The following is an exact reproduction of an article that appeared on the front page of the December 26, 2008 Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, a legal and business newspaper published since 1854 and read by tens of thousands of professionals in the Chicagoland area:
Panel upholds suppression of cocaine
By Stephanie Potter
Law Bulletin staff writer
A police officer's hunch--"albeit a good one"--was not enough to support a traffic stop that netted 96 kilograms of cocaine, the 1st District Appellate Court ruled Friday.
The appeals court upheld Cook County Associate Judge Thomas Joseph Hennelly's ruling suppressing the evidence against Salvador Ruano.
Ruano, a self-employed trucker, had been charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver after a Feb. 28, 2006, search of his tractor-trailer. His truck was stopped after police watched it for more than three hours at a Southwest Side gas station parking lot near Interstate 55, the ruling said.
Testifying at a suppression hearing, Ruano said he was from Moreno Valley, Calif., and that he agreed to deliver food products from Los Angeles to Chicago for an acquaintance named Martin. Ruano said he did not know Martin's last name and claimed that the trailer was already loaded when he picked it up. Payment for the delivery was to be made by a woman in Utah, according to Ruano. Another driver accompanied Ruano.
Hennelly found parts of Ruano's testimony to be "absurd," according to the appeals court. Nonetheless, Hennelly found that police lacked justification to make either a traffic stop or an investigatory stop of Ruano's vehicle.
The appeals court agreed in a 16-page opinion written by Justice Michael P. Toomin.
Although police said Ruano's truck registration initially appeared to be expired, the defense tendered documents showing that it was valid on the date of the traffic stop.
At issue was the testimony of Michael Knaus, an inspector with a Cook County sheriff's police task force who stopped Ruano's truck. Knaus' testimony conflicted with his police report on the issue of who ran the check of Ruano's registration. And Hennelly found that Knaus should have sought a certified copy of the truck registration, despite Knaus' testimony that a prosecutor told him it was not needed.
The appeals court likewise rejected the state's argument that pulling Ruano over was the only way to dispel concerns about his truck registration. Toomin wrote that the registration could have been verified through police channels in the more than three hours the truck was under surveillance.
"As the trial court observed, the stop was made on instinct," Toomin wrote. "While the societal benefit inuring from the seizure of a substantial quantity of narcotics cannot be understated, the manner in which the removal came to pass was not permissible under the Fourth Amendment."
On the night of the traffic stop, Knaus was conducting surveillance of a Speedway gas station parking lot at 3401 S. California Ave.
At the suppression hearing, Knaus said his team was watching another vehicle when he noticed Ruano's truck, according to the appeals court. Knaus said he became suspicious because the vehicle was from California, had two people in it, and had religious items hanging from the visor area. The tractor also sported police stickers and a Tweety Bird sticker.
Knaus testified that cartoon stickers are used by narcotics traffickers to make tractors more identifiable for anyone looking to locate the truck at a truck stop. Religious items, he said, are sometimes used by people transporting contraband because they think "that's going to protect them from law enforcement."
Knaus said he also was suspicious because of a lock and seal on the trailer and because it was refrigerated.
Toomin wrote that while searches and seizures generally require a warrant issued upon probable cause, investigatory stops are justified when the police officer can point to specific facts that create a reasonable suspicion that the person stopped has committed or is about to commit a crime. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22 (1968).
But such a stop cannot be justified based on a hunch, he wrote.
The state argued that all the factors taken together--uncertainty about the truck's registration, the stickers, the religious artifacts--were enough to warrant an investigatory stop.
However, the appeals court agreed with Ruano that many of those factors could be innocuous on their own and as such did not give rise to probable cause or a reasonable suspicion to stop the truck.
"Given the testimony of Knaus that defendant's truck was surveilled in the parking lot for over three hours, a reasonable inference could be drawn that the initially observed indicators were not sufficient in the minds of Knaus and his colleagues to warrant an investigatory stop, or obtain a warrant," Toomin wrote.
Instead, the lone potentially sufficient basis for a stop was the truck's registration.
"However, testimony on this point was marginal and it is clear the trial court entertained significant doubts regarding Knaus' efforts to determine the status of the registration," Toomin wrote.
Justices James Fitzgerald Smith and Margaret J. O'Mara Frossard concurred in the 16-page opinion. People v. Salvador Ruano, No. 1-08-0592.
The state was represented on appeal by Assistant State's Attorney's James E. Fitzgerald, Tasha Marie Kelly and Omar Jaleel. Alan J. Spellburg, deputy supervisor of the Criminal Appeals Division, said he had not yet reviewed the opinion and so could not comment.
Ruano was represented by Assistant Appellate Defender Michael Joseph Wilson, who could not be reached for comment early Friday afternoon.
The case that served as the subject of this article is cited as: People v. Ruano, 900 N.E.2d 427 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 2008).