People v. Hill, 031920 ILSC, 124595

Docket Nº:124595
Opinion Judge:KARMEIER, JUSTICE
Party Name:THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellee, v. CHARLES D. HILL, Appellant.
Judge Panel:JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Anne M. Burke and Justices Kilbride, Garman, Theis, and Neville concurred in the judgment and opinion. JUSTICE MICHAEL J. BURKE took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
Case Date:March 19, 2020
Court:Supreme Court of Illinois

2020 IL 124595

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellee,

v.

CHARLES D. HILL, Appellant.

No. 124595

Supreme Court of Illinois

March 19, 2020

JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Anne M. Burke and Justices Kilbride, Garman, Theis, and Neville concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

KARMEIER, JUSTICE

¶ 1 Defendant, Charles D. Hill, was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance, after Decatur police officer Robert Baker searched defendant's vehicle and found a small rock of crack-based cocaine under the driver's seat. During pretrial, defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion for the initial stop and that the officer did not have probable cause to search defendant's vehicle. The Macon County circuit court granted the motion based on the lack of reasonable suspicion for the initial stop but noted the subsequent search would have been valid if the initial stop was valid. The appellate court reversed and remanded. 2019 IL App (4th) 180041, ¶ 39. This court allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315(a) (eff. July 1, 2018). We now affirm the appellate court's judgment, albeit on different grounds, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Before this court defendant abandons his challenge to the initial stop and now only challenges the probable cause to search his vehicle. As such, we provide only the facts relevant to whether probable cause to search defendant's vehicle was established.

¶ 4 After being charged with unlawful possession of a substance containing less than 15 grams of cocaine (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 2016)), defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence of the cocaine. He argued Officer Baker did not have reasonable suspicion for the stop of his vehicle and lacked probable cause for the subsequent search of his vehicle. Officer Baker was the only witness at the hearing on the motion to suppress. He testified as follows.

¶ 5 On May 29, 2017, he activated his lights to initiate a stop of defendant's vehicle based on his reasonable belief that the passenger was a known fugitive, Duane Lee. After driving a few blocks, defendant finally came to a stop. Based on his experience and training, Officer Baker knew vehicles that take a little while to stop often are concealing or destroying contraband or producing a weapon. Once stopped, Officer Baker approached the passenger side of the vehicle and had the passenger lower the window. He immediately smelled the strong odor of raw cannabis.

¶ 6 At some point, the passenger was identified as Matthew Anderson. Officer Baker could not recall at what point he realized the passenger was not Lee.

¶ 7 However, Officer Baker conducted a search of the car. According to his testimony, he searched defendant's vehicle based on the smell of raw cannabis. The search revealed cannabis and a small rock that tested positive for crack cocaine. He testified that he could not recall the amount of cannabis recovered but that he knew it was much less than a pound or ounce.1

¶ 8 During redirect examination, defense counsel admitted a video of the stop into evidence. The video reveals Officer Baker approached the passenger side of the car, with his backup officer immediately behind him, and asked the identity of the passenger. Shortly after the passenger began talking, during which he stated that he got out of jail the day before, Officer Baker asked if the passenger would step out of the car. The passenger complied. Officer Baker then walked to the driver side of the car.

¶ 9 After defendant spoke, Officer Baker informed defendant that he believed the passenger was wanted on a warrant. Then, Officer Baker promptly stated that he thought the passenger was someone else. The passenger began to speak again, but Officer Baker redirected his attention to defendant and asked "I smell raw cannabis. How much is in the vehicle? Do you have any weed in the car?" Defendant denied having weed in the car and stated that he did not recently smoke cannabis.

¶ 10 The video then shows Officer Baker looked through the window into the backseat. The passenger informed Officer Baker that the smell of cannabis could be emitting off him because he smokes cannabis. Roughly 20 seconds later, Officer Baker stated, "I see a bud in the backseat. Did somebody try to rip it up and toss it out or anything?" In response, the passenger clarified he smoked early with friends but did not smoke in the car. After another squad car arrived about a minute later, Officer Baker asked defendant to step out of the car and initiated a search of the car.

¶ 11 The trial court granted the motion in part. It found that, although the passenger and Duane Lee look similar, Officer Baker had no other corroborating evidence. The basis of the stop was thus too tenuous, as Office Baker "really wasn't certain who was seated in the passenger seat." The trial court noted, however, that if it had determined the stop was valid, there was no problem with the basis for the search. The State annealed.

¶ 12 The appellate court reversed, finding Officer Baker had reasonable suspicion to stop defendant's vehicle and probable cause to search the vehicle. With respect to the search, the appellate court found the smell of cannabis established probable cause because, although it is decriminalized, a substantial number of cannabis-related activities remain unlawful. Therefore, the smell of cannabis is still suggestive of criminal activity. It further determined that to require officers to obtain facts leading to the conclusion that a criminal amount of cannabis is present before probable cause is established leads to an absurd result because officers could not investigate further unless they knew the amount involved. We allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal, pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 315(a) (eff July 1, 2018).

¶ 13 ANALYSIS

¶ 14 In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we employ the two-part standard of review adopted by the United States Supreme Court in Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690 (1996). Under this standard, a reviewing court must give due weight to the trial court's findings of fact and will reverse only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. However, this court may assess the established facts in relation to the issues and may draw its own conclusions when deciding what relief, if any, should be granted. Accordingly, we review de novo the trial court's ultimate ruling as to whether suppression is warranted. People v. Bartelt, 241 Ill.2d 217, 226 (2011).

¶ 15 As stated above, defendant no longer challenges the initial stop of his car and only asserts there was no probable cause to search his vehicle. He contends the legalization of medical cannabis and decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis altered the police's power to conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle solely based on the odor of raw cannabis. In light of this change, defendant further requests this court to overrule People v. Stout, 106 Ill.2d 77, 87 (1985), which held the odor of burnt cannabis without other corroborating evidence provides an officer probable cause to search a vehicle. Based on the record, however, we find it unnecessary to address this narrow legal issue.

¶ 16 Unlike Stout, the officer here relied on more than the odor of raw cannabis. Officer Baker testified that defendant delayed pulling over, which based on his training and experience often indicates the passengers of the car are hiding contraband or retrieving a weapon. Defendant argues that, because he stopped his car less than one minute after Officer Baker activated his lights, he did not take more than a reasonable amount of time to safely bring his car to a stop. However, after reviewing the video of the stop and search, it is clear defendant had multiple opportunities to safely stop his car.

¶ 17 Also, the video of the stop also revealed that Officer Baker observed a "bud" of cannabis in the backseat of defendant's car. Defendant assumes Officer Baker could not rely on his observation of a "bud" of cannabis in the backseat in establishing probable cause because he failed to collect and document such "bud." We find it unreasonable to make such inference. Defendant was provided an opportunity to cross-examine Officer Baker to elucidate whether he was mistaken about the "bud" of cannabis being in the backseat and whether such mistake was reasonable. Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. __, __, 135 S.Ct. 530, 539 (2014) (fourth amendment tolerates reasonable mistakes, but "those mistakes-whether of fact or of law-must be objectively reasonable" (emphasis omitted)). However, he failed to do so. Therefore, the fact that Officer Baker observed a "bud" of cannabis in the backseat is undisputed.

¶ 18 Because the record shows more than the odor of raw cannabis was considered, we need not address the validity of Stout after the enactment of the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (Act) (410 ILCS 130/1 et seq. (West 2016)) and decriminalization of...

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