Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed February 21, 2014

 

 

 

People v. Cregan 2014 IL 113600

 

 

Appellate citation: 2011 IL App (4th) 100477.

 

††††††††††† CHIEF JUSTICE GARMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

††††††††††† Justices Thomas, Kilbride, Karmeier, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

††††††††††† Justice Burke dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Freeman.

 

 

In this McLean County case, a drug conviction was challenged as based on the discovery of cocaine in the defendantís luggage pursuant to a search which the defendant claimed was unreasonable, in violation of the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution. The defendantís conviction and sentence of 5Ĺ years were upheld by the appellate court, which found the search valid under the search-incident-to-arrest exception to the search warrant requirement.

On November 3, 2009, this defendant got off the train at the station in Normal and was met by police officers who had an active civil arrest warrant for him for failure to pay child support. They had also learned that he was a documented gang member. The defendant was carrying a laundry bag over his shoulder and pulling a wheeled luggage bag. After the officers identified him, he was told to drop his bags and was arrested and handcuffed. Although Cregan asked if the person who had come to pick him up could take his bags, the officers refused and began searching the luggage bag, which was not locked. Inside a container of hair gel, a plastic bag containing powder cocaine was found. He was charged with unlawful possession of less than 15 grams of a controlled substance.

At the stipulated bench trial which followed, the defendant sought unsuccessfully to suppress the cocaine, claiming that the search of his luggage was unconstitutional. The State claimed that there had been a valid search incident to an arrest. The evidence was admitted.

Precedent allows for a search incident to an arrest so that officers can protect themselves and prevent the destruction of evidence. In this case, the Illinois Supreme Court held that, if a person is, at the time of his arrest, in actual physical possession of an item, it is immediately associated with him and is searchable. The nature of the item or how long he has had it is not relevant. Here, the trial courtís finding that the wheeled luggage bag was within the defendantís immediate control at the time of his arrest was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Accordingly, the officers were allowed to search the bag pursuant to a search of the person incident to arrest.

As part of the search, the officers were entitled to inspect the hair gel container found inside the luggage. The appellate courtís judgment affirming the denial of the motion to suppress was upheld.