"Open the door or I'll knock it down"
The Appellate Court of Illinois, Third District has affirmed the acquittal of a defendant who had been charged with driving under the influence (DUI), improper lane usage, leaving the scene of an accident, failure to give information or render aid, illegal transportation of alcohol, operating an uninsured motor vehicle, and failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident in a case brought initially in the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois.
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The defendant filed a petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension challenging her driver's license suspension. The trial court granted the defendant's petition, finding that she had been illegally arrested after an officer had threatened to kick down the bathroom door of the defendant's home.
Motion to suppress DUI evidence
In the criminal part of the DUI case, the defendant filed a motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence, based on the contention that the search and seizure of the defendant and evidence obtained as a result were illegal. The defendant and the State's Attorney stipulated that the trial court could rely on hearing transcripts from the hearing on the already resolved petition regarding her driver's license.
In it's ruling, the trial Court found that the initial entry by law enforcement officers into defendant's home was consensual, but that the defendant was effectively under arrest at the time the threat was made to kick down the bathroom door. The Court ordered all evidence that was gathered after the illegal arrest suppressed, disallowing its use at trial on the charges.
The State appealed the Court's ruling arguing that the trial court was mistaken in ruling that defendant had been subjected to an illegal arrest.
Background to illegal DUI arrest
The defendant's husband testified that on the night of Friday June 29, 2012, his wife had gone to the Taste of Joliet festival and when she arrived home around 11:30 p.m. that she seemed fine, did not stumble, stagger, or smell of alcohol. The defendant's husband testified that his wife immediately went into a bathroom in their home.
Shortly thereafter, the doorbell rang and two female law enforcement officers asked to speak to his wife. He told the officers she was in the bathroom. The defendant's husband called out to his wife and walked toward the bathroom as the officers followed him, without his permission, into the home and stood next to him by the bathroom door. Also, one of the officers went into the garage without permission to inspect the defendant's vehicle for damage from an alleged collision.
Meanwhile, the defendant remained in the bathroom, prompting the officers to knock on the door. The officers then opened the bathroom door without permission. Eventually, she emerged and followed the officers to the garage to look at her vehicle.
DUI defendant questioned
A male law enforcement officer was dispatched to the home where he found the two female officers and one male officer were already present. This officer interrogated the defendant regarding the accident while she was seated on the garage step. She denied being in an accident and then admitted that she was in an accident. The second male officer testified that he smelled a strong odor of alcohol on defendant and that she was semi-coherent. The defendant admitted to having consumed four beers at some time earlier.
The defendant was "asked" to go to the police station to answer additional questions. The officer also asked the defendant if she understood she was not under arrest at that time and her response was in the affirmative. At the station, the defendant submitted to and failed field sobriety tests.
Court denies state's motion regarding DUI evidence
The State asked for a directed verdict arguing that the defendant failed to meet her burden of proof because testimony had established that she had committed DUI. The defendant argued that she was entitled to have the summary suspension of her driver's license rescinded due to the fact that the officers made an illegal, warrantless entry into her home without exigent circumstances to justify the intrusion. The State countered that the officers were in "hot pursuit" and the evidence of the DUI would have dissipated by the time they obtained a warrant. The trial Court held that no "exigent circumstance" or other emergency exception to the requirement for a warrant existed that would allow entry into defendant's home, and the arrest was, therefore, unlawful. The Court denied the state's motion for a directed verdict.
The trial court rejected the state's various arguments and granted defendant's motion on the same grounds as the Petition to Rescind, holding that the officer effectuated an illegal arrest at the time she threatened to kick the door down.
Motion to suppress DUI evidence
The trial court held that the entrance into the house by law enforcement officers was consensual. But, the court found that defendant was under arrest at the time the officer threatened to kick down the bathroom door and the court granted defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence for all evidence obtained after the officer's threat.
The State's Attorney appealed the ruling with the sole argument that the trial Court erred as a matter of law in finding that defendant was the subject of an illegal arrest. That prompted two separate inquires by the Court of Appeals. The first questions was whether one occupant may give law enforcement officers effective consent to search a shared premises over a co-tenant who is present and refuses to give such consent. The second question was whether the officers, by their actions, effectively seized defendant for Fourth Amendment purposes, the collection of evidence.
The trial Court found that the defendant's husband consented to the initial entry into the home by the officers. Co-tenants with equal rights to consent or object to a search have the authority to consent, though that right is not unlimited in the face of defendant's demonstrated objection.
The Third District Court of Appeals looked at a previous Illinois case where a trial court had granted a motion to suppress physical evidence and that ruling was reversed by the First District Court of Appeals. That Court found that the warrantless search of defendant's home after defendant's live-in girlfriend gave consent was reasonable and did not violate the fourth amendment. In the case at issue, the Court found that the case at bar is factually distinguishable from the First District case in that the act of locking the bathroom door showed that the defendant demonstrably objected to any further police intrusion into her bathroom and had the right to do so.
Fourth Amendment questions in Illinois
It has been shown that for Fourth Amendment purposes, a person has been seized when his freedom of movement has been restrained by means of physical force or a show of authority. The Appellate Court said that the State's argument that defendant consensually opened the bathroom door and, therefore, was not under arrest is without merit. The Court also ruled that the officer's statement to "Open the door or I'll knock it down" is language requiring compliance. The Court suggested that defendant had the option of either staying in the bathroom waiting for a forced entry or to come out. The Court noted that this is not a consensual situation, nor would a reasonable person in defendant's shoes believe she was free to deny the officer's demand or end the encounter with law enforcement.
Court denies "hot pursuit" claim by the state
In the alternative, the State had contended that even if an arrest of defendant had taken place, it was legal because the officers had probable cause to believe the defendant had just left the scene of the accident and they were in hot pursuit. The Court pointed to a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law where a search or seizure carried out without a warrant is unreasonable unless it can be shown that it falls within one of the carefully designed set of exceptions such as the presence of "exigent circumstances." Thus, according to the Court, a suspect may not defeat an otherwise proper arrest which has been set in motion in a public place by escaping to a private place.
The Appellate Court pointed out that the hot pursuit exception to the warrant requirement does not apply to the facts of this case, as the defendant pointed out that this arrest was not initiated in public. The officers did not witness the hit-and-run, nor did they attempt to conduct a traffic stop. Under the State's attempted application of the doctrine, almost any situation where police were simply responding to a call from dispatch would constitute "hot pursuit," loosely justifying a warrantless arrest. The Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not allow for such a broad application of the doctrine. We couldn't agree more with the ruling.
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