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Appeals Court Begrudgingly Upholds Driver's Drug Conviction... And Issues a Warning

For the case of one man arrested in Henry County on drug charges, it was a "good news, bad news" situation in the Illinois Appellate Court. The good news was that the court found his arguments regarding the police's search tactics were persuasive and offered a well-reasoned case for a Fourth Amendment violation. The bad news was that the Illinois Supreme Court had already ruled in 2011, on a strikingly factually similar case, that the sort of police tactics this suspect challenged were, in fact, legal.

For the case of one man arrested in Henry County on drug charges, it was a "good news, bad news" situation in the Illinois Appellate Court. The good news was that the court found his arguments regarding the police's search tactics were persuasive and offered a well-reasoned case for a Fourth Amendment violation. The bad news was that the Illinois Supreme Court had already ruled in 2011, on a strikingly factually similar case, that the sort of police tactics this suspect challenged were, in fact, legal.

The issue before the appeals court related to the stop, search, and arrest of Norman Thomas. Thomas was riding with a companion, William Gordon, who was driving Thomas' car, when a Kewanee police officer pulled them over for Gordon's failure to dim his bright headlights. The officer who made the stop was also a canine officer and had the dog perform a "free air sniff" around the men's vehicle. During this process, the officer told the men to roll up the car's windows and turn the car's heater on. The dog alerted during the "free air sniff," and the officer searched the vehicle.

Thomas was ultimately arrested and charged with and convicted of possession of a controlled substance. The man appealed, contesting that the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The appeals court disagreed, but it did so begrudgingly. The central issue the court discussed with regard to the propriety of the search was the officer's command to the driver and passenger to roll up their windows and turn the car's heater on. The court concluded that the actions completed by the Kewanee officer in Thomas' case were similar to those performed by an officer in a previous case, People v. Bartelt, resolved by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2011. In that case, the court ruled that the "set-up" procedure undertaken by the officer did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The appeals court warned that these sorts of "set-up" procedures by the police are highly questionable and likely to be reviewed and overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. What the police did, both in Thomas' case and in the Bartelt case, amounted to "forcing a vehicle's occupant to make available to officers, without a warrant, something that is normally on the interior of the car and afforded at least some Fourth Amendment protection."

In the appeals court's opinion, these procedures were the equivalent of an officer ordering a suspect to empty his pockets and throw the contents on the ground, using the "plain view" rule to search the items on the ground. "This is not, nor could it ever be, the state of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence." However, since the Barteltcase is still valid precedent in Illinois, the court had no choice but to uphold Thomas' conviction.

If you or a loved one is facing drug charges, it is to your decided benefit to consult with experienced Illinois criminal defense counsel. For skillful and zealous representation on your case, consult the DuPage County criminal defense attorneys at Martin & Kent about a drug possession case.

Contact us online or by calling (888) 388-9151 to schedule your confidential initial consultation at no charge.

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