me whether or not *** they wanted me to recover the vehicle for them." According to Trooper Lindroth, "Hertz indicated that [defendant] was not an authorized driver [on the rental agreement], and that they wanted the vehicle impounded." Trooper Lindroth acknowledged that he did not attempt to contact the person listed as the lessee on the rental agreement. Trooper Lindroth did not ask defendant any questions regarding the person listed on the rental agreement or how defendant came to be driving the vehicle.

         ¶ 10 After speaking with Hertz, Trooper Lindroth returned to the rental car. According to his arrest report, he returned to the vehicle at 2:05 p.m. He agreed that this was "roughly" 25 minutes after he initially stopped the vehicle. At that time, Trooper Lindroth "informed [defendant] that Hertz wanted their car back/recovered" and that defendant "was not registered as the permitted driver, nor was he an authorized additional driver." He told defendant that he would be charged with criminal trespass to the rental vehicle. Defendant was then handcuffed and placed in the back of the squad car.

         ¶ 11 Trooper Lindroth stated that he proceeded to "perform an inventory search" of the vehicle because he planned to have the rental car towed. Trooper Lindroth acknowledged that he never asked defendant for permission to search the vehicle and that he had no search warrant.

         ¶ 12 When he searched the vehicle, Trooper Lindroth opened the "center console" between the two front seats. Inside, he found a tied black plastic bag that "contained another clear-plastic bag" containing "packed round balls" of suspected narcotics. Trooper Lindroth placed defendant under arrest for possession of a controlled substance. It does not appear from the record that the trooper ever issued a speeding ticket to defendant, which was the original reason for the stop.

         ¶ 13 Trooper Lindroth testified on cross-examination that defendant had a valid Nevada driver's license. Trooper Lindroth also stated that defendant promptly acknowledged that his name was not on the rental agreement "[b]efore he even gave [the agreement] to [Trooper Lindroth]."

         ¶ 14 Trooper Lindroth agreed that he called Hertz to verify that defendant was not authorized to drive the vehicle. Trooper Lindroth testified that a Hertz representative confirmed that defendant was not authorized to drive the car, and told him that Hertz "wanted [Trooper Lindroth] to seize that car and take legal custody of that car."

         ¶ 15 Also on cross-examination, Trooper Lindroth was asked, "if, in fact, that had been [defendant's] car and you would have stopped him for a traffic violation, you would have just g[iven] him the ticket, and he would have been free to go?" He agreed that he detained defendant "because he did not own that vehicle, he wasn't authorized to drive that vehicle." However, Trooper Lindroth acknowledged that he only learned that information after calling Hertz.

         ¶ 16 Trooper Lindroth stated that he searched the car because it was "our policy" to "inventory" a vehicle before it is towed. Trooper Lindroth explained that the police "must know what's in the vehicle" because "we're liable and responsible for anything that happens to any items or property inside that vehicle while it goes to the tow yard." Trooper Lindroth testified that the police tested the suspected narcotics at the scene.

         ¶ 17 On redirect examination, Trooper Lindroth agreed that he has previously stopped cars that were not driven by the registered owner but in such situations he has never before called the actual owner of the vehicle during a traffic stop. Trooper Lindroth agreed that he had not read the rental agreement, which defendant provided to him upon being stopped. Therefore, he did not know its guidelines for drivers other than the person who rented the vehicle. He claimed that he called Hertz for clarification regarding who was authorized to drive the rental vehicle.

         ¶ 18 Trooper Lindroth agreed that "without that phone call to Hertz, [he] simply would have given [defendant] a ticket, and he would have been on his way." He also agreed that he had already checked the validity of the defendant's license before he contacted Hertz and that he did not suspect that the vehicle was stolen.

         ¶ 19 No other witnesses were called at the hearing. After the court heard argument from defense counsel and the State, it granted defendant's motion to suppress.

