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03/17/88 the People of the State of v. James E. Hughes

March 17, 1988

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE

v.

JAMES E. HUGHES, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, THIRD DISTRICT

521 N.E.2d 240, 167 Ill. App. 3d 265, 118 Ill. Dec. 172 1988.IL.379

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Fulton County; the Hon. Charles H. Wilhelm, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

PRESIDING JUSTICE STOUDER delivered the opinion of the court. HEIPLE and SCOTT, JJ., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE STOUDER

The general facts of the defendant's offense are not at issue. We will therefore only discuss those facts relevant to the issues raised on appeal.

The defendant first argues on appeal that he was denied his right to a fair trial due to the prosecutor's statements which lessened and misstated the State's burden of proof. Specifically, in his closing argument the prosecutor stated:

"The State has shown with clear and convincing evidence, witnesses, and testimony that the Defendant is guilty of the crime of threatening a public official; and I ask you to return a verdict that fairness demands and Justice requires -- a verdict finding the Defendant guilty."

Later, during his rebuttal, the prosecutor stated:

"It's been said many times that it's the burden of the People to prove the Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We're not required to prove the Defendant guilty beyond all doubt; just a reasonable doubt. And that's been the burden of every prosecutor in every criminal case since this country was founded. It's up to you to determine what reasonable doubt is and whether that burden has been met.

We have shown clear and convincing evidence that the Defendant is guilty of the crime of threatening a public official; and I ask you to sign your name to the form of verdict finding the Defendant guilty."

The term "reasonable doubt" should not be defined for a jury. (People v. Eddington (1984), 129 Ill. App. 3d 745, 473 N.E.2d 103.) Further, it is reversible error for the State to misstate its burden of proof. (People v. Cole (1980), 80 Ill. App. 3d 1105, 400 N.E.2d 931.) However, merely characterizing the State's burden as one which is "not unreasonable" and which is "met each and every day in courts" does not reduce the State's burden (People v. Bryant (1983), 94 Ill. 2d 514, 447 N.E.2d 301); nor is characterizing the State's evidence as "uncontradicted" improper (94 Ill. 2d 514, 447 N.E.2d 301).

In the instant case, the State did not attempt to define reasonable doubt for the jury. In fact, the prosecutor specifically stated that the jurors would have to determine what "reasonable doubt" meant. Further, we find the prosecutor's statement that proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt has been "the burden of every prosecutor in every criminal case since this country was founded" even less intrusive into the jury's function than other statements which the supreme court has ruled were permissible. See People v. Bryant (1983), 94 Ill. 2d 514, 447 N.E.2d 301.

Regarding the State's use of the term "clear and convincing evidence," we find after examining the entire closing arguments that the prosecutor used the words only in their generic sense. Further, the jurors were repeatedly instructed on the proper burden of proof. Accordingly, while we doubt that the average layperson would even realize that "clear and convincing evidence" is a legal standard, we find that even if any of the ...


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