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People v. Thomas

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

November 15, 2019

JAMES THOMAS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 15 CR 3439 Honorable Joan Margaret O'Brien, Judge, presiding.

          James E. Chadd, Patricia Mysza, Bradley Jarka and Kieran M. Wiberg, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

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

          JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Mikva and Justice Cunningham concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Following a bench trial, defendant James Thomas was convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon (AUUW) (720 ILCS 5/24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A-5); (a)(1), (a)(3)(C) (West 2014)) and sentenced to one year in prison. On appeal, defendant argues that (1) the trial court erred in denying his pretrial motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence of a firearm police found in his vehicle and (2) the State failed to prove that he constructively possessed the firearm beyond a reasonable doubt. For the following reasons, we reverse.

         ¶ 2 JURISDICTION

         ¶ 3 Defendant was sentenced on September 22, 2016. He filed his notice of appeal on September 22, 2016. Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to Article VI, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 6) and Illinois Supreme Court Rule 603 (eff. Oct. 1, 2010) and Rule 606 (eff. Mar. 20, 2009), governing appeals from a final judgment of conviction in a criminal case entered below.

         ¶ 4 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 Defendant was charged by information with three counts of AUUW (720 ILCS 5/24- 1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A-5); (a)(1), (a)(3)(C) (West 2014)) based upon his alleged possession of an uncased, loaded handgun in his vehicle without having been issued a valid Firearm Owner's Identification (FOID) card or concealed carry license (CCL).

         ¶ 6 Prior to trial, defendant filed a motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence of the firearm, arguing that the police entered his vehicle and seized the weapon without probable cause. At the suppression hearing, defendant testified that he picked up his brother, Steve Harris, on 64th Street at approximately 6:30 p.m. on February 17, 2015. Defendant then drove to their home in the 12000 block of Sangamon Street. He denied committing any traffic offenses on the way home.

         ¶ 7 Upon arrival, defendant parked his vehicle on the street, exited with Harris, and locked the doors. Defendant then walked around the rear of his vehicle and was near the trunk when two police officers arrived in a squad car and "boxed [him] in" by parking directly behind his vehicle. The officers exited with their weapons drawn, shined their spotlight on defendant and Harris, and ordered them to walk toward the squad car. Defendant and Harris complied. One of the officers then took defendant's keys from his pocket and approached his vehicle. The other officer handcuffed defendant and Harris together, put them in the back of the squad car, and "ran [their] names." Afterwards, the police recovered a loaded firearm from under the passenger's seat of defendant's vehicle. On cross-examination, defendant denied telling the officers that the firearm belonged to him. However, he acknowledged that Harris was released shortly after the police recovered the weapon.

         ¶ 8 The defense rested, and the State called Chicago police officer James Bansley. Bansley testified that he and his partner, Officer Matthew O'Brien, were driving near 122nd Street when he observed defendant's vehicle turn onto Sangamon without signaling. They "pursued" the vehicle in order to conduct a traffic stop, but defendant pulled over before the officers caught up to his vehicle. Defendant and Harris then exited their vehicle and began walking toward one of the houses on Sangamon. The officers parked behind defendant's vehicle, illuminated defendant and Harris with their spotlight, and exited the squad car. O'Brien approached defendant and asked for his driver's license while Bansley stood near the passenger's side of defendant's vehicle. As defendant and Harris were walking back toward the squad car, Bansley looked through the window of defendant's vehicle and observed approximately five inches of an object that, through his experience as a police officer, he "immediately" recognized as the extended magazine of a handgun.

         ¶ 9 While defendant's back was turned, Bansley gestured to O'Brien to alert him about the firearm. Upon receiving the signal, O'Brien handcuffed defendant and Harris together while they were between defendant's vehicle and the officers' squad car. Bansley then opened the door to defendant's vehicle, which was unlocked, and recovered the firearm. Bansley next observed O'Brien remove the handcuffs from Harris and place them solely on defendant. Afterwards, O'Brien informed Bansley, in defendant's presence, that defendant "ma[d]e an admission *** regarding the gun." Defendant was ticketed for failure to use his turn signal ...

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