Saturday, August 22, 2020

CAN POLICE SEARCH MY MOUTH DURING A STOP?

According to Illinois law, the answer is probably not--especially if the police used force.

In People v. Augusta, defendant was stopped for failure to signal when turning. The officer asked defendant if he had something in his mouth, which defendant denied. The officer ordered defendant to open his mouth, but then began to choke him. Defendant had in fact been concealing bags of drugs.

The trial judge denied defendant’s motion to suppress the drug evidence, stating that the officer had probable cause to believe the contraband was in defendant’s mouth.

The appellate court disagreed. The court found that the officer’s actions violated a law barring a peace officer from using a chokehold, or any lesser contact with the throat or neck area of another, in order to prevent ingesting the evidence. (See Prohibited Use of Force by A Peace Officer). A chokehold is defined as any direct pressure intended to reduce or prevent the intake of air. The officer’s conduct met the definition of “lesser contact.”

The court further held that the drugs were not in plain view. An officer may seize an object without a warrant if it is in plain view as long as: (1) the officers are lawfully in a position from which they can view the object, (2) the incriminating character of the object is immediately apparent, and (3) the officers have a lawful right of access to the object. The court stated that the incriminating nature of the object was not immediately apparent as the officers only saw a piece of plastic and a bulge in defendant’s cheek. While plastic in the mouth is unusual, the court did not find it was inherently incriminating.

If you have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. Was the police stop and search legal? If not, an attorney may be able to bring a motion asking the judge to suppress the evidence. Bear in mind that different judges weigh the facts quite differently. Therefore, an attorney who is familiar with the courthouse may best present your particular situation in its most favorable light.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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