People v. Williams, Appeal No. 3-18-0024

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE DAUGHERITY delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Citation2020 IL App (3d) 180024,187 N.E.3d 88,453 Ill.Dec. 114
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Lonnie WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket NumberAppeal No. 3-18-0024
Decision Date07 December 2020

2020 IL App (3d) 180024
187 N.E.3d 88
453 Ill.Dec.
114

The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Lonnie WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellee.

Appeal No. 3-18-0024

Appellate Court of Illinois, Third District.

Opinion filed December 7, 2020
Modified Opinion Upon Denial of Rehearing filed February 19, 2021


Jason Helland, State's Attorney, of Morris (Patrick Delfino, David J. Robinson, and Justin A. Nicolosi, of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

James E. Chadd, Peter A. Carusona, and James Wozniak, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Ottawa, for appellee.

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

187 N.E.3d 91
453 Ill.Dec. 117

¶ 1 Defendant, Lonnie Williams, was charged with a Class X felony—unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver ( 720 ILCS 570/401(a)(2)(A) (West 2016)). The trial court granted defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The State appealed. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Just prior to midnight on the evening of July 16, 2017, Deputy Aaron Cory stopped defendant's vehicle on Interstate 80 in Grundy County, Illinois, for failing to have a rear registration plate. After Cory stopped defendant's vehicle, Cory saw that defendant had a valid, temporary registration sticker in his rear window. Having stopped defendant, Cory requested defendant's driver's license and proof of insurance. Defendant's driver's license was suspended. During a subsequent search of defendant's vehicle, a gun and a substance suspected to be cocaine were found. Suspected cocaine was also found in the back of Cory's squad car where defendant had been seated. Defendant was charged with the Class X felony of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, in that "defendant knowingly possessed with the intent to deliver 100 grams or more but less than 400 grams of a substance containing cocaine."

¶ 4 On October 3, 2017, defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing that the initial stop of his vehicle was unlawful, his prolonged detention by Cory requesting his driver's license was unlawful, and his subsequent arrest was unlawful. At the motion hearing on December 12, 2017, Cory testified that at or around midnight on July 16, 2017, he saw defendant's vehicle pass him and it appeared that the vehicle did not have a rear license plate. Cory testified that, when defendant's vehicle was stopped and "once [he] approached the vehicle," he observed an Iowa temporary registration sticker in the upper left corner of defendant's rear window. Cory further testified that he also observed other motor vehicle violations on defendant's vehicle—no rear registration light (license plate light), a cracked taillight with red tape over it, and several air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror. Cory explained to defendant that he had pulled him over for not having a rear license plate but now had observed the temporary registration sticker in the rear window. Cory requested defendant's driver's license and discovered it had been suspended. An inventory search of defendant's vehicle was conducted for the purpose of towing the vehicle.

¶ 5 At the hearing, the prosecutor conceded that the air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror and the cracked taillight that was taped up with red tape were "clearly not going to support a stop in this case" and that neither side was making such an argument. The prosecutor argued, however, in addition to Cory stopping defendant for a missing license plate, defendant's vehicle also did not have a functioning light for the rear license plate.

¶ 6 The trial court indicated that, when it viewed the video of the traffic stop and listened to the testimony, the evidence was that it was dark outside, there was no license plate on defendant's vehicle, and once Cory stopped defendant's vehicle and walked up to it, Cory observed the valid temporary registration. The trial court noted that a different type of temporary registration is used in Iowa than in Illinois—in Illinois, a temporary registration plate is placed where the license plate

187 N.E.3d 92
453 Ill.Dec. 118

would go and would be more clearly visible. The trial court found that the stop was lawful because it appeared that there was no registration on the vehicle and there was no way to know if there a valid registration "until the stop was effectuated and you were standing literally right next to the vehicle." The trial court took the matter under advisement on the narrow issue of whether Cory could ask for defendant's driver's license after he had recognized defendant's vehicle had a proper registration and continued the case.

¶ 7 On December 21, 2017, in its oral ruling (and in its subsequent written order filed on January 8, 2018), the trial court found the traffic stop was lawful because the vehicle's registration was not visible after dark to a stationary police vehicle. The trial court further found that Cory did not have the right to investigate defendant after he had made the stop and noticed the valid, temporary registration sticker in the rear window. The trial court found that the license plate light was also malfunctioning but there was no probable cause to support a stop (or prolong the stop) on that basis because no license plate was affixed to the area where the license plate light would illuminate it. The trial court granted the motion to suppress because there was not an "effective Terry stop" at the point of when Cory asked for defendant's driver's license.

¶ 8 On December 21, 2017, the trial court filed a written order that indicated the motion to quash and suppress was granted and defendant was "hereby released instanter from the Grundy County Jail." On January 8, 2018, the trial court entered a written order containing its findings of fact in support of granting defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The trial court stated that it found as follows:

"1. Defendant was traveling on Interstate 80 on July 17, 2017, after dark. His vehicle was stopped by Grundy County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Cory when the Deputy noticed that the vehicle had no rear license plate.

2. The Deputy approached the vehicle and observed a temporary license sticker taped in the rear windshield. The sticker was issued by the State of Iowa and was not visible at the time when the Deputy observed the vehicle. The temporary registration was current.

3. The Deputy also noted that vehicle did not have an operational rear registration light and that the vehicle had a cracked tail light.

4. The Deputy asked for the Defendant's driver's license and discovered that the driver's license was suspended. A subsequent search of the vehicle led to the arrest of the Defendant on felony possession charges."

¶ 9 The trial court additionally noted in the order that it had previously found that Cory had reasonable grounds to stop defendant's vehicle because no current registration was visible. The trial court noted that the issue then became whether Cory had the right to investigate further and that the State had argued Cory had sufficient grounds to investigate further because there was not a functioning rear license plate light. The trial court found that the absence of the license plate light did not give Cory grounds to investigate further because there was no license plate affixed to the area of the license plate light. The trial court noted the registration was properly displayed in the rear windshield in a manner prescribed by the State of Iowa but that it was not visible after dark to a stationary police vehicle. The trial court granted defendant's motion to quash and suppress.

¶ 10 The State appealed.

187 N.E.3d 93
453 Ill.Dec. 119

¶ 11 II. ANALYSIS

¶ 12 The State appeals the trial court's order granting defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. Specifically, in its brief on appeal the State argues that the investigating officer, Cory, had sufficient probable cause to further investigate defendant, even after the probable cause for the stop had dissipated for lack of a proper vehicle registration being displayed, because defendant was also driving without a functioning license plate light. In support of its argument, the State cites section 12-201(c) of the Illinois Vehicle Code:

"Either a tail lamp or a separate lamp shall be so constructed and placed as to illuminate with a white light a rear registration plate when required and render it clearly legible from a distance of 50 feet to the rear. Any tail lamp *** shall be so wired as to be lighted whenever the head lamps or auxiliary driving lamps are lighted." 625 ILCS 5/12-201(c) (West 2016).

The State argues that defendant's temporary registration on the rear windshield was not illuminated and, as such, defendant was committing a traffic violation so that Cory was "fully justified" in asking for defendant's driver's license.

¶ 13 In response, defendant requests that this appeal be dismissed because the State did not certify that its...

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