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October 23, 1997


Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 14th Judicial Circuit. Rock Island County, Illinois. No. 94--CF--649. Honorable James Teros Judge, Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Holdridge delivered the opinion of the Court. Michela, J. concurs; McCUSKEY, J., dissents.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Holdridge

The Honorable Justice HOLDRIDGE delivered the opinion of the Court:

The defendant, David Allen Greer, was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(2) (West 1994)) and sentenced to 50 years in prison. On appeal, the defendant contends that several reversible errors occurred during his trial, including the restriction of his cross-examination of a witness. We hold that curtailing the defendant's cross-examination of one of the State's key witnesses constituted reversible error. Thus, we reverse and remand.

In the interest of brevity, we will outline only those facts necessary to our discussion of the issue. On July 13, 1993, the victim was shot and killed near a public housing project in Rock Island, Illinois. At trial, one witness, Steve Fuhlman, testified that he saw the defendant shooting a gun toward the location where the victim's body was later found. Fuhlman did not see the victim, however.

On cross-examination of Fuhlman, the defendant brought out that the State had helped Fuhlman move from the neighborhood where the shooting occurred by furnishing Fuhlman with a moving van and paying for his stay in a hotel during the move. The defendant also attempted to bring out several other facts to show that Fuhlman was biased toward the State. Those facts included: (1) that Fuhlman had wanted to move from his home near the public housing project for some time; (2) that he was unable to do so for financial reasons; and (3) that he had not paid real estate taxes for two years. Upon the State's objection, the trial court refused to allow the defendant to pursue this line of questioning. In doing so, the trial judge stated, before the jury, that "this is ridiculous. Cut it out." When the defendant pointed out to the judge that he had used the word "ridiculous" in front of the jury, the judge told the jury that he did not mean by that remark that the defendant, his attorney or his theory of defense was ridiculous.

After the conclusion of the trial and before jury deliberations began, three jurors were allowed to go outside the courthouse to smoke cigarettes. While they were smoking, the jurors saw the defendant, in shackles, being led from the courthouse to a nearby vehicle for transportation back to the county jail.

The defendant was convicted and sentenced as previously noted.

On appeal, the defendant contends that his cross-examination of Fuhlman was unfairly restricted and that this restriction prevented him from fully developing his theory of defense.

The defendant has the right to cross-examine a witness for the purpose of showing the witness' interest, bias or motive to testify falsely. People v. Britt, 265 Ill. App. 3d 129, 638 N.E.2d 282, 202 Ill. Dec. 636 (1994). Such cross-examination may concern any matter that goes to explain, modify, discredit or destroy the witness' testimony on direct examination. See People v. Aughinbaugh, 36 Ill. 2d 320, 223 N.E.2d 117 (1967). The trial court should give the defendant the widest latitude to allow him to establish a witness' bias or motive. People v. Gonzalez, 104 Ill. 2d 332, 472 N.E.2d 417, 84 Ill. Dec. 457 (1984). According to the Illinois Supreme Court, when the defense theory is that the defendant has been framed and the witness who led the police to the defendant has a motive to testify falsely, the evidence to show that motive is "hardly collateral." Gonzalez, 104 Ill. 2d at 338, 472 N.E.2d at 420. Moreover, the United States Supreme Court has said that the jury is entitled to have the details of the theory of defense before it so it can make an informed judgment about the weight to give the testimony it has heard. Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 39 L. Ed. 2d 347, 94 S. Ct. 1105 (1974).

In the case at bar, the defendant attempted to cross-examine Fuhlman on the depth of his financial distress and the extent of his desire to move from the neighborhood in which the crime occurred. Given these factors, the defendant then hoped to argue that the help Fuhlman received from the State was sufficient to induce him to implicate the defendant in the victim's death. The trial court, however, stopped the defendant from adequately developing this theory of impeachment. According to the trial court, these issues were collateral. We disagree. As in the Gonzalez case, the evidence that Fuhlman was behind in his real estate taxes and that he had wanted to leave the neighborhood for many years but had been financially unable to do so was "hardly collateral" to the question of whether Fuhlman would testify falsely in order to obtain help in moving.

Moreover, instead of giving the defendant the "widest latitude," the trial court interrupted his attorney's cross-examination and labelled it "ridiculous" in front of the jury. To compound matters, the judge later told the jury that his remarks did not mean that the defendant, his attorney or his case was ridiculous. Was there any other way to interpret that statement? We think not.

Based on our review of the record on appeal, we hold that restricting the defendant's cross-examination was reversible error.

Finally, we note that the Illinois Supreme Court has frowned upon allowing jurors to see a defendant wearing shackles. See People v. Boose, 66 Ill. 2d 261, 362 N.E.2d 303, 5 Ill. Dec. 832 (1977). While it appears that the incident in this case was inadvertent, we stress to the trial court that a recurrence of that event must be assiduously avoided.

Our decision to remand the case for a new trial obviates the need to consider the other errors the defendant ...

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