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People v. Garrett





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Wayne County; the Hon. JOHN D. DAILEY, Judge, presiding.


Defendant-appellant Steven Garrett was convicted in the Circuit Court of Wayne County of the unlawful delivery of substances represented to be MDA and LSD, *fn1 in violation of section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act, as amended (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 56 1/2, par. 1404). He raises several issues on this appeal. The contention which we find persuasive is that the trial court abused its discretion in curtailing defense counsel's attempts on cross-examination to impeach the credibility of the State's key witness, an informer who had volunteered to set up the drug purchase. The State's case stood or fell on the testimony of this witness, one Ginger Gaither. If believed in full, it was sufficient to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; if it were not believed, the rest of the evidence was insufficient. Under these circumstances, the defendant had a right to put before the jury, whose task it was to make the crucial factual determination whether the informer's story were true, all his relevant evidence reflecting on her credibility. Any improper restriction of cross-examination designed to show bias on the part of this key witness could not but be prejudicial. Therefore we must reverse and remand for a new trial.

Owen Manahan, the Fairfield chief of police, was the State's first witness. He testified that he was called to the police station about 8:30 p.m. on January 30, 1975, to furnish some money so that Ginger Gaither could make a drug "buy" from the defendant and one Clifford Austin. *fn2 He had seen Ginger Gaither previously, perhaps once or twice at the police station, but had never had any significant conversation with her. She did not indicate to him any reason for wanting to set up this particular purchase. He and other officers each recorded the serial numbers from one $20 bill and six fives, and the money was given to Ginger Gaither. Chief Manahan saw Officer Jimmy Joe McCleary search the informer's purse and coat pockets before she left to purchase the drugs. She was not searched in the nude by a matron. Later that evening she called and told Chief Manahan that she had purchased some drugs. Late that night Officer Norman Skaggs turned over to Manahan a fingernail file and three small packages which purportedly contained controlled substances. He locked this evidence away until it was sent to the State crime laboratory in Springfield. *fn3

Officer Skaggs testified that he had stopped to question Ginger Gaither on January 29 when he saw her hitchhiking. He had met her on one previous occasion. She volunteered to him that Austin and Garrett were "peddling narcotics," that Austin was "dealing big" and hurting a lot of people, and that something should be done with him. He asked her if she would be willing to help, and she said yes. He testified that he did not promise her any money for her help; his impression of her motivation was that she simply wanted to stop Austin from what he was doing. That same night, January 29, she took Skaggs and two other officers by the place where she thought Austin and the defendant would be, but no one was home. The next evening about 7:30 Ginger Gaither called the police department and said that if she had $50 she could buy some drugs from Austin and Garrett. Skaggs confirmed Chief Manahan's account of the recording of the serial numbers of the bills and of the search of the informer's purse and coat. He said that the pants she was wearing had no pockets, and that he did not see any place where she could have hidden any drugs. About 9:15 p.m. he transported her to the Horseman's Inn, about half a block from Alice's Restaurant, where she said she had arranged to meet Austin and the defendant. About 11:20 p.m. he received a call on his police radio telling him that a purchase had been made, and he should meet Ginger Gaither at the Horseman's Inn. She handed him three small packages and a small knife, or fingernail file. He went with her to a utility pole east of Fairfeld where she indicated the drugs had been picked up, but was unable to find anything there, although he noticed that the grass between the road and the pole had been trampled. On the way to this spot he saw indications that someone had driven into a ditch beside the road. He also went to Eckleberry's wrecker service and determined that Eckleberry had pulled a vehicle from the ditch earlier that night. He checked the serial numbers on the bills used to pay for the wrecker call, but none of them matched those previously recorded. He then returned with the informer to the police station, put the packages and the knife in plastic evidence bags, marked the bags, and turned them over to Chief Manahan. On cross-examination of Officer Skaggs the following exchange took place:

"Q. To your knowledge, have the police helped her financially since that time?

MR. HAWKINS [the State's Attorney]: Your Honor, I object to that question, being irrelevant to the point in question here at this trial.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q. Have you ever received any complaint on Ginger Gaither herself?

MR. HAWKINS: Your Honor, I object to that question on the same grounds.

THE COURT: I will sustain the objection; it is too general, among other things. I don't understand what you mean by complaints.

MR. WILLIAMS [defense counsel]: Police department ever receive a complaint from Steve Garrett's mother about Ginger Gaither at their house?

THE COURT: Did you hear that question?

MR. HAWKINS: Your Honor, I would object to this as beyond the scope of the direct examination and it is a general question.

THE COURT: Also, would call for the best evidence; that's the police record.

MR. HAWKINS: That's correct.

THE COURT: I will sustain the ...

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