Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 92CF1599. Honorable John R. DeLaMar, Judge Presiding.
As Corrected March 7, 1994.
Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, J., Honorable Robert W. Cook, J., Honorable Carl A. Lund, J.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steigmann
JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the opinion of the court:
In December 1992, a jury convicted defendant, Maurice McFarland, of aggravated battery on a public way (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, par. 12-4(b)(8)), and the trial court later sentenced him to 42 months in prison. Defendant appeals, arguing that reversible error occurred when the trial court improperly (1) instructed the jury, and (2) permitted the State to introduce evidence depicting him as a drug pusher.
At defendant's trial, the State called only Sheritta Newbern and her mother, Annie Newbern. Sheritta testified that she was 15 years old and in June 1992, lived in Birch Village, a public housing complex in Champaign. On June 26, 1992, as Sheritta stood by a dumpster on the parking lot at Birch Village waiting for her cousin, defendant walked up to her and said that she could not stand there unless Sheritta "was with him." Sheritta responded that she could stand there because she lived there. She said that defendant then struck her with the back of his hand on her right cheek, causing her face to hurt, and she started crying. She also said her face became swollen. Sheritta then went back into her house as her mother came outside.
Annie Newbern testified that on June 26, 1992, she saw her daughter screaming and crying. Sheritta told her that defendant had hit her in the face. Ms. Newbern further testified that defendant hit Sheritta hard enough to cause welts on her face. After Sheritta was struck, Ms. Newbern went out of the house to talk to defendant, but he and his friends walked away and left the area. Ms. Newbern further testified that on July 8, 1992, defendant came to her residence in Birch Village and tried to convince her to get Sheritta to say that defendant had not hit her.
Calvin Hart field testified as a defense witness that he was a friend of defendant and had spent all of June 26, 1992, with him celebrating Hartfield's birthday. Hartfield saw defendant strike no one that day. Hartfield, who was convicted of a felony in July 1992, admitted on cross-examination that his birthday was June 10. He nonetheless continued to claim that he and defendant celebrated his birthday on June 26.
Defendant testified that he had been convicted of a felony in January 1991. He testified that he knew Sheritta but never struck her, nor had he ever had a physical confrontation with her.
II. EVIDENCE DEPICTING DEFENDANT AS A DRUG PUSHER
Defendant first argues that the trial court committed reversible error by permitting the State to present evidence depicting him as a drug pusher. The State presented this evidence through Sheritta's testimony about her conversation with defendant a few weeks prior to June 26, 1992, the date defendant committed the aggravated battery. Sheritta testified that in this conversation, which also occurred in Birch Village, defendant asked her to sell "dope" for him, but she refused. Defendant points out that the prosecutor used this testimony in his closing argument. The prosecutor claimed that defendant tried to enlist Sheritta to sell drugs, and that because she refused to do so, when defendant saw her standing by the dumpster two weeks later, he informed her that if "she wasn't with him," she could not stand there. Sheritta's scornful response to defendant's statement led to defendant's striking her in the face.
Defendant argues that the evidence of his earlier request to Sheritta that she sell drugs for him "had absolutely no relevance to the crime of aggravated battery with which he was charged, [and that] these prejudicial and ...