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People v. Williams





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. JEANNE E. SCOTT, Judge, presiding.


Justice is a two-way street.

We hold today that discovery from a defendant to the State may be ordered in a nonfelony case by a trial judge in the exercise of the court's inherent discretionary power.

Here are the facts. Defendant Williams was issued traffic tickets for two petty offenses — disobeying a stop sign and speeding. He filed a discovery motion seeking, inter alia, the names of witnesses the State expected to call at trial, pursuant to section 114-9 of the Criminal Code of 1963 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 114-9). The State complied with that motion and then requested certain discovery from defendant, one item of which was a list of the defendant's witnesses. The trial court granted the State's discovery motion, but the defendant's attorney refused to comply with the order. Thereupon the attorney was found in contempt of court and fined $10. This appeal ensued.

We affirm.

The Supreme Court Rules governing discovery are explicitly made applicable only to felonies. (Supreme Court Rule 411, 73 Ill.2d R. 411.) Thus, if this had been a felony prosecution, Rule 413(d)(i) (73 Ill.2d R. 413(d)(i)) would clearly have empowered the court to order the defendant to disclose his witnesses. But it was decided in People v. Schmidt (1974), 56 Ill.2d 572, 309 N.E.2d 557, that the discovery rules are inapplicable in a misdemeanor prosecution. The parties agree that the rules also are inapplicable in a petty offense case. The State and the defendant disagree, however, over whether the trial judge had the discretionary power to order discovery, and each contends that Schmidt supports its position.

In Schmidt, the defendant, charged with a misdemeanor, sought discovery of various police and test reports. Though supplying the defendant's alcohol-influence report and a video-tape of the defendant at the police station, the State refused to disclose a driving-while-intoxicated report. The trial court ordered disclosure, and when the prosecutor refused, the court ordered the information in the report excluded from the evidence at trial.

The Schmidt court explained the background of the court's discovery rules:

"Substantial variations in the scope of discovery permitted among the several circuits and even among judges in the same circuits prompted this court to appoint a committee of experienced lawyers and judges for the purpose of formulating criminal discovery rules for consideration by us. * * * Among the factors motivating the decision to restrict application of the rules to cases in which a penitentiary sentence was possible was our awareness of the very substantial volume of less serious cases and the impact upon their expeditious disposition of the expanded discovery provided by the new rules. A second consideration in reaching our conclusion was our desire to eliminate, so far as feasible, substantial variances in the scope of discovery permitted in the courts> of this State. To now hold, as defendant urges we do, that the trial judges have discretion to apply our criminal discovery rules to less serious offenses would renew in those cases the very problems we sought to eliminate in the more serious cases." 56 Ill.2d 572, 574-75, 309 N.E.2d 557, 558.

The defendant argues that if a trial court is allowed the discretion to grant discovery in a petty offense case, the circuit courts> will not be uniform in the amount of discovery they allow, and they will thus recreate the problem the discovery rules, and their limitation to felonies, sought to eliminate.

The State, on the other hand, calls attention to a different part of Schmidt. While denying the defendant the discovery she sought, the court pointed out that, even as a misdemeanor defendant, she had considerable discovery available to her: a list of the State's witnesses, any confessions by the defendant, evidence negating her guilt, and the results of the breathalizer test. In addition, she would be able to get the DWI report for purposes of impeachment. The court concluded:

"At the time of adoption of the 1971 rules we believed adequate for the lesser offenses the discovery provided by case law and statute, and we see no reason to depart from that view now." 56 Ill.2d 572, 575, 309 N.E.2d 557, 558.

A careful reading of Schmidt reveals that the language which the defendant cites as depriving trial courts> of any discretion to order discovery is limited only to the question of whether a trial court has the discretion to use the supreme court discovery rules themselves. Schmidt does not address the question presented to us today: whether a trial court has an inherent discretionary authority to order discovery in a nonfelony case.

The other cases cited by the defendant are inapplicable for this same reason. In People v. Ramshaw (1979), 75 Ill. App.3d 123, 394 N.E.2d 21, the State sought discovery of the defendant's witness list in a misdemeanor prosecution. The court observed that the trial court had no statutory authority to order discovery in such a case and said that Schmidt precluded a trial court from applying the discovery rules. Thus, said the court, the trial court was improper in excluding testimony of witnesses whose names the defendant had not provided to the State before trial. Ramshaw, like Schmidt, was concerned with whether a trial court has the discretionary power to apply the supreme court discovery rules; it did not discuss the issue of whether a trial court has an inherent discretionary power to order discovery in a nonfelony case. People ...

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