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People v. Eckles

OPINION FILED OCTOBER 29, 1984.

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

v.

FRANCIS M. ECKLES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Rock Island County; the Hon. John Donald O'Shea, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE HEIPLE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The defendant, Francis Eckles, appeals from his conviction for the offense of residential burglary. He was sentenced to a term of five years' imprisonment.

The issue on appeal is whether the defendant's confession was involuntary, and whether the court erred in finding it voluntary and admitting it into evidence. The defendant argues that the confession was rendered involuntary as a result of a promise of leniency given the defendant prior to his admissions.

Two witnesses testified at the suppression hearing. The defendant testified that the evening prior to his interrogation he was picked up by police while standing with a friend on the street. He was asked to get in the back seat of the squad car and did so. As the officer drove toward the police station he received a radio message indicating that the defendant was to come to the police station the next day to answer questions about a residential burglary. The defendant was released from the car.

The following day the defendant went to the police station. Officer Michael Lage asked the defendant whether he was involved in a burglary and said that the police had a witness who had implicated the defendant. The defendant denied any involvement.

Lage testified that when the defendant continued to deny any involvement, he told him that an investigation would be made of the burglary and that the defendant should tell if he was involved in the burglary and not wait. Lage told the defendant that it would be in his (defendant's) best interests to get the truth out as fast as possible. Officer Lage also told the defendant that if he told the truth and cooperated, Lage would inform the State's Attorney and testify in court as to the defendant's cooperation. Shortly after, the defendant admitted his participation in the burglary. He was then advised of his rights, waived them, and made a tape-recorded statement admitting to the burglary.

The trial court is in the best position to determine the voluntariness of a confession, and its determination will not be reversed unless contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Relying on People v. Heide (1922), 302 Ill. 624, and People v. Ruegger (1975), 32 Ill. App.3d 765, the defendant argues that his confession was compelled by a promise of leniency.

Officer Lage first told the defendant that it would be in his best interest to get the truth out as quickly as possible. Based on Heide, the defendant characterizes this exhortation as an implied promise of leniency. At first glance, Heide appears to hold that use of the words "you had better" or "you would be better off" carries the implication that the accused would be treated better if he made a statement. However, later cases have rejected this interpretation.

In People v. Klyczek (1923), 307 Ill. 150, the supreme court held that:

"It is not reasonable to suppose that advice to one accused of crime that it is better for him to tell the truth would of itself be an inducement to him to tell an untruth or would alone be a sufficient inducement to make a statement falsely confessing crime. Mere exhortation to tell the truth will not make a confession afterward made inadmissible, but the statement that it is better to tell the truth may be made under such circumstances as to make a confession afterwards made incompetent. If there is coupled with the advice a suggestion of a benefit in the particular case, a confession by reason of such advice and suggestion is incompetent." 307 Ill. 150, 154.

Standing alone, Officer Lage's advice to the defendant is insignificant. In order to constitute a promise of leniency, his statements must be coupled with a suggestion of a specific benefit which would follow if the defendant confessed. People v. Ardelean (1938), 368 Ill. 274; People v. Joe (1964), 31 Ill.2d 220.

It is true that Officer Lage also told the defendant that he would inform the State's Attorney and the court of the defendant's cooperation. However, in People v. Hubbard (1973), 55 Ill.2d 142, the supreme court rejected the argument that this type of statement was a promise of leniency. The import of Hubbard is that such an offer does not imply that the State's Attorney will be lenient simply because he is made aware of the defendant's cooperation.

People v. Ruegger (1975), 32 Ill. App.3d 765, also cited by the defendant, is in no way similar to this case. In Ruegger the police advised the defendant to tell the truth and offered to "go to bat for him" on such matters as a recognizance bond and probation if he confessed. This was a specific promise of special treatment as contemplated by the cases interpreting Heide. A promise to assist a defendant in obtaining bond and a sentence of probation is vastly different from an offer to simply inform the prosecutor and the court of a defendant's cooperation. The latter offer is open-ended, with no promise of a specific result.

The ultimate question to be answered here is whether, considering the totality of attendant circumstances, the defendant's will was overcome at the time he confessed. (People v. Noe (1980), 86 Ill. App.3d 762, 765.) Case law clearly indicates that Officer Lage's statements cannot be reasonably construed as improper inducements. The remaining factors such as the defendant's age, intelligence, experience and the ...


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