Officer Subterfuge Leads to Reversal of Drug Conviction

In the Fifth District appellate case of People v. Robert Kevin Wall, 2016 IL App (5th) 140596, the appellate court reversed a conviction for production of cannabis sativa plants under 720 ILCS 550/8(c), because the consent given be the defendant to search his property was involuntary.

On November 16, 2011 Officer Jeff Gill of the Carbondale Police department, working with the Southern Illinois Enforcement group (SEIG) went to the home of the defendant, without a warrant, as defendant was suspected of growing cannabis. At the time of arrival defendant, a mechanic, was at work. Officer Gill called the defendant at his place of work and falsely represented that he was a member of the Illinois State Police and he was investigating a break-in at defendant’s house. Gill told defendant that certain window at the back of his house were broken and that they had a suspect. Defendant was instructed by Gill to return home immediately.

Defendant arrived home to find numerous SEIG officers and vehicles on his property. Officer Gill approached defendant and correctly, this time, identified himself as a Carbondale police officer. He advised there wasn’t in fact a break-in but instead claimed he was investigating information that defendant was growing cannabis in the home. Officer Gill, who stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 390 pounds, then approached the defendant to get permission to search the residence. Defendant initially refused. At this point Officer Gill became upset and warned defendant that if he had to go get a warrant “it’s going to go hard on you.” Gill told defendant that if he consented to the search he would not go to jail. Defendant then agreed to sign the consent form to “keep from going to jail.”

The appellate court reversed the trial court and found that the consent given was involuntary and that the trial court should have granted the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. “A police officer’s giving false or misleading information can vitiate the voluntariness of the consent.”, citing People v. Cardenas, 237 Ill. App. 3d at 588, 604 N.E.2d at 956. “An officer making a groundless threat and presenting the occupant of the home with the choice of either consenting or suffering the consequences of the threatened course of conduct can also vitiate the consent.”, citing People v Graf, 265 Ill. App. 3d 746, 750-51, 638 N.E.2d 1181, 1184 (1994). “Both transgressions occurred here.” People v. Wall, id. at page 7.

The appellate court ruled that the evidence acquired by such methods was inadmissible. Citing People v. Stevens, (1957), 11 Ill. 2d 21, 27. “This court, long before Miranda, held that confessions ‘acquired by trick, promises, or threats’ are inadmissible.”

For more information about this or other cases please contact James R. Doerr at (847) 705-7555.