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People v. Connell





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Madison County; the Hon. HORACE CALVO, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, Larry Joe Connell, was found guilty of retail theft and forgery after a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Madison County. He was sentenced to 364 days' and four years' imprisonment, respectively, the sentences to be served concurrently.

On this appeal defense counsel raises the following issues: (1) Whether the State failed to prove that defendant's statements to police were voluntary, where one officer who witnessed one such statement did not testify at the suppression hearing; (2) whether defendant's right to remain silent was violated, where defendant told police he did not want to answer questions, but police later resumed questioning; and (3) whether the trial court's refusal to have the preliminary hearing transcribed was reversible error. Additionally, defendant has filed his pro se brief raising, inter alia, the following issues: (1) Whether he was proved guilty of forgery beyond a reasonable doubt, where the proof showed he merely endorsed the document in question, a check issued by the United States Treasury, and where that check was more than 10 months old when he attempted to cash it; and (2) whether the trial court improperly restricted defense counsel's closing argument. We affirm.

The facts are as follows: Defendant entered a Thrifty Drug Store in Alton, Illinois, clad only in "baseball pants." The store manager, Randy Trees, became suspicious because of the long time defendant spent in the store and the scrutiny defendant gave each item he placed in his shopping basket. When defendant approached the checkout station Trees relieved the clerk stationed there. Trees refused to cash the United States Treasury check defendant tendered in payment for the articles. Defendant left the checkout area and returned several items to the shelves, then removed a metal security box from a shelf and unwrapped it. Defendant went to a far corner of the store, sat on the floor, and packed the box with merchandise. At this time Trees called the Alton police. Several officers arrived. Some of the officers entered the store, and one spoke to defendant. The defendant again approached the checkout and paid for a few items, leaving the metal box and a bag in his shopping basket. Officers stationed at the store exit stopped defendant and opened the bag and box, finding various merchandise including socks, toothbrushes, and other items bearing Thrifty price tags.

The following facts appear from the reports of proceedings on defendant's motion to suppress his statement to police. Though the record indicates defendant was present at those hearings, the only testimony was by three members of the Alton police department and is uncontradicted. After defendant passed the checkout station at the Thrifty store, at about 10:45 a.m., he was confronted just inside the exit by Officer Downey, who was fully uniformed. Three other officers were with Downey, two in full uniform. Mr. Trees, the store manager, was there as well. Downey asked defendant an unspecified question about the merchandise he had not paid for, and defendant replied that he had purchased those items elsewhere. Trees stated the items belonged to the store, and when Thrifty tags were found on the items, Downey arrested defendant. Searching him, the officer found the Treasury check. Defendant was transported to the Alton police station in a marked car driven by Downey. Officer Hubbard was a passenger in the car. During the drive, Downey advised defendant of his Miranda rights. At the station, Downey interviewed defendant in the station booking room beginning at about 11:15 a.m. in Officer Hubbard's presence. First, Downey advised defendant of his Miranda rights for a second time, and defendant stated that he understood. Downey then asked defendant how he happened to have someone else's Treasury check. Defendant replied that he had received it by mail and was keeping it for a friend. Downey asked a second, unspecified, question, at which point defendant refused to answer any other questions and the interview ended. Downey testified that defendant was of normal appearance and that they had made no promises to him.

The second interview commenced at about 1:50 p.m., and was conducted in the investigators' office of the Alton station by Detective Rynders, who had not theretofore participated in the case. First, Rynders advised defendant per Miranda for the third time, defendant stating after each warning that he understood. Sargeant Galloway of the Alton police was present during the Miranda admonitions but left the room shortly thereafter. Rynders stated that he was investigating a possible forgery, and he asked defendant an unspecified question about the Treasury check endorsement. Defendant agreed to give a statement. Rynders took notes during the oral statement, then reduced the notes to a typed statement in three copies. Rynders then called Galloway into the room and each man took one copy of the statement. Rynders read it in full, then asked defendant if it was true and if he would sign it. Defendant said it was true, and he signed all three copies.

In his statement at this second interview, which was read to the jury at trial, defendant stated that he had found the Treasury check on a table at the Normal, Illinois, boarding house where he lived. He wrote the payee's name on the back of the check, together with a short note and his own signature. He attempted to cash the check at the Thrifty store but was refused, and police found the check upon his arrest for shoplifting.

Defendant was seated throughout this interview, which lasted approximately 30 minutes. According to Rynders, defendant never requested an attorney or refused to answer questions. He did not appear to be intoxicated. Rynders and defendant also discussed defendant's enrollment at Illinois State University in Normal.

