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08/22/88 the People of the State of v. Mansour Sadaka

August 22, 1988





528 N.E.2d 283, 174 Ill. App. 3d 260, 123 Ill. Dec. 738 1988.IL.1289

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. James J. Heyda, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE BUCKLEY delivered the opinion of the court. QUINLAN and MANNING, JJ., concur.


Following a jury trial, defendant Mansour Sadaka was convicted of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 56 1/2, par. 1401(a)(1)) and sentenced to 14 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. On appeal, defendant raises three claims for reversal of his conviction: (1) the trial court improperly admitted the registration of a phone number found in defendant's possession and the related criminal conviction; (2) the use of expert testimony to establish "street value" of narcotics was unduly prejudicial and plain error; (3) defendant was denied effective assistance of counsel. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

The record discloses that on November 1, 1985, defendant arrived at O'Hare International Airport from Lebanon. After noting that defendant was traveling alone from a drug source country, United States Customs Inspector Susan Steinhofer directed defendant to a secondary examining area. Customs agents Jeffrey Jacobs and Ronald Drozek inspected defendant's suitcase and found a cellophane-sealed box containing a bottle of Demonk's Whiskey, labeled with a red wax seal. Upon closer examination of the bottle, the agents discovered a small vial containing the liquor inside the bottle. The vial fit in the neck of the bottle, and the agents found white powder beneath it. A field test conducted of the white powder revealed the substance contained heroin.

Customs agents Jacobs and David Gooding thereafter allowed defendant, who had been waiting in another room, to return to the customs office lobby. The agents observed defendant for 5 to 10 minutes without incident before defendant was brought back to the customs area. Following a search of defendant, the agents recovered a slip of paper listing the name of a hotel in Cleveland, Ohio, and two phone numbers, one of which registered to George Malek, a convicted heroin trafficker, at a Cleveland address.

Prior to trial, defendant filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude the telephone number and third-party conviction. The State argued that the evidence represented circumstantial proof to rebut defendant's claim that he did not know anyone in the United States or know that he was carrying heroin. The trial court ruled that the evidence was relevant to defendant's knowledge. Prior to this ruling, the State and defendant agreed that, upon a favorable ruling for the State, a stipulation would be read to the jury indicating that the phone number belonged to George Malek, a convicted heroin trafficker. Defendant further agreed to stipulate to a court computer printout of the conviction as a substitute for a certified copy of the conviction.

On appeal, defendant initially contends that the trial court committed reversible error in admitting the telephone number and third-party conviction, arguing that this evidence is irrelevant and inadmissible hearsay. Defendant's stipulation entered into at trial as to this evidence will be enforced absent a showing of fraud, unreasonableness, or violation of public policy. (People v. Johnson (1977), 45 Ill. App. 3d 255, 359 N.E.2d 791.) While this court may exercise its judicial discretion to take notice of plain errors which deprive the accused of a fair trial (People v. Baynes (1981), 88 Ill. 2d 225, 430 N.E.2d 1070), defendant's contention that the compilation of inadmissible evidence rises to the level of plain error is without merit.

Evidence is deemed relevant and admissible when it "fairly tends to prove the particular offense charged." (People v. Peter (1973), 55 Ill. 2d 443, 459, 303 N.E.2d 398, 408.) Any circumstances may be put in evidence that tend to make the proposition at issue more or less probable. (55 Ill. 2d at 459, 303 N.E.2d at 408.) The State argues, and the trial court ruled, that the evidence showing that defendant carried the telephone number of a known drug trafficker living at defendant's destination tends to make more probable the proposition that defendant knowingly possessed the heroin. We agree.

Defendant asserts that the evidentiary rules relating to the use of character evidence preclude the admission of the prior conviction of George Malek. The rule of evidence raised by defendant provides that evidence of other crimes committed by an accused is inadmissible to show his bad character. (People v. McKibbins (1983), 96 Ill. 2d 176, 449 N.E.2d 821; People v. Lee (1986), 151 Ill. App. 3d 510, 502 N.E.2d 399.) Evidence will be admissible, though, if it is relevant to other issues such as to motive, knowledge, criminal intent, or identity. People v. Lee (1986), 151 Ill. App. 3d 510, 520, 502 N.E.2d 399, 405.

Defendant argues that the principles underlying the rule for prior crimes of an accused should equally apply to third-party convictions. The purpose of this rule is to prevent a jury from convicting a defendant because of his propensity or Disposition to commit a crime. (151 Ill. App. 3d at 520, 502 N.E.2d at 405.) Similarly, allowing the admission of a prior criminal record of a third-party whose phone number defendant possessed, defendant reasons, will promote "guilt by association." Defendant fails, however, to recognize that even if this court extended the rule for prior crimes of an accused to third-party convictions, the evidence here would be nevertheless admissible as relevant to the issue of defendant's knowledge.

Furthermore, the phone number and computer printout of Malek's conviction are not inadmissible hearsay. Defendant challenges the admission of the computer printout on the ground that the State failed to establish the necessary foundational requirements for the business records exception. In so doing, defendant ignores his stipulation at trial which precludes the State's need to establish a foundation. Notwithstanding the stipulation, the computer printout complies with the requirements for the public records exception. The computer printout is authorized to be maintained by the court's very nature, and it is within the court's purview to maintain conviction records. (People v. Hester (1980), 88 Ill. App. 3d 391, 395, 410 N.E.2d 638, 640.) The telephone number is likewise not hearsay ...

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