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People v. Jones

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 3, 1978.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

OSCAR LEE JONES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Macon County; the Hon. JOSEPH C. MUNCH, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE GREEN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

After trial by jury in the circuit court of Macon County, defendant Oscar Lee Jones, then 18 years old, was convicted of the offenses of burglary, robbery and rape. Concurrent sentences of 6 2/3 to 20 years, 6 2/3 to 20 years, and 100 to 300 years were imposed on the respective convictions and ordered to be served consecutively with a sentence of 20 to 60 years previously imposed on another unrelated charge. On appeal, defendant asserts that: (1) the trial court erred in sending his written confession to the jury room; (2) he was denied a fair trial because some jurors serving in the case had seen a newspaper article telling of his prior criminal conduct; (3) the trial court considered improper matter in sentencing; and (4) the sentences were excessive.

• 1 In People v. Caldwell (1968), 39 Ill.2d 346, 236 N.E.2d 706, the supreme court held that a trial court may in its discretion send a written or tape recorded confession of a defendant to the jury room, overruling any possible precedent to the contrary in People v. Spranger (1924), 314 Ill. 602, 145 N.E. 706. Defendant argues that the court's discretion was breached here because the evidence corroborating the confession was meager and the identification of the defendant by the 88-year-old victim was weak and subject to impeachment by her identification at a lineup of another as the assailant. Defendant relies on the pre-Caldwell decision in People v. Dixon (1966), 75 Ill. App.2d 77, 221 N.E.2d 35, aff'd (1967), 37 Ill.2d 416, 226 N.E.2d 608, where the defendant's confession had been sent to the jury room and the appellate court's affirmance relied upon the strength of the corroborating evidence. The Caldwell court, however, specifically rejected the rationale of Dixon and other cases which had distinguished Spranger on similar grounds and relied upon the strong probative value of a voluntary confession. The Caldwell opinion noted that greater safeguards are now afforded a defendant against the admission of involuntary confessions by the imposition of the requirements of Escobedo v. Illinois (1964), 378 U.S. 478, 12 L.Ed.2d 977, 84 S.Ct. 1758, and Miranda v. Arizona (1966), 384 U.S. 436, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, 86 S.Ct. 1602. No question of the voluntariness of the confession was raised on appeal here. No error arose from the sending of the confession to the jury.

Defendant's contention that he was denied a fair trial arises from some of the jurors' contact with a story appearing in the Decatur Herald on the second morning of the trial. Before the presentation of any evidence that morning, defense counsel presented the court with a copy of the article. It stated:

"JONES BEING TRIED ON SECOND RAPE CHARGE

A Decatur youth already sentenced to 20 to 60 years for the rape of one elderly Decatur woman is on trial for raping and robbing another.

He is Oscar Lee Jones, 17, of 445 E. Center St., sentenced in January for an assault on an 87-year-old woman last July 18.

The current trial involves the rape and robbery of another 87-year-old woman last June 7.

Still pending against Jones are charges that he attempted to rape a 65-year-old woman last April 30.

The current trial, with Judge Joseph Munch, of Sullivan presiding here, is expected to go to the jury today.

All of the attacks attributed to Jones took place at homes on the northeast side of the city."

Each juror was then brought before the court individually, out of the presence of the other jurors, and questioned concerning whether he or she had seen the article. Eight had seen nothing of the article. One stated to having only seen the name "Jones" and to having looked no further. Another had seen only the headline. A third had seen the headline and the first paragraph and a fourth had read the article. Although all four stated that they would put what they had read out of their minds and decide the case on information properly before them, the response of the juror who read the article was somewhat ambiguous. His questioning went as follows:

"The Court: Did you read this morning's ...


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