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People v. Sanders





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. L. Michael Getty, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied May 29, 1986.

Following a jury trial, defendant, John Sanders, was convicted of attempt murder, aggravated battery and armed violence. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, pars. 8-4, 12-4, 33A-2, respectively.) After finding that the aggravated battery conviction merged into the attempt murder conviction, the trial court sentenced defendant to concurrent terms of 40 years for attempt murder and armed violence. On appeal, defendant contends that the trial court erred when it: (1) refused to ask individual members of the venire specific questions proposed by defendant on voir dire; and (2) granted the State's motions in limine which deprived defendant of his right to cross-examine a State's witness as to bias, interest or motive to testify falsely. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The record presents the following evidence pertinent to this appeal. At trial, Willie Nix, the victim, testified that on March 23, 1980, approximately 9:30 p.m., he and three friends were walking in the area of Roosevelt and Ashland in Chicago when Eddie Fisher, an acquaintance, called Nix to join him. Nix left his friends and walked over to Fisher who was alone. Fisher shook hands with Nix and asked if he had had a fight earlier that day with Michael Steward. Nix admitted that he and Steward had had a fist fight a few hours earlier. While Nix and Fisher were talking, five male individuals, including defendant, armed with guns, converged upon Nix from behind. Words were exchanged, and the individuals began firing at Nix, who turned and ran to a nearby service station where he collapsed and fell. The police arrived and took Nix to the hospital, where it was discovered that he had sustained 14 gunshot wounds. Additional evidence is discussed below as it relates to the issues on appeal.

• 1 Defendant first contends that the trial court erred in not asking the individual members of the venire during voir dire three supplemental questions submitted by defendant regarding the prospective jurors' attitudes toward private gun ownership. Defendant proposed that the following questions be asked by the court:

"1. Have any members of the jury joined or contributed to gun control organizations?

2. Do any members of the jury own guns or have a gun within their household?

3. Do any members of the jury feel that guns should be banned from private ownership?"

The State objected to the questions on the ground that they were not relevant to the issue before the court. Upon query by the court, defendant stated that his purpose in proposing the questions was to determine whether any of the jurors were so "incited" by the mere fact that a gun was involved that they would not be able to be fair and impartial. The court stated that defendant's proposed questions went "well beyond" the question of impartiality, and denied his request. Defendant then requested that the court ask the question in the manner the court found suitable to satisfy defendant's purpose. The court agreed to ask the venire as a whole "if there is any one person who feels that the mere fact that a gun is involved would so prejudice them that they could not render a fair trial." Defendant agreed to the substance of the question, but objected to the question being asked of the group as a whole on the ground that some people would not raise their hands because they would be intimidated in a group setting. Thus, defendant requested that the court pose the question to each member of the venire individually. The court denied defendant's request and asked the agreed-upon general question of the whole venire.

It is axiomatic that one of the safeguards of our judicial system is the right to a trial before an impartial jury (Irvin v. Dowd (1961), 366 U.S. 717, 721, 6 L.Ed.2d 751, 755, 81 S.Ct. 1639, 1642), and that the voir dire examination is used to effectuate this safeguard by filtering out prospective jurors who are unable or unwilling to be impartial. In this regard, trial judges are accorded broad discretion in determining voir dire questions and procedures. (People v. Washington (1982), 104 Ill. App.3d 386, 432 N.E.2d 1020; 87 Ill.2d R. 234.) While there is no precise formula for determining the appropriate degree of impartiality necessary, the standard for evaluating a court's exercise of discretion during the voir dire is whether the questions posed and the procedures employed have created reasonable assurance that prejudice would be discovered if present. People v. DeSavieu (1983), 120 Ill. App.3d 420, 458 N.E.2d 504.

• 2 In our view, the general question posed by the court regarding possible prejudice toward guns was sufficient to have created reasonable assurance that any prejudice would have been disclosed. Further, the record directly contradicts defendant's argument that the jurors would be intimidated from truthfully responding in a group setting. When the court posed the question to the group, one individual raised his hand and, as a result, was promptly dismissed. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in posing the general question to the venire as a whole.

• 3 Next, defendant contends that the trial court erred in granting the State's motions in limine which precluded defendant from cross-examining Willie Nix concerning his arrest record as well as alleged pending charges in order to establish any bias, interest or motive Nix may have had for testifying falsely against defendant. In response, the State argues that defendant has waived the issue on appeal by his failure to file a written motion for new trial. Further, assuming, arguendo, that the issue has not been waived, the State argues that the court's refusal to permit cross-examination concerning Nix' arrest record and alleged pending charges did not infringe upon defendant's sixth amendment rights to confrontation.

We shall first address the State's waiver argument. It is well established that all errors are preserved for review by an oral post-trial motion unless the State timely objects and requests that the grounds for seeking post-trial relief be specified in writing. People v. Boyd (1980), 88 Ill. App.3d 825, 410 N.E.2d 931.

In the present case, on October 21, 1983, following the jury's verdict of guilty, defendant presented his oral motion for a new trial which was denied by the court. Despite the denial, defendant informed the court that he would supplement his oral motion with a written motion on the next date set for the case and that he would be requesting a transcript of the proceedings to do so. At that time, the State neither objected to the oral motion nor requested that it be in writing. When the parties next met approximately six weeks later, defendant requested a continuation to file a written motion for new trial. At that time, the court stated that it had no record that an oral motion had been made and suggested that defendant obtain a transcript of the earlier proceedings to establish that an oral motion had been made. Defendant agreed and stated that he would tender his supplemental written motion for new trial on the next date set. The parties next met approximately two weeks later, at which time defendant still did not have a written motion. At that point, the State specifically informed the court that it had no objection to an oral motion. The case was then continued to the following day, at which time defendant argued that the State had waived its right to specific grounds by failing to timely make its request. In response, the State argued that when defendant had made his oral motion nearly two months earlier, he had agreed to file a supplemental written motion. Thus, the State assumed specific grounds would be forthcoming in the written motion. The State further argued that ...

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