In March 2005, Samuel McPeak was stopped by a Police Officer in Lee County who noticed him not wearing his seat belt. When McPeak exited the vehicle at the Officer’s request so that he could give Mr. McPeak his ticket for the seat belt violation, the Officer noticed an odor of cannabis, which the officer testified he noticed coming from McPeak’s person.
During his encounter with McPeak, the Officer asked McPeak if he had been smoking cannabis, which McPeak replied he had, and that he had taken one or two hits from a “hit pipe” within the last hour or two. Based on McPeak’s response, and the Officer’s observations, the Officer arrested McPeak for “Driving Under the Influence” (DUI) of drugs for having cannabis in his breath, blood, or urine.
Prior to a stipulated bench trial on the evidence, McPeak’s counsel filed a motion to quash the arrest and to suppress the evidence, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to arrest McPeak for DUI, “because there was no evidence of the presence of cannabis in his breath, blood, or urine as required by section 11-501(a)(6).” After a conviction at a stipulated bench trial , McPeak appealed. The facts stipulated to at trial were that: 1) the officer smelled burnt cannabis about Mr. McPeak’s person 2) that McPeak admitted to taking two hits out of a hitter box about an hour before being stopped, and 3) that after he was arrested, the officer located a smoking pipe in McPeak’s vehicle that contained a burnt substance that smelled like cannabis, and which later field-tested positive for cannabis.
On appeal, the State argued that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to support McPeak’s conviction, in that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence that Mr. McPeak had cannabis in his breath, blood, or urine at the time he was driving as prohibited by Illinois law. McPeak argued that his Motion to Suppress should have been granted, and that there was insufficient evidence to uphold the conviction. The Illinois Appellate Court, Second District reversed noting that while “McPeak admitted to smoking ‘two hits’ of cannabis ‘about an hour ago’ [t]here was no evidence whether consuming that amount of cannabis would result in any cannabis being left in his breath, blood, or urine an hour later.” Furthermore, the court held that there “was no evidence that McPeak was impaired and no evidence of any odor of cannabis on McPeak’s breath, as opposed to his ‘person’.” In other words, what the court was really saying was that while there may have been circumstantial evidence that McPeak smoked cannabis, and that it likely remained in his system, the State had failed to show beyond a reasonable doubt by way of scientific evidence, or by way of other evidence, that the cannabis remained in his system.
Relying on a holding from the Third District, People v. Allen , the court noted that while “the odor of cannabis on the breath of a defendant could provide circumstantial evidence that the defendant has cannabis in his breath”, there was no such evidence in this case because the Officer had testified that he had smelled burnt cannabis about Mr. McPeak’s person, “something that does not address whether McPeak had cannabis in his breath, blood, or urine at that time.” (emphasis added). In its opinion, the court also noted that there was also a lack of additional evidence to show that Mr. McPeak was impaired; evidence such as dilated pupils, that his motor skills were impaired, that he had trouble performing standard field sobriety tests, problems communicating or speaking, etc.
While additional evidence likely would have resulted in Mr. McPeak’s conviction, the court ruled that, “the State provided no evidence that cannabis remained in McPeak’s breath, blood, or urine while he was driving.” (emphasis added).
My interpretation of the court’s ruling is simply that the State failed to connect the dots. They didn’t have urine or blood showing the presence of cannabis. This is akin to a lack of corpus delecti, a Latin term requiring proof that a crime has been committed.
The case may have been proven through scientific evidence, by way of expert testimony, that cannabis tends to remain in one’s system for a period of time after ingestion. Another possibility is that they may have simply stipulated their way out of the case, meaning that they agreed to some facts, but failed to insist on the presence of additional facts that might have existed which would have helped to prove the case circumstantially.
While it may seem that Mr. McPeak may have dodged a bullet in this case, I have no doubt that the bullet was actually diverted by the help of his lawyer. That is why it is so important to hire a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney. Sometimes convictions are avoided through an intelligent, cunning lawyer, who knows the law, or who can use it to their advantage.
- People of State of Illinois v. McPeak,399 Ill.App.3d 799, 927 N.E.2d 312 (Ill.App.Ct. 2nd Dist. 2010).
- While I would imagine most everyone knows what a “hit box” or “hitter box” is, it was defined by the Second District as “a common name for a pipe used to smoke cannabis”.
- A stipulated bench trial is utilized as a trial strategy by attorneys at certain times for different reasons, but more often than not, they are utilized to save time, money, or judicial resources when there is no real reason to dispute or contest facts that are likely to be presented at trial. The facts themselves are uncontested, but the applicability of the law to those particular facts may.
- People v. Allen, 375 Ill. App. 3d 810, 873 N.E.2d 30 (Ill.App.Ct. 3rd Dist. 2007).
- In this case there was an admission to smoking cannabis, there was circumstantial evidence of smoking by way of the one-hitter, but the State didn’t have the physical evidence, that being the blood or the urine proving ingestion. By way of analogy, simply because an individual walks into a police station and claims to have murdered someone, there must be additional proof that the murder was committed.
- If additional facts were present, kudos to McPeak’s attorney for proceeding by way of a stipulated bench trial.