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People v. Woods

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

September 5, 2019

ERICA L. WOODS, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 17-CF-286 Honorable Zina R. Cruse, Judge, presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant Hon. James A. Gomric, State's Attorney, St. Clair County, Patrick Delfino, Director, Patrick D. Daly, Deputy Director, Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor.

          Attorneys for Appellee James E. Chadd, State Appellate Defender, Ellen J. Curry, Deputy Defender, Eun Sun Nam, Assistant Appellant Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Fifth Judicial District.

          MOORE, JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Chapman and Barberis concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          MOORE, JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 The State appeals the order of the circuit court of St. Clair County that granted the motion to suppress evidence filed by the defendant, Erica L. Woods. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The facts necessary to our disposition of this appeal follow. On March 10, 2017, the defendant was charged, by criminal complaint, with one count of causing child endangerment, a Class 3 felony. The complaint alleged that, on or about March 9, 2017, the defendant "willfully caused and/or permitted a male minor with initials A.S. and date of birth [in December 2016] *** to be placed in circumstances that endangered the child's life or health in that said defendant left the minor child unattended and alone in" a residence in O'Fallon. The complaint further alleged that the defendant had previously committed child endangerment in a different St. Clair County case in 2015. On March 24, 2017, the defendant was indicted on the same charge in an indictment that made allegations substantially similar to those in the criminal complaint.

         ¶ 4 On July 19, 2017, the defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, in which she contended, inter alia, that an officer "entered the curtilage of the home and looked in a bedroom window" and that after she and her boyfriend arrived at the home and entered it, "police officers followed them inside." She alleged that the actions of the officers, which occurred without "an arrest warrant or a search warrant," violated the defendant's constitutional rights. She asked, as relief, that the trial court enter an order suppressing "all items seized, any and all observations by law enforcement personnel, and statements, admissions, and confessions of the defendant" and that the court forbid "their entry into evidence against her at trial due to the unlawful nature of the search and seizure."

         ¶ 5 On October 31, 2017, a hearing was held on the defendant's motion. The first witness called by the defendant in her case-in-chief was Adam Sneed, who testified that he had lived in the O'Fallon residence in question-which he testified was a three-bedroom, single-story home- for 16 years. Sneed testified that "to the left" of the house there was a six-foot wood fence, with a gate to allow access from the front yard to the back yard. Sneed testified that the gate was kept secured, so that his dog could not get out, with a "bungee cord tying it down, on top of a hanger that holds it closed, as well, and logs that keep it shut." The gate opened inward to the back yard, but the logs were placed in the back yard to keep it from opening from the front yard. To open the gate, Sneed first would have to enter the back yard from the "slide door of the house," then remove the logs. Sneed testified that the only way to access the back yard without going through the house would be "jumping the fence." Sneed testified that on the right side of his house, a chain-link fence, approximately four feet tall, connected his house to his neighbor's house and that a similar fence was "on the back side" of his house. He testified that to gain access to the back yard, one could jump this fence as well.

         ¶ 6 Sneed testified that on March 9, 2017, he arrived home at approximately 11:30 p.m. to find "four or five" police cars, and approximately the same number of police officers, outside his home. Sneed testified that shortly before arriving home, he had received a phone call from someone who identified himself as Officer Adamson of the O'Fallon Police Department and who told Sneed the police had "reason to believe that you guys have left your minor at home alone." He testified that he and the defendant were together at the time, and resided together at the home. Sneed testified that he tried to tell the police they had received a "falsified report," but that the officers "weren't trying to hear anything I had to say." He testified that he told the officers they "should actually investigate the people who made this report because it's not true" and immediately thereafter testified that he "proceeded to go *** into" the house. When asked if he continued his "conversation" with police, or terminated it, Sneed testified that he terminated it. When asked how he terminated it, Sneed testified, "Tried to go in my house. *** Well, I did go into my house." He testified that a police officer followed him in, although he did not invite the officer in. He testified that the officer did not give "any indication of why he was entering [the] house."

         ¶ 7 When asked how many officers entered the house at that time, Sneed testified, "Three, at the most." He testified as to the layout of his home. When asked if the officers remained in the living room after following him into the house, Sneed testified that they did not and that the officers "followed me to the back of the house, which is where the baby was." He clarified that two of the three officers followed him and that the other officer remained "in the walkway," while the fourth officer remained outside with the defendant. He testified that the officers did not search the house, or look for anyone else in it, and that when they reached the infant's room, the infant was asleep in a bassinet. He testified that the blinds on the room's window were "definitely closed" and that therefore no one would have been able to see the bassinet from outside the house. He clarified that the window was located in his back yard. When asked if he knew the complainant in this case, Sneed testified that he did and that the complainant knew Sneed had a dog. Sneed testified that there was no emergency in the house, such as "smoke or anything like that."

         ¶ 8 On cross-examination, Sneed conceded that the defendant, rather than Sneed, was the last person in the infant's room before they left the house on March 9, 2017. Sneed testified, however, that he was "sure" the drapes[1] were drawn in the infant's room because the defendant "does not touch the drapes." Sneed testified that the complainant had threatened to call the police on the defendant, regarding leaving the infant at home alone, "to get her life messed up, in general." He conceded that when the police arrived, the infant was in fact at home alone. He conceded that the police told him they had first gone to the house "45 minutes prior," and had knocked on the door, but that no one had answered.

         ¶ 9 The next witness to testify was Officer Daniel Hesselbacher of the O'Fallon Police Department. He testified that at approximately 10:41 p.m. on March 9, 2017, he received a dispatch of "an unattended child in a residence. Had a witness that stated there was an infant inside a residence, by itself." He arrived at the residence and "parked directly in front of the residence." Hesselbacher testified that he was the first officer to arrive on the scene and that "probably within less than a minute, Officer Adamson arrived." He testified that he checked the area to see if there were any vehicles parked outside, which there were not, and "stayed on the sidewalk until Officer Adamson arrived. Didn't approach the house at all." He testified that once Adamson arrived, he "looked from the outside" and could see through the front window that, despite the lack of vehicles in the driveway, there were "interior lights turned on in the house." He testified that he believed the front window had both blinds and drapes and that "you could partially see the light coming through part of the blinds. He did not see anything else, or hear anything, while standing there. He testified that he then went to the front door and knocked on the door "probably five to six times" and rang the doorbell. Again he did not see or hear anything from inside the house. He "waited a couple of minutes," then knocked again, this time using part of his flashlight against the door "in case there was somebody inside who may have been sleeping, to make [sure] that the knock was going to be heard." He testified that he left the residence "approximately 12 to 13 minutes after arrival." In addition to knocking on the door, he and Adamson "both ...

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