Aurora man’s conviction in gas station robbery overturned
By Dan Campana For Sun-Times Media September 20, 2013 2:04PM
Updated: October 23, 2013 6:36AM
An Aurora man with a lengthy criminal history won something of a reprieve when an appellate court threw out his conviction tied to a 2009 gas station robbery.
Keith LeFlore, who turns 57 later this month, had been sentenced to 20 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of holding up a Mobil station on Old Indian Trail while wearing a dark mask and wielding a cane disguised as a shotgun. Prosecutors said a witness identified LeFlore and that, after his arrest, he had confessed to the robbery.
However, before trial, LeFlore had sought to quash his arrest because he said Aurora police violated his rights by placing, without a warrant, a GPS monitor on a car he occasionally drove which belonged to his girlfriend. Now-retired Judge Allen Anderson denied LeFlore’s motion and the case proceeded through trial, sentencing and the appeal.
In a lengthy ruling, the Second District Appellate Court has overturned LeFlore’s conviction based on the use of the GPS, as well as errors in how Anderson explained to LeFlore the possible prison sentence he faced if convicted.
According to the ruling, Aurora police received a tip in April 2009 about LeFlore’s possible involvement in burglaries. The tipster told police LeFlore had been seen bringing items into his apartment. Police determined LeFlore to be on parole and living in Aurora, and connected him to a red Kia Spectra registered to a woman who shared LeFlore’s address. Police did not obtain a warrant to place the GPS, the ruling explained.
Police placed a GPS device on the Kia early one morning that would transmit a signal as frequently as every 15 seconds and notify police if the car left the apartment complex by setting up an “imaginary fence” around that area, the appellate decision states. Shortly after the GPS was placed, it indicated the car had left the apartment and stopped near the gas station. Once police learned of the robbery, LeFlore immediately became a suspect.
The ruling indicates police were waiting for LeFlore when he returned to the apartment in the Spectra. When he arrived, he had the cane and was wearing the same type of shoes seen in video surveillance from the gas station.
LeFlore’s attorney at the time argued the use of the GPS amounted to an illegal search and seizure, but Anderson found no such violation occurred because LeFlore had no expectation of privacy related to the car. However, the appellate court’s majority found that if LeFlore had consent to use the vehicle, he maintained the right to challenge the GPS and any evidence obtained through its use, even as a parolee who is subject to different rules related to searches.
“Defendant’s required consent to searches of his person, property, or residence did not include being subjected to continuous and unfettered surveillance of his movements,” the court wrote.
After his arrest, LeFlore was charged with aggravated robbery, robbery and burglary, and was told he faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted of the most serious offense, according to the appellate decision. Prosecutors said they informed him, in an off-the-record conversation, of the Class X penalty range of six to 30 years, available because of his criminal history, weeks before trial. The appellate court said, even if such a conversation took place, it came too late because LeFlore had already chosen to represent himself and had no “legal sophistication.”
“Clearly, the trial court failed to admonish (LeFlore) of the minimum and maximum sentences he could receive if convicted of aggravated robbery,” the opinion states. “Neither the trial court nor the state appeared to have the knowledge that Class X sentencing was available, and we will not hold defendant to a higher level of knowledge.”
Appellate Court Justice Joe Birkett agreed with the decision to remand the case based on errors in the sentencing explanation, but disagreed on the decision as it related to the GPS monitoring in part because LeFlore provided no information to support his claims he had permission to use his girlfriend’s car or even that she was his girlfriend, his dissent states.
LeFlore remains in prison on an unrelated conviction. A new court date has not yet been set in Kane County.