People v. Gill, 2018 IL App (3d) 150594 (April). Episode 491 (Duration 5:33)
Police had a nurse confiscate defendant’s clothes for them.
Defendant was charged with aggravated arson of a home when people were in it. He ends up at the hospital where a nurse gathers his clothes and gives it to the police.
Defendant was a suspect, due to an altercation between him and an occupant of the house earlier that morning. He was angry at a women who took $310 of drugs from him.
Defense counsel filed a motion to quash the seizure of defendant’s clothing from the Pekin hospital and suppress the clothing as evidence, arguing that the seizure did not meet any exceptions to the warrant requirement.
An officer at the scene of the home smelled gasoline and saw a Jeep in the driveway. Inside the house, the fire had originated in the kitchen, against an exterior wall.
Inside the Jeep, he noticed a gas can and white rags similar to the rags found in Defendant’s truck at Denny’s. The Jeep belonged to the women’s roommate.
Later the next day at the hospital, the nurses told police that defendant was admitted smelling badly of gasoline. The nurse then gave defendant’s clothing to police. The nurse did this because she was asked by police to put his clothes aside and save it for them. A dog was allowed to sniff the clothes and the dog alerted.
Police never secured a warrant for the clothes.
Surveillance video of the truck captured it near the scene of the crime. The truck was towed to the East Peoria Police Department without a warrant. Eventually, a warrant was obtained for the truck to be searched.
A neighbor turned over surveillance footage from their home security system.
A dark figure can be seen moving about the vicinity of the house across the street. Twenty-one seconds later, that house erupts into fire. An individual carrying a burning object runs into the street from the area of the house and runs down the street, to the right from the perspective of the camera. After running down the street for about 12 seconds, the individual throws the burning object from his person and continues running off screen.
A small fire where the discarded fiery object was thrown remains on screen. Investigators found the burnt debris along with a bic lighter. Police also found an abandoned grey sweatshirt with burn arm sleeves and a Bic lighter in the pocket.
After the defendant’s truck was confiscated and towed. The search revealed a Bic lighter under the truck’s front seat.
The accelerant-detecting canine, Rusty, can alert to the presence of ignitable liquids. Rusty performed a sniff of defendant’s clothing at the Pekin hospital, alerting to a pair of blue jeans. Arndt also took Rusty into defendant’s hospital room, where Rusty alerted to defendant’s hands. Police testified that they could smell the gasoline on defendant’s clothing when conducting the sniff with Rusty.
The grey sweatshirt also had defendant’s blood and DNA on it.
A forensic scientist testified that the white rag and gas can found in the Jeep, as well as debris from the house all tested positive for gasoline.
She also testified that defendant’s clothing tested positive for gasoline, but she could not identify if the gasoline was on an individual piece of clothing, as the clothing was collected in the same container.
Verdict & Sentence
Defendant was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 12 years. Defendant next contends that the seizure of his clothing from the hospital was illegal on multiple grounds, and that the circuit court therefore erred in failing to suppress evidence stemming from that seizure.
First, he argues that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his clothing, and that the seizure of his clothing was in contravention of the fourth amendment. While defendant emphasizes the seizure of his clothing, it is apparent that the events in question raise issues related to both search and seizure.
The nurse’s testimony at trial was that he had retrieved the bag of defendant’s clothing from his hospital room. Here, none of the nurses’s actions were privately motivated. The evidence at the suppression hearing and trial made clear that he retrieved defendant’s clothing at the explicit request of one of the investigators. Thus, not only did the government know of and acquiesce to the nurse’s action, it specifically requested them. Moreover, the nurse clearly took those actions to assist law enforcement efforts.
On these facts, it is indisputable that when the nurse entered defendant’s room, he did so as an agent of the government for fourth amendment purposes.
The Hospital Room
The evidence in this case shows that defendant was in a single-occupancy hospital room with a door on the seventh floor of the Pekin hospital, what we agreed could be called a “private room.” While doctors and nurses may come and go from his room to provide care, his room was not open to the public in general.
