CHICAGO – An Illinois appeals court has ruled that evidence found during a warrantless search of a liquor store was grounds for the store losing its license and being fined, even as the court upheld a Cook County judge's ruling that the city of Chicago does not have constitutional authority to conduct unlimited searches of establishments with liquor licenses.
Mr. Jack's Food and Liquor store was searched in January 2011 by a Chicago city task force of seven police officers, a fire inspector, two health inspectors, a building inspector and business affairs official.
The team did not have a warrant, but searched the premises using section 4-4(2) of the Illinois Liquor Control Act, which says the local liquor control commissioner has the power to “enter or to authorize any law enforcing officer to enter at any time upon any premises licensed hereunder to determine whether any of the provisions of this Act or any rules or regulations adopted by him or by the State Commission have been or are being violated, and at such time to examine said premises of said licensee in connection therewith.”
During the search, the team purportedly found numerous guns in second-floor living quarters. The owner of the store did not have a firearm owner identification card, and was arrested and criminally charged.
The store owner claimed the presence of the guns couldn’t be used against him because they were found during an illegal search and this violated the Fourth Amendment. The city revoked the store’s license and fined it $17,000 stating that the Liquor Act allowed the search.
The store appealed and lost in proceedings before the city’s License Appeal Commission. The store did pick up some ground when it sued the city in Cook County Circuit Court. The court ruled that section 4-4(2) was unconstitutional. However, the court also upheld the fines and revocation of the store’s license.
In an opinion published Dec. 23, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court agreed with the Cook County Circuit Court decision. In the opinion, Justice Rita Novak referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in New York v. Burger, which established three criteria for a reasonable search.
In this case, the first two criteria were met, which state: “There must be a substantial government interest underlying the regulatory scheme pursuant to which the inspection is made,” and “The warrantless search must be necessary to further that regulatory scheme.”
This case did not, however, satisfy the third criterion, which states the property owner must be notified there will be regular inspections. The court found the owner was not aware there would be regular inspections. The fine and license revocation were still upheld.
It still remains to be seen what effect this ruling will have on the city of Chicago.
“Certainly, it's going to affect how municipalities regulate liquor sellers,” Hart Passman, Partner at Holland & Knight, told Cook County Record.
Passman does not believe this ruling will impact a municipality's ability to enforce regulations, but rather how the regulations are enforced.
“What remains to be seen is how much broader this might affect other licensed city areas,” Passman said. "We’re encouraging our municipal clients to look at this case."