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People v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

July 23, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ALVIN BROWN, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 CR 16710 The Honorable Raymond Myles, Judge, presiding.

          Attorneys James E. Chadd, Patricia Mysza, and Katie Anderson of State for Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

          Kimberly M. Foxx, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg and Paul Castiglione, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

          JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Pucinski concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          HYMAN, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The arresting officer saw Alvin Brown taking a drink of beer while standing in a gas station parking lot and arrested him for violating the Chicago Municipal Code which prohibits drinking on a "public way." Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4-030 (amended at Chi. City Clerk J. Proc. 52958 (May 8, 2013)). Brown had in his pocket a controlled substance and was later tried and convicted for possessing it.

         ¶ 2 Brown argues that because his arrest was without probable cause, his motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence should have been granted. We agree, and reverse. The gas station parking lot does not fit within "public way," which the Municipal Code defines as "any sidewalk, street, alley, highway or other public thoroughfare." Chicago Municipal Code § 1-4-090(f) (amended at Chi. City Clerk J. Proc. 44485 (Dec. 12, 2012)). Moreover, the officer lacked a reasonably objective basis for believing that Brown was on the "public way."

         ¶ 3 Background

         ¶ 4 Three Chicago police officers on routine patrol in an unmarked police car pulled into a gas station located at 76th and Halsted Streets in Chicago. They noticed a group of four men, including Brown, standing in the parking lot. Officer Brendan Roberts saw Brown drinking a beer. Roberts approached Brown and arrested him for violating section 8-4-030(a)(1) of the Municipal Code by "drinking alcohol on the public way" (Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4-030(a)(1) (amended at Chi. City Clerk J. Proc. 52958 (May 8, 2013))). Roberts searched Brown's pants pocket and found a small plastic bag containing one "ecstasy" pill. Brown was charged with possession of a controlled substance under section 402(c) of the Illinois Controlled Substance Act, a Class 4 felony. 720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 2014).

         ¶ 5 At the same time, Officer Martin McDonnell searched Brown's codefendant, Louis Foster, and found crack cocaine hidden in his pants.

         ¶ 6 Both Brown and Foster moved to suppress the drugs found when they were searched, arguing both searches violated the fourth amendment. The State responded that the police officers believed that the ordinance applied to the gas station parking lot as a "public way" and that this was a reasonable mistake of law.

         ¶ 7 Brown was convicted after a bench trial of possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to two years' probation.

         ¶ 8 Motion to Quash Arrest and Suppress Evidence

         ¶ 9 Chicago police officer McDonnell testified at the hearing on the motion to suppress. On August 30, 2014, McDonnell, Officer Brendan Roberts, and Officer Matthew Kennedy were on routine patrol in an unmarked car. At 12:50 a.m., the officers pulled into a 24-hour gas station. McDonnell saw a group of four or five men standing in the parking lot. Brown was drinking a can of beer. Roberts approached Brown and arrested him for violating a Chicago ordinance by drinking alcohol on the "public way." Roberts searched Brown while McDonnell did a protective pat-down search of Louis Foster. McDonnell found 15 plastic bags of crack cocaine in Foster's pants. McDonnell did not see Foster doing anything illegal before the search.

         ¶ 10 McDonnell stated the area was "high-crime" and was known for narcotics sales, and in the past there had been "numerous" calls of people with guns. The trial court overruled defense counsel's objections to these answers. McDonnell also stated the officers were on routine patrol and were not responding to any complaints about activity at the gas station.

         ¶ 11 Officer Roberts searched Brown and found a bag in his pants pocket containing one pill that later proved to be "ecstasy" (benzylpiperazine). When Brown was arrested, there were no warrants, investigative alerts, or calls regarding either Brown or illegal activity in the area. In the past, Roberts had responded to calls of persons with guns and people drinking at the same location. Roberts described the lot as "open" with access for the public to come and go.

         ¶ 12 The State contended that Brown was properly arrested, thus justifying the search incident to that arrest.

         ¶ 13 The trial court denied Brown's motion, finding it was "reasonable that most citizens including the police do not clearly understand that gas stations are not public ways giving the public ingress and egress thereto. Although, this is a mistake of law, it is however reasonable." The trial court noted three factors contributing to the reasonableness of the officers' belief: (i) gas stations cannot hold a liquor license in Chicago (Chicago Municipal Code § 4-60-090 (added Dec. 9, 1992)), (ii) Brown was standing in the parking lot near a car parked next to the gas station vacuum, and (iii) in the past police had received complaints about people drinking and people with guns at the gas station.

         ¶ 14 The trial court granted Foster's motion to suppress, finding the officers did not see him do anything other than standing near Brown. They did not see him drinking, had no warrants for his arrest, and no information that he had violated the law. Granting Foster's motion to suppress had the substantive effect of dismissing the charges against him. See People v. Bonilla, 2018 IL 122484, ¶ 5.

         ¶ 15 Trial

         ¶ 16 At Brown's bench trial, Officer Roberts testified to essentially the same facts as at the hearing on the motion to suppress. The trial court found Brown guilty of possession of a controlled substance and sentenced him to two years' intensive probation plus $1109 in fines and fees.

         ¶ 17 Analysis

         ¶ 18 Brown argues that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to quash his arrest and suppress the evidence. Brown asserts his arrest and search violated his fourth amendment rights because his arrest was without probable cause; thus, the evidence obtained as a result must be suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree." See Dunaway v. New York,442 U.S. 200, 207, 216 (1979); Wong Sun v. United States,371 U.S. 471, 484-85 (1963). Under the fourth amendment, every person has a right against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const., amend. ...


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