In sum, defendant was legitimately present in a private hospital room suitable for extended stays.
Defendant maintained at least some authority to exclude others from this room, and at all times acted in a manner typical of an occupant of that space, thus demonstrating a subjective expectation of privacy.
The concepts of privacy and confidentiality in a hospital is well covered by law, indicating that society would recognize that expectation of privacy as reasonable.
Accordingly, we find that defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his hospital room.
This doesn’t mean all hospital rooms have the same protection as a home. We simply find that this particular defendant, in the type of hospital room described in this record, enjoyed a reasonable expectation of privacy. Because defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his hospital room, the fourth amendment barred governmental intrusions without a warrant.
No Exigent Circumstance
Consequently, we next consider whether the search was supported by some exception to the warrant requirement.
The burden is on the State to prove that an exception to the requirement applies. Those circumstances that make obtaining a warrant impracticable are also known as exigent circumstances. The police definitely had probable cause to believe that his clothing might be evidence of a crime. While the investigators had probable cause to search, the burden remained on the State to show that circumstances existed making it impracticable to obtain a search warrant for the hospital room.
Just as in McNeely, the exigency exception most on point here is the one for imminent destruction of evidence. The McNeely Court explained that the imminent destruction of evidence exception applies where there is a reasonable belief that critical evidence is being destroyed. No investigators testified or expressed any concerns about defendant destroying evidence, let alone imminently. Further, the gasoline-stained clothing is not of the immediately discardable or destroyable nature of the cannabis reference by the McNeely Court. To even possibly destroy the evidentiary value of those clothes, defendant would have had to wash the clothing. Defendant, of course, was in a room in the ICU, and there was no evidence presented that that floor provided the means by which defendant could accomplish that task, or even that defendant was in well enough physical condition to do so.
The list of reasons that the investigator could have practicably obtained a warrant is yet longer.
There is no apparent reason that the investigators could not have obtained a warrant.
The evidence adduced at the suppression hearing and trial clearly demonstrates that defendant’s clothing was located in a bag within his private hospital room when a group of four investigators arrived at the hospital. When those investigators requested that the nurse enter defendant’s room to retrieve his clothing, he became an agent of the government for fourth amendment purposes.
Because defendant enjoyed an expectation of privacy within that room that society would deem reasonable, the entry for the purpose of finding and taking defendant’s clothing constituted a search under the fourth amendment. While that search was supported by probable cause, there was no evidence on the record that it would have been impracticable for the investigators to obtain a search warrant prior to conducting that search.
Accordingly, this search was conducted in violation of the protections of the fourth amendment.
Everything following the nurse’s entry into defendant’s room should be suppressed. This includes the accelerant-detecting canine’s alert to the clothing in the common area of the seventh floor, as well as the forensic testing on the clothing.
Reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
Ok To Take The Truck
Police did have the requisite exigent circumstances necessary to have defendant’s truck seized without a warrant.
The inherent mobility of an automobile creates an exigency in and of itself. Of course, that exigency is reduced where, as here, the car is parked and driverless. Nevertheless, police, at that point, had no idea when defendant might return for the car, and we must look at the likelihoods as known to police at the time. Moreover, even with defendant in the hospital, any number of fates could have befallen the truck, such as an acquaintance moving it at defendant’s request or Denny’s having the truck towed after it sat in the restaurant’s parking lot for a number of hours.
Most important, however, are the nature of the vehicle and some of the potential evidence. The gas can and rag were in the bed of the truck, exposed to the world. Where the presence of gasoline would be pivotal to any evidentiary value, the potential for the evidence being degraded by weather would be a paramount concern.
Police had probable cause to believe there was evidence of a crime in defendant’s truck, and it would have been impracticable for him to obtain a warrant before having the truck towed.
Thus, the seizure of truck did not violate defendant’s fourth amendment protections.