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People v. Washington

OCTOBER 28, 1966.




Appeal from the Criminal Court of Cook County; the Hon. ALFONSE F. WELLS, Judge, presiding. Judgment of conviction reversed.


After a jury trial, defendant and his co-defendant, Johnnie Allen, were found guilty of unlawful sale of narcotic drugs and each was sentenced to a term of 10 to 15 years. Upon an appeal by defendant Johnnie Allen, we reversed his conviction on the ground that the trial court had erred in not suspending the proceedings on Allen's motion for the purpose of conducting a hearing to determine his competency to stand trial. People v. Allen, 71 Ill. App.2d 283, 218 N.E.2d 837. In that opinion we noted that "on no fewer than 119 times defendant (Allen) interrupted the trial with ravings and abusive epithets directed at the judge, the State's Attorney, and even at his own counsel. The character of these vituperative remarks by defendant was such as to convince us that a bona fide issue was raised as to defendant's competency." While defendant Washington urges upon us several specific grounds why he too should be afforded a new trial, *fn2 we think that, regardless of whatever validity those grounds might have, reversal is required in this case for the underlying reason that a fair trial was impossible in proceedings so completely lacking in decorum.

Early in the trial both defendants (but particularly Allen) began disrupting the proceedings with disrespectful outbursts which the court chose to ignore. At one point Allen interrupted the questioning to say to the court, "You can charge me with contempt of court. I know I have said enough to be charged with contempt. I can't understand what you are waiting on." The conscientious trial judge was obviously sore beset to determine how best to handle the situation, but apparently decided to remain passive throughout the entire trial. That this did not result in an orderly proceeding is demonstrated, for example, by one of Allen's accusations directed to the judge when he said, "This is a frame and you know it. You conspiring with the whole thing."

We have no doubt but what the well-intentioned trial judge maintained his own personal dignity to a remarkable degree under most difficult circumstances. But we also have no doubt that the dignity of the court as a forum for conducting the gravely important proceedings of a criminal trial was permitted to disintegrate into little more than a shambles. The two defense lawyers (appointed by the court) were most cooperative with the judge, as was the State's Attorney, but their operating efficiency and ability to concentrate must certainly have been reduced to a low level by Allen's raucous distractions. This fact was crystalized in the frustration of Allen's own counsel when he stated to the court:

I think we ought to conduct a sanity hearing on this man. He is bothering me. I can't follow this case. And then a man who will bother his own lawyer, must be sick.

In attempting to evaluate the effect which Allen's conduct had on the trial, we have read the entire record. It is difficult to convey the atmosphere which appeared to have existed throughout the proceedings without making this opinion too long. As an example to indicate the relationship between Allen and the judge, which persisted from the outset of the trial to the end, we shall quote from the record the colloquy after the jury brought in its verdict. In doing so, we realize that this particular matter could not have affected the verdict, but it is cited as a passage which we consider typical.

THE COURT: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for your patience and so forth. I think you have done a fine job. I think that your verdict was a good one. I, too, listened to the case just as you did and if I were serving on the jury, I think I would have voted along with you.

DEFENDANT ALLEN: Sure you would, because you are a stinker.

THE COURT: So, thank you very much, and you are discharged.

DEFENDANT ALLEN: You are a bum; a tramp. Your day is going to come.

THE COURT: This is your last day, right? Thank you, and I hope you had a pleasant two weeks.

DEFENDANT ALLEN: I hope you drop dead on the way out.

THE COURT: Thank you very much.

(Whereupon the jury retired from the courtroom, after which, the following proceedings were ...

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