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People v. Carpenter





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. ROBERT L. GAGEN, Judge, presiding.


Defendants-appellants, Aaron Donnald and Darnell Carpenter, were convicted of murder, attempt murder and armed robbery after a joint jury trial in St. Clair County. Donnald was sentenced to consecutive sentences of 50 to 100, 10 to 30, and 6 to 18 years, and Carpenter was sentenced to consecutive terms of 30 to 90, 6 to 18, and 4 to 12 years. On appeal each defendant challenges the court's ruling on the voluntariness of confessions after denial of a motion to suppress; each defendant challenges the admission of the statement of the other in the joint trial; both defendants contend they were denied a fair trial by admission of evidence concerning unrelated offenses and possession of unrelated weapons; and both defendants contend that the sentences imposed were unauthorized and excessive.

The convictions arose from an armed robbery of a grocery store in East St. Louis, Illinois, wherein a security guard was killed and a store employee injured. Carpenter and another man were apprehended shortly after the robbery. After being in custody for approximately 10 hours, Carpenter gave a written confession which implicated Donnald. Donnald was arrested the next day and subsequently gave a written confession which implicated Carpenter.

Prior to trial a hearing was held on both defendants' motions to suppress. When the court learned that defendant Carpenter had left school at age 17 in the third grade, he continued the hearing as to Carpenter and ordered a psychological examination. The hearing on defendant Donnald's motion proceeded and the motion was denied. After the tests were completed on Carpenter, the hearing was resumed. The court heard the evidence of the test results, denied the motion to suppress and specifically found Carpenter competent to stand trial.

• 1 Where an accused makes an inculpatory statement during custodial police interrogation in the absence of counsel, the State bears a heavy burden of proving that the accused knowingly and intelligently waived his right to remain silent or consult with counsel. (Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 475, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, 724, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 1628 (1966).) Whether these rights were knowingly and intelligently waived depends upon the totality of the circumstances (People v. Prim, 53 Ill.2d 62, 289 N.E.2d 601 (1972); People v. Simmons, 60 Ill.2d 173, 326 N.E.2d 383 (1975)), and we will not disturb the ruling of the trial court unless contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. People v. McCottrell, 117 Ill. App.2d 1, 254 N.E.2d 284 (5th Dist. 1969).

• 2 Defendant Carpenter concedes that he was read the Miranda warnings and the record reflects three specific instances of compliance with the Miranda requirements. Defendant argues that because of his limited intelligence he could not and did not knowingly waive his constitutional rights. Although the capacity of the accused to understand what is told or read to him is an important factor, subnormal intelligence does not necessarily render an accused incapable of understanding or waiving his rights. People v. Hester, 39 Ill.2d 489, 237 N.E.2d 466 (1968); People v. Gonzales, 22 Ill. App.3d 83, 316 N.E.2d 800 (2d Dist. 1974).

In the instant case the People were required to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant Carpenter was able to understand the Miranda warnings. The evidence shows that defendant was given the warnings upon being taken into custody, again by Officer Lawrence Brewer before the initial interrogation, after which defendant refused to say anything about his involvement, and again by Officer Brewer before Carpenter gave his statement. Officer Brewer testified that on one of these latter occasions, apparently just prior to giving the oral statement, defendant acknowledged that he understood the Miranda warnings read to him. The evidence also indicates that defendant Carpenter signed a waiver of rights form just prior to making the statement in question. Officer Brewer transcribed the oral statement, though not verbatim. Detective James Walker was also present when the statement was taken. Defendant signed all four pages of the typed statement, which was witnessed by the two officers. Officer Brewer denied having used any coercion or physical abuse to obtain the statement.

Defendant Carpenter relies heavily on the testimony of Donald Sundland, the psychologist appointed to conduct the tests. Sundland testified that defendant had a full scale IQ of 76 putting him in the lowest two percent of the general population. Sundland also testified that Carpenter was unable to read the Black Intelligence Test and that this placed him in the lowest five percent of the Black standardization. The psychologist explained that defendant, whose mental age was placed at about 11 years, had a very low reading level and had trouble with simple words. In response to a hypothetical question regarding whether a person of defendant's mental abilities would be able to exercise his free will after 11 hours of intermittent questioning, Sundland stated that he thought that it would be unlikely that such a person would be as in charge of his faculties as he would after only an hour or so of questioning. Sundland's tests were inconclusive regarding defendant Carpenter's ability to recall specific events, although defendant definitely exhibited a specific memory defect. The psychologist concluded his direct testimony by stating that despite this memory defect, it was his opinion that the defendant was competent to stand trial. It should be noted that this opinion was expressed at the hearing on the motion to suppress. No formal motion suggesting unfitness was ever filed.

