Illinois Police May Search Your Luggage, Even Without a Warrant

Illinois police searchEarlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court drastically expanded the scope of drug searches that police may conduct without a warrant. Normally, the Fourth Amendment requires police obtain a warrant from a judge before searching a person’s home or belongings. There is a long-recognized exception to this requirement for searches that take place “incident to arrest.” This exception allows police to conduct an immediate search of a person under arrest, without a warrant, to ensure he or she is not carrying weapons that might endanger the officer’s safety or, alternatively, to prevent the concealment or destruction of evidence related to the arrest.

In other words, if police arrest a person for illegal drug possession, they may search the person or any area “under his immediate control” to locate evidence related to said drug possession. But what about when the person is under arrest for a non-drug-related charge? Can police still conduct a warrantless search for drugs?

People v. Cregan

This was the question recently answered by the Illinois Supreme Court. In this case, the defendant was under arrest on a civil warrant for failure to pay child support. Police arrested the defendant at a train station. He made no attempt to resist arrest. After police handcuffed the defendant, they proceeded to search his luggage without a warrant. There was a hair gel can inside the luggage, which police also searched without a warrant. Inside the can was cocaine.

An Illinois court subsequently convicted the defendant of illegal drug possession. He appealed his conviction, arguing the police search of his luggage violated the Fourth Amendment. In a decision issued on February 21st of this year, the Illinois Supreme Court, by a vote of 5-2, upheld the search as lawful. “Because the bag was in the actual physical possession of defendant when he was placed under arrest,” Chief Justice Rita B. Garman wrote for the majority, “it was a personal effect immediately associated with his person. Accordingly, officers were allowed to search the bags pursuant to a search of the person incident to arrest.”

Two justices dissented. Justice Anne M. Burke, writing for herself and Justice Charles E. Freeman, argued the majority’s position contradicted the holdings of the United States Supreme Court. No court, Justice Burke said, has held, as the majority did here, that any object in a defendant’s possession is subject to a warrantless search under the incident-to-arrest exception. Furthermore, Justice Burke said the majority’s new rule was “vague,” as it allowed police to search items within a “close proximity” to an arrested person, without defining that term.

Getting Legal Help

While the Supreme Court’s decision may be flawed and controversial, it is now the law in Illinois. The lack of clarity surrounding police searches only heightens the importance of having an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney if you are facing serious charges. Contact the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today if you require advice or assistance.

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