The State also presented the testimony of a documents examiner, in whose opinion the writing on the back of the Treasury check matched the writing in the exemplars made by defendant after his arrest. Also testifying for the State was the Treasury check payee, who testified defendant had no authority to sign his checks or receive his mail.

Defendant did not testify at trial and presented no evidence.

The first issue we consider is whether the State's failure to have Officer Hubbard testify at the suppression hearings violated the requirement that the State "produce all material witnesses connected with the taking of the statements or explain their absence." (People v. Armstrong (1972), 51 Ill.2d 471, 476, 282 N.E.2d 712.) Only by producing all material witnesses connected with the controverted statement by defendant can the State discharge its burden of proving the voluntariness of that statement. (Armstrong; People v. Wright (1962), 24 Ill.2d 88, 180 N.E.2d 689, appeal after remand (1964), 30 Ill.2d 519, 198 N.E.2d 316.) Defendant has consistently maintained that the State's failure to have Officer Hubbard testify was error, and that the issue was first raised prior to trial. Was Officer Hubbard a "material" witness? In People v. Sims (1961), 21 Ill.2d 425, 173 N.E.2d 494, the court indicated in its discussion of People v. Scott (1948), 401 Ill. 80, 81 N.E.2d 426, that the materiality of the witness in question must be determined according to the nature of the coercion alleged by the accused. Thus, in Scott, while the State's attorney who elicited the accused's confession did not testify, he was not "material" on the issue of voluntariness since it was not alleged that the State's attorney was present when promises of leniency were allegedly made to defendant to induce him to confess. Sims.

• 1 Accordingly, we look to the nature of defendant's allegations that his statements were involuntary to determine whether Officer Hubbard's testimony could have been material in light of those allegations. Defendant's written motion to suppress alleged numerous improprieties. However, only one of those allegations was in any way supported by the testimony at the suppression hearing. Defendant alleged that he refused to answer questions in the first interview, and that questioning was later resumed. Testimony by Officers Downey, Rynders, and Galloway confirmed that allegation rather than denying it. Thus there was no controverted issue of fact for the trial court to resolve. The issue confronting the trial court on defendant's motion to suppress the statements was a question of law, not of fact. Accordingly there was no factual inquiry before the court to which Hubbard's testimony could be considered material. Therefore, it was not necessary that Hubbard testify regarding this issue.

• 2, 3 Regarding numerous remaining allegations in defendant's motion to suppress, we believe it was sufficient that the State presented a prima facie case that those allegations were false. For example, while defendant alleged he was not admonished per Miranda, the officers' testimony that he was is uncontradicted. Where defendant does not offer any testimony to contradict that of the officers, the trial court may in its discretion accept the officers' testimony as true. (People v. White (1974), 22 Ill. App.3d 180, 317 N.E.2d 323, aff'd (1975), 61 Ill.2d 288, 335 N.E.2d 457.) The testimony of the officers made out a prima facie case that the confession was voluntary with respect to those remaining allegations. The burden of proof thus shifted to defendant to present some evidence in support of those allegations to shift the burden of proof back to the State. (White; People v. Slaughter (1978), 59 Ill. App.3d 159, 376 N.E.2d 33.) Here, defendant failed to present some evidence in support of those allegations, which would shift the burden back to the State to prove, not merely a prima facie case of voluntariness, but rather proof by a preponderance of the evidence that the statements were voluntary. We have found no cases citing as error the State's failure to produce allegedly material witnesses where no evidence whatsoever had been adduced in support of the defendant's allegations of coercion. Our supreme court has frequently stated the production of material witnesses rule as triggered by defendant's production of some evidence of coercion: "Where the defense produces evidence that a confession was obtained by coercion, all the persons who had control over the defendant and are allegedly involved in the use of coercion should be produced, if possible, and examined before the confession is admitted." (Emphasis added.) People v. LaCoco (1950), 406 Ill. 303, 94 N.E.2d 178; see People v. Davis (1948), 399 Ill. 265, 77 N.E.2d 703; People v. Wagoner (1956), 8 Ill.2d 188, 133 N.E.2d 24; People v. Jennings (1957), 11 Ill.2d 610, 144 N.E.2d 612; People v. Sammons (1959), 17 Ill.2d 316, 161 N.E.2d 322.

• 4 Even if we conclude that it was error for the State to fail to produce Officer Hubbard at the suppression hearings, we find the evidence exclusive of defendant's statements to police leaves no doubt of his guilt. Accordingly, error in that regard would not have required reversal in this case. (People v. Kraus (1946), 395 Ill. 233, 69 N.E.2d 885.) There was ample occurrence witness testimony regarding the retail theft, and the statements themselves were inculpatory only with respect to the forgery charge. Two occurrence witnesses, Trees and Downey, viewed the Treasury check in defendant's ...

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