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People v. Thornton

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 30, 1983.

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

v.

ELLIOTT THORNTON, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Howard Miller, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE CAMPBELL DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Respondent Elliott Thornton appeals from an order of the circuit court finding respondent in direct criminal contempt of court for refusing to testify at the trial of a co-defendant. Respondent was sentenced to a term of six months' incarceration. The sole issue on appeal is whether respondent can be held in contempt of court for refusing to testify at a co-defendant's trial by invoking his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination.

Respondent's brief reveals that in February 1982, respondent and Garnett Brooks were arrested and charged with murder, rape, aggravated kidnaping, armed robbery, concealing a homicidal death, armed violence and unlawful use of weapons. Prior to trial the cases of respondent and Brooks were severed and all charges except the murder, rape and aggravated kidnaping were nolled. The record discloses that in October 1982, respondent was tried and acquitted of all the charges against him and in January 1983, Brooks was tried and acquitted of all the charges against him. During the trial of Brooks, respondent was subpoenaed to testify as a State witness. Prior to trial, the court was informed that respondent would assert his fifth-amendment privilege when called to testify. After hearing arguments from the State and from respondent's counsel, the court denied respondent leave to take the fifth amendment. At trial, after respondent gave his name, the following occurred:

"[ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY]: Elliott Thornton, do you have facts and information — Do you know any facts and information durrounding [sic] the death of Patricia Sutton?

THE WITNESS: I refuse to answer that question that might incriminate me, on the Fifth Amendment.

THE COURT: Take the jury out, please. (Whereupon, the following proceedings were had outside of the presence and hearing of the jury:)

THE COURT: Mr. Thornton, the State asked you a question.

You were sworn under oath and you refused to answer the State's question. Thereby, I will direct you, or order you to answer the State's question.

Will you answer that question?

THE WITNESS: No.

THE COURT: If you do not, after being ordered, I will hold you in contempt of Court, and sentence you to a term in the House of Corrections. Do you understand that?

THE WITNESS: Yes.

THE COURT: Do you still refuse to answer the question, even though you have ...


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