People v. Brown

Decision Date23 July 2019
Docket NumberNo. 1-16-1204,1-16-1204
Citation2019 IL App (1st) 161204,434 Ill.Dec. 320,136 N.E.3d 68
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Alvin BROWN, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

¶ 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, 427 Ill.Dec. 863, 120 N.E.3d 930.

¶ 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, 99 S.Ct. 2248, 60 L.Ed.2d 824 (1979) ; Wong Sun v. United States , 371 U.S. 471, 484-85, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963). Under the fourth amendment, every person has a right against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const., amend. IV. Brown maintains that the arresting officer had an unreasonable belief that Brown committed the offense of drinking on the public way.

¶ 19 On a motion to suppress evidence, the defendant has the burden of producing evidence and proving the search and seizure were unlawful, but once the defendant makes a prima facie showing of an illegal search and seizure, the burden then shifts to the State to produce evidence justifying the intrusion. People v. Martin , 2017 IL App (1st) 143255, ¶ 18, 415 Ill.Dec. 389, 82 N.E.3d 593 (citing People v. Woodrome , 2013 IL App (4th) 130142, ¶ 16), 375 Ill.Dec. 87, 996 N.E.2d 1143.

¶ 20 In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence, we apply the two-part standard of review in Ornelas v. United States , 517 U.S. 690, 699, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996). Under this standard, we give great deference to the trial court's findings of historical fact and reverse only if against the manifest weight of the evidence. People v. Almond , 2015 IL 113817, ¶ 55, 392 Ill.Dec. 227, 32 N.E.3d 535. A reviewing court, however, assesses the facts in relation to the issues and draws its own conclusions when deciding what relief should be granted. People v. Pitman , 211 Ill. 2d 502, 512, 286 Ill.Dec. 36, 813 N.E.2d 93 (2004). We review de novo the trial court's ultimate legal ruling as to whether suppression is warranted. People v. Holmes , 2017 IL 120407, ¶ 9, 418 Ill.Dec. 254, 90 N.E.3d 412.

¶ 21 The facts of Brown's arrest and search are not in dispute. The officers, who were on routine patrol, saw Brown take a sip from a beer while standing in a parking lot outside a 24-hour gas station. The officers then arrested Brown for drinking alcohol "on the public way" and searched Brown and the codefendant. The officers found a plastic bag in Brown's pocket containing one pill that positively tested as a controlled substance.

¶ 22 Did the officers have probable cause for Brown's arrest based on a municipal ordinance? Brown argues the trial court improperly denied his motion to quash his arrest and suppress the evidence because the police officers had no reasonable basis to believe that he violated the Municipal Code prohibiting consumption of alcohol on a "public way." Brown asserts he was standing on private property—the parking lot of a gas station. The State argues the custodial search that resulted in finding contraband was lawful because the officer's mistaken belief that Brown broke the law was objectively reasonable.

¶ 23 The State acknowledges that the gas station parking lot, by definition, was not a "public way" as contemplated by the Municipal Code. The State's brief concedes that the arresting officers' belief that Brown committed a crime was mistaken (as the trial court found) but argues the mistake was reasonable. In oral argument as well, the State conceded the parking lot was not a "public way" as defined in the ordinance. Thus the State has abandoned its position regarding "public way" as argued in the trial court and waived this point on appeal.

¶ 24 The dissent points out that this court is not bound by the parties' concessions (see People v. Nunez , 236 Ill. 2d 488, 493, 338 Ill.Dec. 877, 925 N.E.2d 1083 (2010) ). Infra ¶ 62. But the State's position on appeal is more than simply a concession as the dissent represents. See People v. Reed , 2016 IL App (1st) 140498, ¶ 13, 400 Ill.Dec. 341, 48 N.E.3d 290 (rules of waiver and forfeiture apply to the State). Having waived the issue of the definition of "public way," the State argues the issue not in terms of...

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