The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 14 (2001-02)

NIU's Northern Exposure
Does it Hurt to Ask?: Search and Seizure Violations in Requesting I.D. From Passengers in Traffic Stops
By John J. Palmer

Editor’s Note: This article is published in connection with the Brief’s cooperative program with Northern Illinois University College of Law and the NIU Law Review. Under this program, NIU students regularly submit articles to the Brief so as to avail themselves of an opportunity to have their work published. Readers of the Brief will benefit from scholarly articles on topics of current interest.

In July, the Second District Court issued its opinion in the case of People v. Gonzales1. The State had appealed a ruling of the Circuit Court of Du Page County granting Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during a traffic stop. The Second District affirmed, relying on its previous holding in People v. Branch2 and the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in People v. Brownlee3.

In Gonzales, Defendant was a passenger in a car driven by a friend when the vehicle was pulled over by two police officers for not having a front license plate. The officers asked the driver for identification, and upon the driver’s failure to produce proof of insurance, the driver was ordered out of the car. One of the officers then went to Defendant and asked him to produce identification. The officer testified that at this time he had no reason to suspect any criminal activity on the part of Gonzales. Defendant produced a traffic ticket as identification, and a subsequent computer check showed Defendant to be a gang member currently on parole with a lengthy criminal record.

The officer then asked Defendant to exit the vehicle, at which point the officer testified that Defendant was not free to leave the scene. The officer asked Defendant for permission to search his person (there was dispute in the record as to whether Gonzales actually consented to search), and found a bag of cocaine in his pocket.

Defendant moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the officer did not have a lawful basis to ask him for identification, that requesting identification was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and that any evidence gathered as a result of the unlawful request should be suppressed.4 The trial court granted the motion to suppress.5 The State moved to reconsider, then appealed upon denial of that motion.6 The question on review was whether the suppression was warranted on the facts of the case.7

In its analysis, the Second District Appellate Court relied on the authority of both Branch and Brownlee. In Branch, the driver of a vehicle was arrested after a search of his vehicle revealed marijuana cigarettes and a handgun. When the vehicle was pulled over, the officer requested ID from the passengers, and a subsequent computer check revealed that one passenger had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Upon the arrest of the passenger, the police informed the vehicle’s owner (the other passenger) that they were going to search the vehicle. In the search, the police found marijuana cigarettes in the ashtray and a gun. Both driver and passenger were then arrested.8

The trial court in Branch held that once the defendant produced a valid driver’s license, there was no reason for police to further detain him, and that making him wait while a background check was run on the passenger constituted an unlawful seizure.9 The trial court then granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence found in his subsequent search.10 The State appealed, and the Second District upheld the motion to suppress. Citing Terry v. Ohio11, the court held that the Fourth Amendment permits "minimally intrusive investigatory stops of people when there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity."12 The officer lacked authority to ask the passenger for I.D. because he had no reasonable cause for suspicion of any criminal activity. Although the initial stop and I.D. check of the driver were valid, the subsequent search was only the result of the officer’s unlawful request for I.D. from the passenger, and therefore was properly suppressed by the trial court.13

The court further relied on the Brownlee decision. In that case, a vehicle was pulled over for a traffic stop, and after the officer ran background checks on the vehicle’s four passengers, he asked the driver for consent to search. Upon obtaining the driver’s consent, the officer found marijuana. At that time, the defendant, a passenger, was arrested and searched, and that search revealed cocaine on her person.14 The evidence was suppressed at trial, and the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the suppression. Although the initial traffic stop was valid, the Court held, the Fourth Amendment was violated by the continued detention of the defendant without a reasonable suspicion by the police of any criminal conduct by that defendant.15

The Second District found both Branch and Brownlee to be applicable to Gonzales. Because the officer admittedly lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity by Gonzales, he also lacked authority to ask Gonzales for identification.16 The request for I.D., without that authority to ask, constituted an illegal detention. The court also found that even if Gonzales had given consent to search, that consent was tainted by the illegal detention by the officer.17

The court discussed three types of "police-citizen encounters" for purposes of Fourth Amendment detention or seizure, then found the detention of Gonzales by the officer to be unlawful. The first is an arrest for probable cause. The second is the previously mentioned "Terry stop," which is a brief seizure of a person supported by a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The third is one that involves a "community caretaking or public safety function" which does not involve actual detention.18 Because the officer in Gonzales lacked probable cause, had no reasonable

suspicion of criminal activity, and was not acting in a public safety capacity, the detention was held unlawful.19
Justice Malley dissented, arguing that it was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment for the officer to request I.D. from Gonzales. Arguing that Branch "blurred the distinction between demand and request," Malley stated that the majority’s opinion gave no reasons why the mere request for I.D. constituted a seizure per se.20

The majority found that the I.D. request itself, without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, did constitute a seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. As the evidence against Gonzales was discovered only as a result of this unlawful seizure, the Second District held that the trial court properly granted his motion to suppress.

1 324 Ill. App. 3d 15, 753 N.E.2d 1209 (2nd Dist. 2001).

2 295 Ill. App. 3d 110, 692 N.E.2d 398 (2nd Dist. 1998).

3 186 Ill. 2d 501, 713 N.E.2d 556 (1999).

4 Gonzales, 324 Ill. App. 2d at 18.

5 Id.

6 Id.

7 Id.

8 Branch, 295 Ill. App. 3d at 111.

9 Id.

10 Id.

11 392 U.S. 1(1968).

12 Branch, 295 Ill App. 3d at 112.

13 Id. at 115.

14 Brownlee, 186 Ill. 2d at 506.

15 Id. at 521.

16 Gonzales, 324 Ill. App. 3d at 21-22.

17 Id.

18 Id. at 19.

19 Id. at 22-23.

20 Id. at 24-26.

John J. Palmer is a second-year student at NIU College of Law. He is a staff member of the Law Review, and a member of the Executive Board of the Public Interest Law Society, as well as an active member of the National Lawyers Guild.

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