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People v. Dowdy





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County; the Hon. Richard F. Weiler, Judge, presiding.


The defendant was convicted of forgery by a jury in Kane County on September 27, 1983. He was sentenced to 30-months probation and, as a condition thereof, 180 days in the Kane County jail. Sentence was later modified to reflect credit for time served.

The defendant was charged with the intent to defraud the Bank of Sugar Grove on June 3, 1983, by knowingly delivering to it a check in the amount of $300 drawn on the joint account of Addie and Lloyd Roberts. The only name printed on the check was "Addie Roberts" and, although she was deceased in 1981, Lloyd Roberts was an authorized signator and at the bank's suggestion, he continued to use the checks in order to use up his supply of them.

Defendant admitted at trial that he wrote the check out to himself as payee, signed the name "Addie Roberts" and included in the memo notation space on the check the phrase: "For yarding." The check was endorsed "Michael Dowdy" and underneath there was a driver's license, social security and phone numbers. The defendant knew Addie Roberts was deceased. He claimed at trial, however, that he received the blank check from Lloyd Roberts, and that Roberts gave him the authority to fill it out, told him to sign Addie's name and that if the bank had any question, that it could call him and he would clear it up. The primary issue at trial was whether the defendant had the intent to defraud the Bank of Sugar Grove.

The Sugar Grove police chief, Neal Lippold, testified at trial that the defendant contacted him "about the thing that was happening in Sugar Grove." After Miranda warnings were given, the defendant told Lippold he got the June 3 check from Lloyd Roberts for work he had done for Roberts. He testified he helped Roberts perform various odd jobs, and that Roberts paid him differing amounts for this work on occasion, and that Roberts owed him about $150 at the time of the incident in question. Lippold testified the defendant told him he had taken four checks from Roberts' truck.

Lloyd Roberts, a 67-year-old retired janitor, testified he did not pay the defendant anything for helping him with various odd jobs, or promise to pay him for same. On occasion, they ate meals together, socialized and attended church together. Roberts was a friend of the defendant's family and had known him for several years prior to the forgery incident. Roberts denied he had given the defendant the check or the authority to fill it out, nor had he ever given the defendant any other of the checks which were sometimes kept in the glove compartment of his truck, or on top of his dresser. Roberts testified he signed his own name, not his wife's, when he wrote checks; that he wrote checks in sequence; that he did not keep his own checking balance record; and, prior to April of 1983, on occasion, he had signed and given someone a blank check to fill out.

According to the defendant's testimony at trial, Roberts gave him the check because the defendant wanted to buy a $300 car which he had test-driven over to Roberts' house on the morning in question. Evidence was admitted of three other checks subsequently drawn on the Roberts' account, on June 22, 23 and 24, written by the defendant, and delivered to the First Security Bank of Aurora. The defendant was not charged in connection with those checks. The checks were all signed "Addie Roberts," and the named payee was "Billy Dowdy," the defendant's father. Each of these three checks was endorsed with the signature "Billy Dowdy," and Mr. Dowdy's Aurora bank account number. Defendant admitted he filled out these checks and cashed them at the Aurora bank. He testified at trial that he did so because "Mr. Roberts said that he needed money and he didn't want to go to Sugar Grove and that he didn't know where to cash the check and I figured my dad had money in the account and it would go through here and no one else would know about it." Defendant testified that Roberts gave him a portion of the proceeds of each of these three checks as payment for services rendered. A teller from the Aurora bank testified that on one of the occasions in question, she recalled the defendant, driving a red truck, was accompanied by a male passenger who was over 60 years of age.

In this appeal, defendant contends (1) it was an abuse of the court's discretion to limit his cross-examination of Lloyd Roberts concerning his financial status where such inquiry was made in order to establish that Roberts had a motive to falsely accuse him of forgery; (2) that it was error for the court to exclude evidence that the defendant's father had repaid the bank and that the bank, therefore, did not wish to prosecute the instant forgery charge where the State "opened the door" to such evidence, and (3) that a new trial must be ordered because the trial judge mistakenly read to the jury the State's refused instruction concerning proof of other offenses, instead of the one modified and tendered by the defendant, and accepted by the court.