         ¶ 20 In its ruling, the trial court identified the pertinent issue as whether "contacting Hertz *** was related in scope to the circumstance that justified the stop in the first place." The court found that Trooper Lindroth "certainly exceeded the scope of the stop when he on his own accord found it necessary to call Hertz *** when the Officer clearly stated that in a different circumstance, if this were a private owner, a private car driven by the non-owner of the car, he would not contact the owner of that automobile." The court remarked that "[t]he seizure, although it was lawful at its inception *** became unlawful because of the prolonged time in the delay to call Hertz for [Trooper Lindroth's] own personal gratification." The trial court thus granted the defendant's motion to suppress.

         ¶ 21 The State filed a motion to reconsider. In that motion, the State argued that because defendant was not the renter and was unauthorized to drive the rental car, he lacked any reasonable expectation of privacy; he thus lacked "standing" to challenge the search of that vehicle. The State also argued that Trooper Lindroth's inquiry to Hertz did not unreasonably prolong the stop. The State cited the United States Supreme Court's decision in Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S.___, 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015), for the proposition that, during a traffic stop, a police officer may make "ordinary inquiries incident to the stop" such as checking a driver's license and vehicle registration.

         ¶ 22 On October 20, 2017, the court reversed its earlier ruling and granted the State's motion to reconsider. The court first observed that in raising a fourth amendment challenge to a search, it was defendant's burden to prove standing by demonstrating that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place searched. The court determined that defendant lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car for two reasons. First, the court found that defendant failed to show that his use of the car was authorized by the vehicle's owner, Hertz. Second, the court found that defendant "failed to show that he had been given permission to use the vehicle by the renter of the vehicle" as there was no evidence that the renter of the vehicle had given defendant permission to drive the car. On that basis, the court granted the State's motion to reconsider, thus reversing its earlier ruling which had suppressed the fruits of the search.

         ¶ 23 On November 17, 2017, defendant filed a motion to reconsider the court's ruling granting the State's motion to reconsider its initial decision on the motion to suppress. Defendant's motion noted that the trial court had granted the State's motion to reconsider on the basis of defendant's lack of standing but its ruling had not addressed the separate issue of "the reasonableness of the length of time it took" for Trooper Lindroth to detain defendant and contact Hertz. Defendant's motion cited Rodriguez for the proposition that, absent reasonable suspicion, an officer may not make inquiries unrelated to the suspected traffic violation that unreasonably prolong a traffic stop. The focus of defendant's motion was that Trooper Lindroth lacked reasonable suspicion to justify detaining defendant for 25 minutes while he contacted Hertz.

         ¶ 24 Before the trial court heard argument on the defendant's motion to reconsider, the United States Supreme Court decided Byrd v. United States, 584 U.S.__, __, 138 S.Ct. 1518, 1531 (2018), which held that the "mere fact that a driver in lawful possession or control of a rental car is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his or her otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy."

         ¶ 25 On June 14, 2018, the trial court heard argument on defendant's motion to reconsider its ruling in the State's favor, which reversed its original ruling in defendant's favor. Defendant's counsel cited Byrd in support of the proposition that defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy and, therefore, had standing. The State responded that Byrd's facts were distinguishable, and that under Byrd it remained defendant's burden to show his "lawful possession" of the rental car to establish his standing. The State noted that, in Byrd, there was evidence that the lessee of the rental vehicle had given the defendant authority to use it, whereas in this case, defendant did not present such evidence.

         ¶ 26 In response, defense counsel pointed out that Trooper Lindroth had never asked defendant whether he had permission from the person who rented the vehicle from Hertz to use the rental car. Defense counsel also argued that the trooper's decision to call Hertz resulted in an improper "25-minute delay" for a speeding ticket and that such delay independently supported granting defendant's motion to suppress. The trial court agreed.

         ¶ 27 In its ruling, the court recalled that, when it initially granted the motion to suppress, it "was troubled by the 25-minute detention [by] the police officer" and believed that the delay "exceeded the scope of the initial stop, ...


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