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People v. Werhollick

OCTOBER 22, 1968.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Criminal Division; the Hon. JAMES GEROULIS, Judge, presiding. Judgments affirmed.


Defendant, William Werhollick, was tried before a jury and convicted for the offenses of unlawful possession and sale of a narcotic drug, i.e., marijuana. He was sentenced by the court to the penitentiary for a term of from not less than ten (10) nor more than ten (10) years and one (1) day as to the sale, and to a term of from not less than five (5) nor more than ten (10) years for possession, both sentences to run concurrently. He appeals.

The facts of the case involved the controlled purchase of narcotic drugs from defendant through one Joseph Bodnar, a police informer, during the late evening hours of September 7, 1966. Testifying as the principal witnesses in behalf of the State were the informer as well as Police Detectives Stiglich, Reynolds and Buffo, all of whom had been in proximity to the scene of the alleged offenses and whose accounts at trial were corroborative in all material respects. The contentions asserted by defendant on this appeal focus upon the questionable credibility of the police informer's testimony and the trial judge's rulings on certain objections with respect thereto. No challenge, however, is otherwise directed by defendant to the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions.

It is defendant's theory of the case (1) that the trial court erred in unduly restricting his attempts to impeach the credibility of the police informer through testimony designed to disclose that the informer had, in fact, received promises of reward concerning certain criminal charges pending against him in exchange for his testimony at trial, and (2) that the court similarly erred in refusing to give Defendant's Instruction No. 13 pertaining to the credibility of the informer's testimony.

There appears to be no dispute in the evidence that the informer had been initially searched by the police and supplied with a quantity of prerecorded currency with which to make the eventual purchase. Bodnar had been thereafter accompanied by Detectives Stiglich, Reynolds and Buffo to the vicinity of 108th Street and Michigan Avenue in the City of Chicago where a meeting with defendant had been previously arranged. The informer's contact with the eventual purchase of the drugs from defendant subsequently took place in an alley immediately adjacent and to the rear of a well-illuminated parking lot under the visual surveillance of Stiglich and Reynolds. Nearby streetlights were said to afford even further illumination. Both Stiglich and Reynolds testified at trial to having observed the entire transaction under these favorable conditions from close and unobstructed vantage-points.

As defendant subsequently exited from the alley, he was immediately arrested by Detective Buffo on a prearranged whistle from his companions signaling that a "buy" had been made. Stiglich's search of defendant's person revealed the latter to be in possession of the marked and inventoried currency. Both the police field test at the scene as well as the subsequent crime laboratory analysis yielded positive evidence that the contents of the package possessed and sold by defendant to Bodnar were that of marijuana.

As to the questions raised by this appeal, it appears that during the defense cross-examination of Joseph Bodnar, the witness had admitted to his former use of narcotics and prior history of criminal conduct. It was elicited from Bodnar that there were, at that particular moment, three separate burglary indictments pending against him for which he had been admitted to bail on his own recognizance pursuant to court proceedings conducted one month prior to the date on which he had agreed to assist the police in the controlled transaction at bar. There were indications that one or more other persons jointly indicted with Bodnar for these burglaries had since been convicted and sentenced to prison. In addition, the informer acknowledged somewhat candidly that he was involved in 16 other burglaries for which no indictments had yet been returned against him. Bodnar, however, denied in response to specific inquiry that he had received promises of leniency or immunity from the prosecution with respect to any of these alleged criminal offenses.

In an effort to further impeach the witness, the defense, as part of its case in chief, called Thomas P. Cawley, an Assistant Public Defender who had admittedly represented Bodnar during the preliminary hearings in conjunction with the three aforementioned indictments. Cawley testified that he had certain conversations with both his client and the State's Attorney with regard to the charges under indictment, but refused to divulge any further information because of the confidential relationship he bore to Bodnar. In response to objection, the court conducted a hearing out of the presence of the jury to determine whether the information sought to be elicited from Cawley was, in fact, barred from disclosure as an attorney-client privileged communication and whether the client wanted to claim it. Bodnar was questioned and expressed his election to invoke the privilege. Returning to open court, the trial judge ruled explicitly in favor of the privilege, and the witness was dismissed.

Thereafter, during the conference on instructions, the court refused to tender to the jury Defendant's Instruction No. 13 relating to the credibility of the informer's testimony. That instruction recited:

"The jury are instructed that they shall act upon the testimony of Joseph Bodnar with great care and caution; and the jury ought not to convict upon such testimony unless after a careful examination of all the evidence they are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the truth of such testimony and that they can safely rely on it."

It is from within the context of the foregoing circumstances that defendant pursues this appeal.

The errors assigned by defendant must, by their very nature, rely upon the tenuous assumption that the jury's determination as to the credibility of the informer bore a direct and pivotal relationship to their eventual finding of guilt. Defendant's theory on appeal, howsoever attempted to be supported by authority, accordingly is an argument advanced out of perspective in that it fails to successfully test the significance of the testimony assailed as against the balance of the evidence adduced at trial tending to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

[1-3] We agree with defendant that an accused is afforded a broad degree of latitude to demonstrate, by cross-examination, the bias, interests or motives of a particular witness testifying against him. This basic tenet has been held to extend, primarily where an accomplice testifies, to matters concerning promises of leniency or grants of immunity with respect to the witness' past criminal activity bartered in exchange for his testimony at trial. People v. Mason, 28 Ill.2d 396, 192 N.E.2d 835 (1963); People v. Maggio, 324 Ill. 516, 155 N.E. 373 (1927). We nonetheless find in retrospect from a perusal of the lower court proceedings that the restriction placed upon the mode of impeachment at issue here in no manner resulted in prejudice to the accused, and to this extent his cited authorities are factually inapplicable.

While in his case of People v. Nash, 36 Ill.2d 275, 222 N.E.2d 473 (1966), this somewhat novel attempt at impeachment was similarly employed, we note that there the propriety of the procedure was neither at issue in the case nor was it afforded express judicial sanction. In Nash moreover, no privilege had been invoked by the accomplice-witness nor had timely objection been made to his attorney's testimony concerning the promise of leniency offered his client. Defendant further alludes to the case of Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959), for the proposition that due process is violated when the prosecution knowingly allows perjured testimony as to the nonexistence of such promises to proceed unabated before the jury. Suffice to say however that nothing affirmatively appears in the present ...

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