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The People v. Finn

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 18, 1959.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT IN ERROR,

v.

JAMES FINN, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR.



WRIT OF ERROR to the Criminal Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOHN T. DEMPSEY, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE DAILY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, James Finn, was indicted in the criminal court of Cook County for the crime of burglary and, by subsequent counts of the same indictment, was also charged with being an habitual criminal. Upon a verdict of guilty by a jury, together with a finding that defendant had previously been convicted of burglary, the court sentenced him to imprisonment in the penitentiary for life. The cause is here on writ of error.

Prior to trial on the indictment, counsel for defendant petitioned for a pretrial hearing on the issue of defendant's sanity, alleging that defendant could not co-operate with counsel and that he could not understand the charges against him. The petition was granted, a jury was empaneled, and the hearing culminated with a verdict that defendant was sane. It is now urged that the prosecution failed to prove defendant's sanity beyond a reasonable doubt, and that defendant was denied a fair and impartial hearing due to improper conduct of the State's Attorney, the incompetence of his appointed counsel, and the admission of prejudicial evidence. From a careful examination of the entire record, we find merit only in the latter contention, viz., that the admission of improper evidence served to deny defendant the fair and impartial hearing to which he was entitled.

To refute defense testimony designed to show that defendant could neither co-operate with his counsel nor understand the charges against him, Estelle Steinbach, a court reporter, was called as a witness for the prosecution and read her shorthand notes taken upon the occasion of defendant's appearance before another judge, approximately six weeks before, for the assignment of the case for trial. While the notes read in evidence were, for the most part, competent to establish that defendant clearly and intelligently understood the nature of the charges against him, and that he could co-operate with counsel if he chose to do so, they were at the same time replete with expressions of the assignment judge which register indignation and disbelief of defendant's claim of insanity. Reflecting the assignment judge's attitude and conduct are the following excerpts:

Judge: "Do you want to plead guilty?"

Defendant: "I want a continuance and pass on the period of time I have been in the county jail. There have been certain times I have not been here. I request — ."

Judge: "You don't think you can get away with that. I know you were in front of me."

Defendant: "Your Honor — ."

Judge: "You are going to get a trial; you are going down to the penitentiary for the rest of your natural life on an habitual."

Defendant: "* * * I would like to have a doctor determine whether I am sane or insane."

Judge: "You are not insane. You are not going to get away with it."

Defendant: "Well, I would like to have certain witnesses subpoenaed, I won't plead either guilty or not guilty."

Judge: "Standing mute, a plea of not guilty is entered for you. Call for a jury, and I'm telling you when the jury brings in a verdict — ."

Defendant: "This Public Defender represents me. I would like a counsel. I would like counsel to enter a ...


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