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People v. Williams





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Thomas P. Cawley, Judge, presiding.


Roger Williams (defendant) was charged with auto theft and possession of a stolen car. The trial court suppressed statements made by defendant while in police custody. The State has appealed. 87 Ill.2d R. 604(a)(1).

Chicago police officers Thomas Czapiewski, Eugene Richmond, John Mulligan, and Curtis Troogstad responded to a message about a knife fight. At the scene of the fight, defendant and three other men were arrested.

On hearing of the motion to suppress evidence, Officer Czapiewski testified he did not advise defendant of his Miranda rights upon his arrest. Furthermore, the officer did not remember whether another officer advised defendant of his rights at that time. The officer "thought" Officer Richmond advised defendant of his rights at the police station.

Officer Richmond testified that at the scene of the arrest he "told them they were under arrest and [he] advised them of their rights." He was talking to "all four" of the people placed under arrest including defendant. At the reading of each separate right, each arrestee nodded affirmatively to indicate his understanding. The witness also similarly read their rights to the arrestees together at the police station before interrogation. Defendant again nodded to indicate his understanding of his rights.

Officer Mulligan testified he heard Officer Richmond advise the arrestees of their Miranda rights at the scene of the arrest and also at the police station.

All four officers testified they never struck, kicked, stepped on, or slapped defendant or any of the other arrestees. Each of the four officers also testified that the victim of the alleged auto theft was not given the opportunity to beat defendant.

Defendant testified he was 17 years old at the time of his arrest. He had not completed his second year of high school. He did not remember whether Officer Richmond advised him of his rights at the scene of the arrest. Defendant testified he did not know what Miranda rights were. He did not recall that anybody at the police station advised him of his constitutional rights.

On cross-examination defendant stated he had no problem reading, writing, or understanding English. He admitted having been arrested more than five times between 1976 and 1982. He did not know whether he had been arrested more than 10 times. He did not remember whether any officer had ever advised him of his rights at any time. Defendant stated he never told the police anything except his name, address, and age. Although the police "roughed [him] around trying to get" defendant to admit stealing the car, defendant never made a statement to police.

After argument by counsel, the trial judge stated that defendant "is an unmitigated liar." "I have a very very hard time in believing" defendant. "So I think the people who told the truth in this case were the police officers." The judge made findings of fact that the defendant was advised of his rights along with the other arrestees, and that Officer Richmond believed defendant understood the rights relating to him.

Nevertheless, the trial court granted defendant's motion to suppress, principally because he found specifically the procedure of "reading the rights to the four individuals at one time" was improper. The judge also stated that although defendant was "familiar with police stations," and "understands how things work in police stations," it was possible for defendant not to understand the "full impact of the Miranda warnings when [they are] read in that type of fashion without individual questioning and saying `Yes, I understand those certain rights * * *.'"

Defendant initially argues this court may not disturb the determination of the trial court unless it is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. (See People v. Dalton (1982), 91 Ill.2d 22, 31, 434 N.E.2d 1127.) However, this principle refers only to the trial court's findings of fact. "[T]he scope of our review on questions of law is independent, not deferential." Havens v. Miller (1981), 102 Ill. App.3d 558, 567, 429 N.E.2d 1292.

Accepting the factual findings of the trial judge, the issue before this court is one of law as to whether a 17-year-old defendant, whom the trial judge described as "not very intelligent," but who was familiar with police procedures and who had been arrested several times previously, voluntarily waived his Miranda rights in making a statement to police after an officer twice read those rights to defendant as a member of a group of four, and ...

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