On cross-examination, Sundland agreed that defendant Carpenter could recall the events of the armed robbery and understand the nature of the charges against him. He stated specifically that the memory defect did not unduly limit his ability to cooperate with counsel in the preparation of his defense. The psychologist also stated that it was possible that a person of defendant's limited intelligence could refuse to confess.

Defendant Carpenter testified that he could not remember being given the Miranda warnings and that although he was given an opportunity to read the statement and waiver of rights form, he could not read or understand them. Defendant Carpenter now contends that this evidence established that he was unable to understand the Miranda warnings and that the trial court's finding of compliance with Miranda was manifestly erroneous.

• 3 Defendant's argument ignores much of the State's evidence. Officer Brewer, who took the statement from defendant, testified that defendant was given the Miranda warnings and indicated his understanding of them. This testimony stands in conflict with defendant's testimony that he was unable to understand the warnings. The psychologists's testimony involved only defendant's ability to understand the written warnings and was not conclusive as to oral warnings. As to defendant's ability to read and write, the evidence established that defendant can read and write his own name. Although of low intelligence, he could understand and answer all the questions put to him by both the prosecution and the defense. His statement given to police provides a coherent explanation of the facts surrounding the crime and establishes defendant's ability to understand and relate events. In the final analysis, the psychologist concluded that defendant was "competent" to stand trial. The trial judge, having observed the witnesses, their demeanor while testifying, their candor and sincerity, was in a far better position than the reviewing court to weigh the evidence regarding defendant's ability to understand and waive his Miranda rights. (People v. Gonzales.) That the trial judge believed the testimony of Officer Brewer instead of defendant's testimony was within his province. Having once been advised of his rights and having indicated orally that he understood them, defendant's choosing to speak and not to request a lawyer was evidence that he knew his rights and chose not to exercise them. (People v. Burbank, 53 Ill.2d 261, 291 N.E. 161 (1972), cert. denied, 412 U.S. 951, 37 L.Ed.2d 1004; 93 S.Ct. 3017; People v. West, 25 Ill. App.3d 827, 322 N.E. 587 (5th Dist. 1975).) We believe that the evidence was sufficient to justify the trial court in finding a valid waiver by defendant of his Miranda rights.

It should be noted that other courts have found valid waivers of Miranda in situations analogous to that presented in the case at bar. In People v. Gonzales, 22 Ill. App.3d 83, 316 N.E.2d 800, (2d Dist. 1974), the defendant had an I.Q. of 79 and was in the lower one percent of the country's population in English verbal abilities. In that case, however, the appellate court refused to reverse the trial court's findings that the defendant was able to understand the Miranda warnings and make a valid waiver of his fifth amendment rights. In People v. Reed, 8 Ill. App.3d 977, 290 N.E.2d 612 (2d Dist. 1972), according to psychiatric and psychological testimony, the defendant was in the lower 23 percent of the population in intelligence and suffered from organic brain damage and chronic alcoholism. A psychologist testified that in his opinion the defendant was incapable of understandingly waiving her rights. The State appealed and the appellate court reversed the trial court's finding, holding that defendant's low intelligence, in and of itself, was insufficient to establish one's lack of ability to understand or waive Miranda rights.

In People v. Hester, 39 Ill.2d 489, 237 N.E.2d 466 (1968), the confession of a 14-year-old of limited intelligence, the mental abilities of an 11-year-old, was found to be admissible. Many of the cases cited in Hester demonstrate a finding of admissibility in situations similar to the instant case. For example, in People v. Isby, 30 Cal.2d 879, 186 P.2d 405 (1947), cited in Hester, the court held admissible the confession of a 26-year-old defendant who possessed an I.Q. of 58, a near imbecile classification, and a mental age of 8 years and 8 months. See also People v. Lara, 67 Cal.2d 365, 432 P.2d 202, 62 Cal.Rptr. 586 (1967).

Defendant Carpenter also argues that the trial court did not consider the psychologist's testimony in arriving at its decision. This contention is not supported by the record. The record reflects that the trial court interrupted the hearing on the motion to suppress Carpenter's confession for the specific purposes of obtaining a psychological report and continued the hearing on the motion to ...

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