Illinois Appellate Court Overturns Conviction Due to Unlawful Search and Seizure

Once again Chicago police violated a citizen’s Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure. On April 30, the Illinois Appellate Court issued a ruling in People v. Sims re-affirming that police must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before they can stop and search an individual.

People v. Sims

In 2010 Henry Sims was stopped by a Chicago police officer after the officer witnessed Sims stuff something down the crotch of his pants and walk away. The officer knew that Sims had a prior arrest for unlawful use of a weapon. He proceeded to stop Sims because his “movement was consistent with someone that could be armed.” The officer immediately palmed Sims’ crotch where he felt not a weapon, but a bag that he recognized as containing narcotics. The bag contained 25 smaller bags, which testing revealed to be cocaine.  supreme-court-1-657696-m

At trial Sims moved to suppress the cocaine, arguing that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in criminal activity, and that the stop there did not meet the requirements of a Terry stop. The court denied Sims’ motion; he was convicted of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and was sentenced to six years in prison.

The Illinois Appellate Court overruled the trial court’s decision, finding that the officer’s actions did not meet the two-part test required in determining whether a Terry stop is valid. Sims’ simple act of putting his hand down his pants did not give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity that would justify the stop – and a “hunch” by the officer that Sims had a weapon is insufficient to stop him. Since the stop itself was unreasonable, the search (or frisk) was also unreasonable, as it was not justified by a reasonable belief that the individual was armed and dangerous. Because the only evidence of Sims’ crime was the direct result of the illegal stop and search, the court overturned both Sims’ conviction and imprisonment.

People v. Sims is another in a long line of cases that support the individual’s right to not be harassed by police. As the officer even stated in his trial testimony, it is not illegal for a person to stuff his hands down his pants. He could have been cold, he could have had an itch, or he could have been readjusting, as males do from time to time. As the court noted, it is not the defendant’s responsibility to provide innocent explanations for his behavior; rather, the burden lies with the prosecution to prove that his actions raised a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. But these innocent explanations are ones that a skilled defense attorney would raise in court during a motion to suppress, or at trial to raise reasonable doubt.

The recent passage of Illinois’ concealed carry gun law will make it even more difficult for an officer who has a reasonable suspicion that an individual has a gun, to further prove that he had reasonable suspicion reasonable suspicion that a crime had been, was, or was about to be, committed, since carrying a concealed weapon is now legal. The fact that an individual is seen stuffing a weapon down his pants or adjusting what appears to be a weapon in his jacket pocket is insufficient to make a stop; there is a presumption against the individual engaging in criminal activity, and since carrying a concealed weapon is legal with a permit, the presumption would be that, absent any other reasonably suspicious activity, the individual has a permit and is in legal possession of the concealed weapon.


Chicago Search and Seizure Attorney

If you or someone you know has been arrested by the Chicago police following a stop and search, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands Illinois’ stop and search laws. The Law Offices of David L. Freidberg, P.C. has almost two decades’ worth of experience handling these types of arrests and knows the questions to ask to poke holes in the prosecution’s case to get a decrease in the charges or an outright dismissal.  Call us at 312-560-7100 or contact our Chicago, Skokie or Oakbrook Terrace office today to discuss your case at no cost.

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