APPEAL from the Circuit Court of McLean County; the Hon.
LUTHER H. DEARBORN, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Perez and Santiago were convicted of committing mob action and battery while they were inmates of the Pontiac Correctional Center.
On appeal, they assert that the trial court erred in failing to poll the jury to determine what effect, if any, certain news accounts had upon them; that the court erred in denying their motion in limine requesting that they not be cross-examined as to their prior criminal convictions; that the court improperly allowed cross-examination beyond the scope of direct examination; and that the trial judge improperly imposed concurrent sentences for battery and mob action since both offenses were carved from the same physical act.
On January 8, 1980, a panel of jurors and two alternates were sworn to try the issues in this case. On January 22, 1980, the date trial commenced, defendants filed a motion for mistrial based on prejudicial publicity arising from an incident that had occurred the day before. A motion for mistrial with accompanying affidavits outlined the fact that on January 21, 1980, two Pontiac correctional officers were seriously injured outside the Livingston County Courthouse by two handcuffed and shackled prisoners whom they were taking to court. In arguing the motion, counsel for defendant Santiago argued that the total effect of the incident and the coverage in the media was to cause an atmosphere of tension in the community, in the courtroom, and in the courthouse, resulting in prejudice against the defendants such that there was no chance that they could receive a fair trial. Both defense attorneys urged the trial court to make an inquiry of each juror to determine whether any juror was exposed to the news accounts and what effect, if any, the publicity may have had on the jury's ability to give the defendants a fair trial.
The news accounts attached to defendants' motion covered both the stabbing incident and the instant case. As to the accounts of the instant case, the trial court noted that the jury had been specifically admonished not to receive any information from any source in regard to this case, and the court was not prepared to presume a violation by the jury of their obligation. As to the other media coverage, the trial court stated that even assuming some awareness on the part of the jury, there was an insufficient relationship between the incidents to cause any presumption of prejudice to the defendants. Specifically, the trial court noted that there was a 1 1/2-year time span between the offenses; the stabbing incident did not involve the defendants in the instant case and did not occur in the same community. (The trial in the case before us was in McLean County.)
Defendants now argue that the trial court committed reversible error when it failed to conduct an examination of the jurors to determine what effect the news accounts would have upon them and when it failed to give an instruction to the jury to disregard those accounts.
• 1 It is inherent in a defendant's right to a fair trial that he receive a trial by an impartial jury free from outside influence. A verdict must be based upon the evidence received in open court and not from outside sources. (Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966), 384 U.S. 333, 16 L.Ed.2d 600, 86 S.Ct. 1507.) It is also clear that when a trial court becomes aware that jurors have been exposed to news articles, the court must make a meaningful examination of the jurors to determine any prejudice. People v. Cain (1967), 36 Ill.2d 589, 224 N.E.2d 786.
• 2, 3 When an allegation of prejudicial publicity is raised, the trial court is required to make a two-part analysis. Step one is a consideration of the nature of the publicity, its contents, and its potential for prejudice. (People v. Cox (1966), 74 Ill. App.2d 342, 220 N.E.2d 7.) If the trial court determines the publicity is not prejudicial, there is no need to poll the jury. (People v. Hurley (1973), 10 Ill. App.3d 74, 293 N.E.2d 341.) Furthermore, articles referring to a general class of offenders, but not the defendant specifically, are not necessarily prejudicial to a defendant. People v. Cordova (1980), 83 Ill. App.3d 147, 403 N.E.2d 788; People v. Krueger (1968), 99 Ill. App.2d 431, 241 N.E.2d 707.
In Cordova, the defendant was convicted of aggravated battery relating to a stabbing at the Stateville Correctional Center. Evidence was produced that the defendant was a member of the Latin Kings, a street gang. During trial, the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper published an article concerning Chicago street gangs and purportedly indicated that the Latin Kings were one of the most vicious gangs, its members having been convicted of a number of serious crimes. After ascertaining that the article did not refer to activity within the penitentiary, the trial court found no prejudice. The appellate court affirmed, stating that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and noted that articles referring to a general class of offenders, but not specifically to the defendant, are not necessarily prejudicial to the defendant.
• 4 The articles here in question contained no potentially prejudicial material to the defendants because of the general nature of the comments. The accounts of the stabbing incident occurred at a different time and place and by different perpetrators from those in the instant case. The only connection between the perpetrators of the stabbing incident and the defendants in this appeal was that the accused in both instances were Pontiac prisoners. This fact, in and of itself, was not sufficient to warrant the action requested by the defendants below. Furthermore, as the State correctly notes, it was affirmatively shown in this case that the jurors had heeded the court's constant instructions and admonitions given both at the time of jury selection and throughout the trial. The court, prior to final arguments, interrogated the jury as to their exposure to any external influences, whether through the media or otherwise, and the jurors denied such exposure.
Prior to trial, defendants filed a motion in limine to bar the use of their prior convictions for purposes of impeachment. The motion alleged that the prejudicial effect of this evidence outweighed its probative value. ...