On April 21, 2009, we published an article about the Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona v. Gant. In this case, The Supreme Court severely limited police officers power to search vehicles after an arrest. In Arizona v. Gant, the defendant had been pulled over for a traffic violation. The police officer determined that he did not have a valid license and placed him under arrest. The defendant was handcuffed and placed in the back of the police vehicle. The officer then searched the vehicle and discovered a gun and drugs. The Supreme Court ruled that the search of the vehicle was unreasonable and ruled that the evidence seized in the search had to be suppressed. The court held that in order for the police to search the vehicle the defendant had to be close enough to the vehicle as to pose a risk that he could grab a weapon out of the car or that the police had a reasonable belief that they would find evidence related to the reason that the defendant had been arrested.
Today I used this case to win a motion to suppress on an Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon By a Felon charge at 26th and California. The facts of my client’s case were very similar to the facts in Gant. The defendant was pulled over because his license plate light was not working. The officer asked my client for his license but he could not produce one because it had been revoked for a prior DUI. The officer testified that he placed handcuffs on my client and put him in the back seat of his squad car. There was a passenger in the front seat. A check of the passenger’s name revealed an outstanding traffic warrant and he was handcuffed and placed in the back seat of the squad car as well. The officer then proceeded to search my client’s vehicle finding a loaded handgun in the back seat area of his vehicle. The state argued that this search was actually an inventory search and that the officer was following Chicago Police procedure. However, the officer admitted that he did not produce an inventory report and could only state that “miscellaneous” items were retrieved from the vehicle in the inventory search.
The court found that an inventory search would be an exception but that what the officer testified to could not be deemed to be an inventory search. The officer did not produce an inventory report and could only remember that “miscellaneous” other items were found. Since the defendant and his passenger were in handcuffs in the back seat of the squad car, and the only reason for the arrest of the defendant was that he had no driver’s license, the police needed a warrant to search the vehicle. My Motion to Suppress was granted and all the evidence seized by the police as a result of the illegal search of his vehicle will not be admitted at trial. This effectively destroys the state’s case. Without the gun, they have no case. The case has been continued but the state will be forced to dismiss the case.
The client was facing substantial jail time if he had been convicted of this offense. He has been to the penitentiary at least three times, most recently serving 10 years for a very serious set of felonies.
James Dimeas is an award winning criminal defense attorney and author with more than 24 years of experience aggressively representing his clients in criminal cases. If you have a criminal case in Illinois, contact me in Chicago (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096) or Lake (847-696-6458) for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.
Arizona v. Gant, 556 U. S. ____ (2009).