Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard
in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago
County, the Hon. John C. Layng, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE CLARK DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The defendant, Lester Spates, was convicted of armed robbery in the circuit court of Winnebago County. The appellate court affirmed the conviction. (62 Ill. App.3d 890.) The defendant contends that the trial court erroneously denied a motion in limine which would have prevented the admission of a prior misdemeanor theft conviction as evidence impeaching the defendant's credibility. We granted the defendant's petition for leave to appeal because there is a conflict within the first appellate district and among the appellate districts on this issue and because we deem it important to the proper conduct of trials, both civil and criminal, that this issue be clearly resolved.
The defendant was convicted of armed robbery on September 28, 1976, after a jury trial. The evidence adduced at trial showed that on February 6, 1976, the defendant was patronizing a bar in Rockford. Further, it was shown that the defendant and another man attacked Floyd Ross at the back exit to the bar. The defendant hit Ross in the face with a beer bottle, breaking the bottle and knocking Ross' glasses off in the process. The other man punched Ross in the jaw and knocked him down. They turned Ross over and removed his wallet from his back pocket and fled in a northerly direction. Ross testified that he had cashed his paycheck in the bar earlier and had placed most of the money in his wallet. The defendant was arrested on February 27, 1976. Subsequently, Ross positively identified the defendant in a police lineup and again at trial.
Rockford city police officer Casky testified that, when he arrived at the bar shortly after the robbery, he walked in the direction the two men had fled. Approximately 15 feet north of the robbery scene he found two copies of city traffic citations lying on the ground. The citations had been issued to the defendant. The police officer testified that the citations were dry and that they were lying on top of the snow.
Another witness, John Kellems, testified that he had been in the bar with the defendant and another man on the evening of February 6, 1976. Kellems and the defendant played pool together for a time, after which Kellems went home. Kellems further testified that the police came to his home that same evening to ask him the name of the person with whom he had played pool at the bar. He told the police he knew the man only as Lester. Shortly after the police left, the defendant came to Kellems' home to ask him what the police wanted. Kellems said he did not know. Kellems stated that the defendant repeatedly said that he did not "do it." Kellems subsequently identified the defendant in a police lineup as the man he had played pool with at the bar, and as the man who came to his home on February 6, 1976. He also identified the defendant at trial.
The defendant testified on his own behalf. He was asked the following questions, inter alia, by his counsel on direct examination:
"Q. Mr. Spates, were you did you plead guilty to the offense of petty theft on October 31st, 1974?
Q. And did you plead guilty to the offense of grand theft on November 15, 1968?
Q. And when is your birthday?
Defendant's counsel made a motion in limine prior to the commencement of trial in an effort to prevent defendant's prior misdemeanor theft conviction from being admitted into evidence. The trial court denied the motion. At the close of evidence, counsel for the defendant requested the court to give an instruction to the jury advising that evidence of prior convictions is to be considered only insofar as it may affect the credibility of a witness, and not as evidence of guilt of the crime with which one is charged. The trial court did deliver that instruction. The defendant contends that he was denied a fair trial because he was forced, as a tactical measure, to ...