People v. Gomez, 2018 IL App (1st) 150605 (April). Episode 492 (Duration 8:05)
Police roll up on a parked car and order everyone out; they find a gun.
Defendant was sentenced to 7 years for a gun.
3 officers are in an unmarked squad car when they notice the same Grand Marquis driving around the neighborhood. Eventually, the car pulls over. Defendant is in the back seat with another guy. The police talk to the driver window to window from the cars.
He asked the driver “what he was doing, [and] if he lived around there.” They did not box in the car.
The driver initially responded that he lived down the street; however, the driver admitted that he did not live down the street, but resided somewhere on the “other side of Pulaski.”
Rear Seat Passenger
As he spoke to the driver of the Grand Marquis, Detective Amato was able to observe defendant, who was seated directly behind the driver in the rear of the vehicle. When the conversation began, defendant was “seated upright” with his torso visible to the officers.
As the conversation proceeded, however, defendant began “slouching down in the car.
He just kept on like steadily slouching down as the officers were talking to the driver. So his head was, you could only see like his head at one point in time.
That seemed suspicious.
Cops Had Enough
The cops get out of their car.
As a detective stood by the driver’s side of the Grand Marquis, he observed defendant leaning away from him and toward the middle portion of the seat with his right forearm covering the waistband of his pants. Defendant’s right hand was actually under his shirt.
The detective again found defendant’s behavior to be “suspicious,” and as a result, he asked to see defendant’s hands.
Initially, defendant only raised his left hand into the air and continued positioning his right arm and hand along his waistband. He then started showing his right hand, while still attempting to use his right forearm to shield the waistband of his pants.
He Has A Gun
Based on his observations of defendant’s behavior, the detective believed that defendant had a weapon on him and ordered all three occupants of the Grand Marquis to exit the vehicle. As defendant was exiting the vehicle, he still had his arm over his waistband.
After he completely extricated himself from the car, however, he then immediately turned around and he bent his entire body over the rear of the car. In response, the Sergeant grabbed defendant by his arms and stood him upright.
When he did so, a handgun dislodged from defendant’s waistband and fell to the ground. The detective immediately recovered the gun, which was loaded, and defendant was then placed into custody.
Statements About The Gun
After the police recovered defendant’s weapon, defendant “spontaneously” explained that he had just discovered the gun in a garbage can and asked the officers to “give [him] a break.” At the police station defendant admitted that he “was holding the gun for S.D.’s from 59th Street.”
Defendant and the two other occupants of the Grand Marquis were not acting aggressively toward the officers before they were ordered out of the vehicle.
3 Tiers Of Police Contact
Courts evaluating the nature and propriety of police-citizen encounters have grouped those interactions into three tiers:
(1) an arrest or detention of an individual supported by probable cause;
(2) brief investigative stops, commonly referred to as “Terry stops,” supported by a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity; and
(3) consensual encounters involving neither coercion nor detention and do not implicate the fourth amendment.
See People v. Luedemann, 222 Ill. 2d 530, 544 (2006); People v. Smith, 2016 IL App (3d) 140648, ¶ 28.
For purposes of fourth amendment analysis, a person is considered seized when a law enforcement officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.
More specifically, the relevant inquiry to determine whether an individual seated in a parked vehicle has been seized is whether a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have believed that he was free to decline the officer’s requests or otherwise terminate the encounter.
Our supreme court has emphasized that this “test presupposes a reasonable innocent person.” Relevant factors to consider when determining whether an individual was seized and not involved in a consensual encounter include:
(1) the threatening presence of multiple officers;
(2) the display of a weapon by an officer;
(3) some physical touching of the individual’s person; and
(4) the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance might be compelled.
United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980).
“In the absence of some such evidence, otherwise inoffensive contact between a member of the public and the police cannot, as a matter of law, amount to a seizure of that person.” People v. Fields, 2014 IL App (1st) 130209, ¶ 22.
Police Can Still Ask Questions
It is well-established, however, that a seizure does not occur simply because a law enforcement officer approaches and poses questions to an individual as long as that individual is willing to listen.
Indeed, even where an officer has no basis for suspecting an individual, he may nonetheless question that individual, request identification, and seek the individual’s consent to search. Importantly, “a confrontation with a police officer is not a seizure on the basis that the officer’s authority produces an inherent pressure to cooperate.
Rather, an encounter between a police officer and a civilian is a seizure only if the officer adds to those inherent pressures by engaging in conduct significantly beyond that accepted in social intercourse.
The record establishes that after the detective stopped his vehicle alongside the car, he conversed briefly with the driver while the windows of both vehicles were lowered. Although the detective was accompanied by two other officers at the time, none of the officers brandished weapons or physically touched defendant or any of the other occupants of the vehicles while he spoke to the driver.
Moreover, there is no evidence that the tone and tenor of the detective’s voice when he posed several questions to the driver was forceful or coercive. Although defendant characterizes the questioning as “relentless” and “persistent,” the record does not support that characterization.
