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People v. Phillips

OCTOBER 20, 1970.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Rock Island County, Fourteenth Judicial Circuit; the Hon. ROBERT BELL, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.


Defendant Appellant, Dennis Phillips, together with a co-defendant not a party to this appeal, was found guilty of robbery by a jury in the Circuit Court of Rock Island County. Defendant Phillips was sentenced to a term of from 1 to 3 years in the penitentiary and has appealed from his conviction and sentence.

According to the testimony of David Groom, he was walking along the street in Rock Island on his way to work when the incident complained of took place. At about 4:30 a.m., according to Groom, he was accosted by the defendant and his companion, beaten, thrown to the ground and robbed of his wallet containing $3. Two other persons in the area witnessed the incident and testified concerning the actions of the two men, although the witnesses were unable to see whether anything was taken from Groom. According to defendant Phillips, only a fight took place and nothing was taken from Groom.

Only the outlines of the incident are referred to because defendant makes no claim that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. Rather, he argues that he was deprived of a fair trial as a consequence of errors committed by the trial court during the course of the trial.

Defendant first argues the trial court committed reversible error by unduly restricting his cross-examination of the principal prosecution witness, Groom.

In his testimony in chief and also on cross-examination, Groom, the robbery victim, testified that he had lived at a particular address for the last eight years. As further cross-examination, the defendant then asked the witness whether he had lived at the address continuously, to which question the State objected, arguing irrelevancy and immateriality. The court sustained the objection and thereupon the defendant, out of the presence of the jury, made an offer of proof, the substance of which was that the witness during such eight-year period had been incarcerated in the county jail for ninety days on a misdemeanor conviction.

Admittedly, the ninety-day incarceration was not a sentence imposed for the conviction of an infamous crime and could not have been considered proper impeachment testimony.

Defendant seeks to justify his assertion of improper restriction of cross-examination by claiming that the rule of Smith v. Illinois, 390 U.S. 129, 19 L Ed2d 956, 88 S Ct 748, followed in People v. Hall, 117 Ill. App.2d 116, 253 N.E.2d 890, is applicable. There is no question but that a person accused of a criminal offense has the constitutional right to be confronted by the witnesses against him and that the right of confrontation includes the right to cross-examine such witnesses.

In Smith v. Illinois, supra, a narcotics case, the trial court sustained objections to cross-examination, seeking to elicit the true name and address of the chief complaining witness, an addict informer. The court, in reversing the defendant's conviction, concluded that the name and address of a witness were basic to any effort to ascertain the credibility of the witness. By refusing to require that such questions be answered, the trial court effectively prevented the defendant from discrediting the testimony of such witness.

The Smith v. Illinois case, supra, itself refers to the very rule applicable to the case at bar, namely, that cross-examination designed to humiliate or harass the witness is irrelevant to the issues of the case and hence, is properly excluded. According to defendant's argument, because the witness had been serving a sentence in the county jail for ninety days, his testimony that he had lived at a particular address for eight years was not wholly true. Whether a person lived at an address for a particular length of time is not rendered false by defendant's alleged impeaching evidence and in our view, the trial court acted properly in declining to permit the introduction of irrelevant facts which could have had only an unfair prejudicial effect. See People v. Del Prete, 364 Ill. 376, 4 N.E.2d 484.

Next, defendant argues that the trial court erred in permitting the introduction of testimony of three police officers concerning three one-dollar bills in the possession of defendant at the time of his arrest. Over objection of defendant, the officers were permitted to testify that when defendant was booked at the police station, a total of $8.46 was discovered on his person. Of this amount, the change was in a shirt pocket and three one-dollar bills were found in a crumpled condition in his left rear pocket. Later, $5.46 was returned to defendant but the three one-dollar bills were retained as evidence.

Prior to trial defendant moved for ". . . (a) a right to inspect, photograph and copy, prior to trial any and all physical evidence and records of all kinds intended to be used at the trial in chief by the Prosecution." The court allowed the foregoing motion, but as the basis for defendant's objection in the trial court, the prosecution never indicated that the three one-dollar bills were intended to be used as physical evidence in the trial.

The State made no effort to introduce the three one-dollar bills as evidence, but did present the testimony of three officers regarding such bills. In this connection, it should be observed that no claim is made by defendant that the bills were unlawfully seized. Defendant concedes that the bills were discovered as an incident to a lawful arrest and accordingly, no question arises concerning the suppression of such evidence on account of an illegal search or seizure.

In support of the ruling of the trial court permitting such testimony, the State cites only the cases of People v. Guston, 338 Ill. 52, 169 N.E. 822, and People v. York, 29 Ill.2d 68, 193 N.E.2d 773. In each of the foregoing cases, the evidence sought to be suppressed or impounded had been seized pursuant to the terms of a search warrant which search warrant in each case, the court concluded, was a proper search warrant. However, the officers who seized the property under the search warrant neglected and failed to bring such property before the judicial officer issuing the search warrant for a hearing as then required by law. The court concluded that where there had been a lawful ...

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