• 1 Defendant concedes that the scope of cross-examination is generally discretionary with the trial judge, contending generally, however, that a criminal defendant should be given the widest latitude in cross-examination (People v. Barr (1972), 51 Ill.2d 50; People v. Mason (1963), 28 Ill.2d 396), and that a person charged with a crime should be allowed to make all proper defenses (People v. Watson (1966), 36 Ill.2d 228). He argues the court's limitation on his cross-examination of Lloyd Roberts prevented him from bringing to the jury's attention evidence of instances in which Roberts' account had been overdrawn. The only specific instance of such overdraft shown in the record was that mentioned in defendant's opening argument; that is, in April of 1983. Defendant contends such evidence was both reasonable and relevant to a showing that Roberts might have accused Dowdy falsely "in order to avoid further financial troubles."

The State's waiver argument is unavailing, for the record shows this issue was raised in the defendant's post-trial motion. Nonetheless, we find unpersuasive the defendant's argument that reversal is required.

• 2, 3 Cross-examination to show interest, bias, or motive on the part of a witness is a matter of right, subject to the broad discretion of the trial court to preclude repetitive or unduly harassing interrogation and, assuming a proper subject matter, to control the extent of cross-examination. (People v. Gordon (1984), 128 Ill. App.3d 92.) It is a right protected by both the Federal and Illinois constitutions. (U.S. Const., amend. VI, XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, sec. 8; People v. Gonzalez (1984), 104 Ill.2d 332.) The proposed cross-examination must relate to a proper subject matter; however, the evidence of bias or motive must be direct and positive, not remote and uncertain. People v. Hiller (1980), 92 Ill. App.3d 322; People v. Lenard (1979), 79 Ill. App.3d 1046.

Here, defendant sought to cross-examine Roberts about whether he gave his girlfriend a check to fill out in connection with the purchase of a car, and whether Roberts' checking account was overdrawn in April as a result. Defendant's stated purpose in pursuing that course of questioning was to show that Roberts was reckless in his checking account practices, was a spendthrift, was overextended and, consequently, that his motive in testifying against the defendant was to "boost his account" by the $300 amount of the check allegedly forged by the defendant.

• 4 We find the trial court properly determined that evidence that the witness' checking account was overdrawn in April did not allow the inference that Roberts' schemed to accuse the defendant of forgery in order to relieve himself of a debt owed to the defendant. The $300 check, in fact, was honored by the Bank of Sugar Grove; clearly the witness had sufficient funds in his account at the time of the incident in question to cover the check. If defendant had evidence other than the April overdraft which would have borne more directly on whether the witness had a then-present motive to repudiate his alleged debt to the defendant, he failed to offer it. As it was presented to the trial court, the evidence sought to be admitted was only direct and positive as to the state of the witness' checking account in April, but was irrelevant as to the state of the account in June, and immaterial to the issue of whether the witness had given the defendant the authority to write the check in June. It is not an abuse of the court's discretion to exclude speculative and uncertain evidence. People v. Heidorn (1983), 114 Ill. App.3d 933.

• 5 We note the defendant was allowed to inquire as to the witness' various sources of income, his expenditures, and his checking account record-keeping and practices. Consequently, a large portion of the image of the witness the defendant hoped to convey to the jury was actually accomplished. In such a case, minor technical errors, if any, in the court's ruling as to cross-examination cause no prejudice to the defendant. (See People v. Rossini (1962), 25 Ill.2d 617, 621.) It is well established that claimed error in restricting the scope of cross-examination will rise to the level of reversible error only if the defendant manifestly suffered prejudice as a result of ...

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