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Probable Cause Keys Reversal of Gun Rap

A Chicago man saw his conviction on a weapons charge vacated after an appeals panel agreed that cops had no reason to search his car or take him into custody. Judges in the 1st District Appellate Court said that simply seeing a gun in a car isn’t enough to merit seizure absent mitigating circumstances. James Thomas moved to suppress evidence from a would-be traffic stop that led to his arrest in 2015 but a Cook County Circuit Court judge let it stand and sentenced him to a year behind bars for aggravated unlawful use.

Thomas had left his vehicle and was heading toward his West Pullman home when cops pulled up and challenged him about a failure to signal. They cuffed him and a passenger as Thomas was producing his license and registration, telling the court that the presence of a weapon glimpsed under a seat put them at risk and justified the arrest. At trial, Thomas contended there was no signal violation and that he made no effort to flee, thus giving police no reason to search his vehicle. Judges cited a raft of case law – including those involving so-called Terry stops — in overturning the ruling, saying in part that court testimony failed to make clear whether Thomas admitted to owning the pistol.