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People v. Robinson





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOHN F. HECHINGER, Judge, presiding.


Defendant Vernon Robinson was charged with the murder of Floyd Clark. At trial, before a jury, he claimed he shot Clark in self-defense. He was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

The police apprehended the defendant at the scene of the killing with a gun which was virtually still smoking in his hand. An eyewitness to the shooting ran out of a hotel lobby where it occurred and flagged down a passing police squad car. When the officers entered the hotel, they found the defendant walking toward them with a gun in his hand. They ordered the defendant to hand over the gun, and as they took the gun out of defendant's hand, he told them, "I did it. I shot him." One of the officers began to inform defendant of his rights, and the defendant interrupted saying, "I know my rights. I did it, but I'm not going to tell you why."

Defendant testified that he shot Clark because after an argument with him over money, Clark seemed to be reaching for a gun. The prosecutor in cross-examining the defendant elicited over his counsel's objection that he did not tell the police either at the hotel immediately after the shooting or when he was taken to the police station that he had acted in self-defense. This was also brought out in the following portion of the State's closing argument.

"Assistant State's Attorney: Put yourself there and if you shot anybody in self-defense and the police came and you had this gun —

Defense Counsel: Objection to this line of argument.

The Court: Overruled. Proceed.

Assistant State's Attorney: You had this gun at your side and you had just shot somebody, is that reasonable? Now, I ask you, if you just shot somebody and you shot him because you believed he was coming out from his left side with a gun, wouldn't you tell the police, I just shot him and he has a gun? Wouldn't you be screaming all the way to the station that he was going to kill me, he threatened to kill me? Wouldn't you be screaming in the station, I shot him because he was going to kill me, or do you simply say, I shot him? And you heard him testify. You heard him testify he never saw anything in the man's hands, he shot that man in cold blood."

• 1 The defendant first contends on appeal that the State deprived him of his fifth amendment and due process rights by bringing out in his cross-examination and emphasizing in closing argument that when arrested he refused to tell the police why he shot the deceased. The defendant's position is supported by the following decisions: Doyle v. Ohio (1976), 426 U.S. 610, 49 L.Ed.2d 91, 96 S.Ct. 2240; United States v. Hale (1975), 422 U.S. 171; People v. Monaghan (1976), 40 Ill. App.3d 322, 352 N.E.2d 295; and People v. Wright (1975), 32 Ill. App.3d 736, 336 N.E.2d 18. In People v. McClure (1976), 42 Ill. App.3d 952, 356 N.E.2d 899, this court accurately summarized the protection extended to an accused by these decisions in the following language:

"A defendant has the constitutional right under the Fifth Amendment to remain silent during custodial interrogation. His silence can be attributed to reliance on this right and may not be used to support an inference that his trial testimony was a later fabrication [citation]. It is also a violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to use a defendant's post-arrest silence to impeach his trial testimony."

The State asserts that because the defendant admitted to the police that he shot Clark, his failure to include in his statement his reason for the shooting was an omission that could be used for impeachment notwithstanding these decisions. Had the defendant remained completely silent, the decisions referred to above would clearly prohibit the use of his silence to impeach his testimony that he was acting in self-defense. But, a person under arrest does not have to refrain from saying anything in order to preserve his fifth amendment rights. It is his privilege to stop at any point during custodial interrogation to assert his rights. By telling the police that he shot the deceased, the defendant was merely stating the obvious, and he did not waive or forfeit all of his fifth amendment rights by this admission.

• 2 From the time of the first shot, the only real issue in this case was not whether the defendant fired it, but whether he had any excuse or justification for the killing. On this question, defendant, although he did not state his position as articulately as one with legal training might have, explicitly relied on his constitutional rights. He said: "I know my rights, I did it, but I'm not going to tell you why." Defendant's assertion of his rights was not inconsistent with his later exculpatory testimony at trial. The cross-examination of the defendant and the State's closing argument, both over defendant's objection, therefore, invaded the defendant's fifth amendment and due process rights.

It was also error to allow the police officer to testify that the defendant refused to explain at the scene of the incident why he shot the deceased. Even though no objection was offered to this testimony at trial, the plain error rule should be applied to it. See People v. Monaghan (1976), 40 Ill. App.3d 322, 352 N.E.2d 295.

The State contends that People v. Queen (1975), 56 Ill.2d 560, 310 N.E.2d 166; People v. Allen (1976), 37 Ill. App.3d 619, 346 N.E.2d 486, appeal denied (1976) 63 Ill.2d 558; People v. Fleming (1976), 36 Ill. App.3d 612, 345 N.E.2d 10; and People v. Kent (1973), 15 Ill. App.3d 523, 305 N.E.2d 42, hold that where a defendant does not remain completely silent, his failure to offer exculpatory information to the police may be used for impeachment purposes. Even assuming these cases, all decided before Doyle, remain sound law after ...

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