Rather, it appears that the detective simply posed two general inquiries to the driver, asking him “what he was doing, [and] if he lived around there.” After hearing the driver’s responses, the detective testified that he then posed one follow-up question, and requested the driver to identify his “exact address.”
A seizure does not occur simply because a law enforcement officer approaches and poses questions to an individual as long as that individual is willing to listen and the officers do not convey by their words or actions that compliance with their requests is required.
Accordingly, we find that defendant was not subject to an immediate seizure when the squad car was stopped alongside of the parked Grand Marquis and asked the driver several questions, which he was willing to answer.
The Order To Get Out Of The Car
This does not end our inquiry, however, given that “a consensual encounter will lose its consensual nature if law enforcement officers convey a message, by means of physical force or show of authority, that induces the individual to cooperate.” Gherna, 203 Ill. 2d at 179.
Although the officers approached with flashlights, the use of a flashlight is not per se coercive, especially where, as here, the police-citizen encounter took place at night and the flashlights were simply used to illuminate the scene.
Immediately after the officers approached the car, however, defendant began leaning way from the officers toward the center of the car and used his forearm to shield his waist from view. At that point, the officers ordered all of the occupants of the Grand Marquis to put their “hands up.”
When defendant did so in a manner that allowed him to continue to conceal his waistband, the occupants were then ordered to exit the vehicle. We find that the positioning of the officers around the vehicle, coupled with orders for the vehicle’s occupants to put their hands up and to exit the vehicle, constituted a show of force and authority, which transformed the consensual encounter to a seizure.
So, Was The Seizure Reasonable?
To justify a Terry stop, an officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion.
Here, we find that based on the totality of the circumstances, the police had reasonable suspicion to suspect that criminal activity was afoot at the time they initiated the seizure.
The police had initially pulled alongside of the vehicle after he had noticed it in the neighborhood he was patrolling on three occasions during a short 30-40 minute period. The vehicle had been mobile on the first two viewings, but was parked when he saw it for the third time. Upon encountering the vehicle for the third time, the detective pulled up alongside of it and issued several questions to the driver, who was responsive to his questions. Although responsive, the driver admitted that he lied when he stated that he lived “down the street.”
During the course of this brief encounter, the detective observed defendant slouch further and further down in his seat until only his head was visible. At that point, the officers exited their unmarked car and approached the Grand Marquis.
Upon his approach to the driver’s side of the car, defendant immediately leaned toward the center of the vehicle with his right hand inside his shirt and his right forearm covering his waist. Based on his years of experience as a police officer, defendant found defendant’s continued furtive movements to be suspicious and became concerned with officer safety.
The Terry standard does not require an inevitable conclusion or absolute certainty; rather, it simply requires a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.
In an effort to dispel his suspicions that criminal activity was afoot and in order to ensure officer safety, the detective ordered defendant and the other occupants of the Grand Marquis to raise their hands into the air. When defendant did so in a manner that allowed him to continue concealing his waist, the detective’s suspicion that defendant was armed was strengthened, and he subsequently ordered defendant and the other occupants of the Grand Marquis.
The gun then fell to the ground when defendant exited the vehicle.
People v. Holmes, 2017 IL 120407 (July) (notwithstanding Aguilar probable cause for an arrest exist when police see a gun) – Episode 387
The record rebuts defendant’s argument that he was seized “solely because [the officers] suspected he possessed a firearm.” As such, we need not consider his argument concerning the propriety of a hypothetical Terry stop predicated solely on an officer’s suspicion that a defendant was in possession of a firearm. Defendant emphasizes throughout his brief that mere possession of a firearm is not a crime and that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion that his possession of the firearm was unlawful until after the seizure occurred.
Although it is true that simple possession of a firearm is not itself a crime, the fact that the officers were not aware of defendant’s status as a convicted felon and parolee or his lack of a FOID card, which ultimately formed the basis for the specific criminal weapons charges filed against him in this matter, is not dispositive because defendant’s furtive behavior and repeated efforts to conceal the weapon provided the officers with reasonable suspicion that defendant was not in lawful possession of the firearm.
To accept defendant’s argument that the initial detention was invalid because the officer did not yet know the specific crime that had been committed would be directly contrary to the goals of Terry to encourage crime prevention and detection where there is reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.
See also Colyar, 2013 IL 111835, ¶ 49 (rejecting a defendant’s argument that police officers are required to completely eliminate any legal explanation for a defendant’s suspected possession of a firearm and establish that the defendant was committing a weapons offense before investigating further during a Terry stop).
The circuit court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to suppress.
- In re Jarrell C., 2017 IL App (1st) 170932 (December) (holding your crotch is not indicative of carrying a gun) – Episode 447
- In re D.L., 2017 IL App (1st) 171764 (December) (running away from shots fired scene not suspicious) – Episode 445
- People v. Richardson, 2017 IL App (1st) 130203-B (May) (fidgeting with your waistband gonna get you patted down) – Episode 335
- People v. Evans, 2017 IL App (4th) 140672 (March) (putting your hands in and out of your pockets may get you patted-down) – Episode 327