People v. Franklin, 2016 IL App (1st) 140059 (August). Episode 221 (Duration 9:15)
Police find weed in this hotel room, but the warrantless search of the room exceeded the scope of a search incident to arrest.
Defendant had rented a hotel room.
Police are called to the room because another hotel guest said an occupant of Defendant’s room stole her money.
Police go to the room and are let in by Defendant. They talk to the roommate suspected of the theft. Police find cannabis in plain view, the roommate bolts out the room.
Defendant is left alone in their room for around three minutes as they chase the runner. When the police get back to the room, defendant is seen coming out the bathroom where tiles in the ceiling now appear disturbed.
Defendant is arrested and they find guns in the bathroom ceiling.
A warrantless search is per se unconstitutional unless it falls within recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.
Two exceptions are
(1) probable cause accompanied by exigent circumstances,
(2) a search incident to arrest and
(3) a search based on consent.
Consent is not valid unless it is voluntary; and in order for consent to be voluntary, it must be freely given without duress or coercion (express or implied).
There is no doubt that Defendant consented to the entry into the room to talk to the roommate.
The interruption of the search as a result of the roommates flight did not render the officer’s re-entry non-consensual. A brief interruption or a temporary suspension of a search does not transform one continuous search into two separate searches.
- Search Warrant Case
- Gun in Couch
- Police Leave – They Are Done
- Roommate Says “It’s in the Couch!”
- Cop’s Come Back
When an officer fails to abandoned his investigation, relinquish control over the defendant’s house, or indicate an intent not to seize contraband then the search is not reasonably complete.
Here, the officers did not leave the room because they had completed their search and ran out only to pursue a fleeing suspect.
However, defendant contends that the search of the bathroom ceiling exceeded the scope of his consent to enter the room was not otherwise justified either as a search incident to his arrest for the cannabis nor by exigent circumstances.
Here defendant has a point.
The police were let in the room to talk to the roommate about a theft. The probable cause to arrest defendant for the weed did not translate into the ability to conduct a warrantless search of the entire room, including the bathroom.
In a search incident to arrest, it is reasonable for the arresting officer to search the person arrested in order to remove any weapons that the latter might seek to use in order to resist arrest or effect his escape.
Otherwise, the officer’s safety might well be endangered, and the arrest itself frustrated.
In addition, it is entirely reasonable for the arresting officer to search for and seize any evidence on the arrestee’s person in order to prevent its concealment or destruction. And the area into which an arrestee might reach in order to grab a weapon or evidentiary items must, of course, be governed by a like rule.
A gun on a table or in a drawer in front of one who is arrested can be as dangerous to the arresting officer as one concealed in the clothing of the person arrested.
There is no comparable justification, however, for routinely searching any room other than that in which an arrest occurs. See People v. Gant.
The bathroom area was separate from the room where Franklin was arrested and it was not within his immediate reach. The evidence shows that the officer had to stand on the toilet seat to access the area.
When the officer re-entered the motel room and observed defendant emerging from the bathroom, nothing prevented him from visually examining the bathroom and determining that the ceiling tiles had been disturbed.
…He Did Have Probable Cause
And while the trial court properly concluded that the changed condition of the ceiling tiles gave the officer probable cause to believe defendant had either recently concealed contraband in or retrieved contraband from that location, probable cause, standing alone, did not justify the warrantless search.
No amount of probable cause can justify a warrantless search or seizure absent exigent circumstances.
Clearly, they had enough for a warrant, but they still needed to get the warrant. The recovered guns need to be suppressed.
The reviewing court did not question that the officer’s 41 years of experience led him to believe (correctly, as it turns out) that contraband was concealed above the recently disturbed ceiling tiles.
But that is just probable cause and because defendant was already in custody and handcuffed (indeed, he was outside the room locked in the squad), no exigent circumstances justified the search of the ceiling area without a warrant.
Conviction reversed outright.