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01/08/98 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. TONY RIVERS

January 8, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
TONY RIVERS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Ronald A. Himel, Judge Presiding.

Presiding Justice Cerda delivered the opinion of the court. McNAMARA, J., concurs. Wolfson, J., specially concurring.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cerda

PRESIDING JUSTICE CERDA delivered the opinion of the court.

Following a jury trial, defendant, Tony Rivers, was convicted of aggravated kidnapping (720 ILCS 5/10-2-A (West 1992)), two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault (720 ILCS 5/14(a)(West 1992)), and armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18-2-A (West 1992)). He was sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment. The issue on appeal is whether the trial court's comments to defense counsel and to a potential juror were so prejudicial that they denied defendant a fair trial. For the following reasons, we affirm.

Defendant complains of several remarks made toward defense counsel outside the jury's presence. When the defense counsel made a motion for a continuance prior to jury selection, the court stated:

"It's almost impossible to explain to anybody why this case would have taken so long. But just listening to you snivel and cry and whine about a reason for a continuance is almost enough to make a grown man want to throw up."

During jury selection, the following discussion between the trial court and a prospective juror occurred:

": I'm biased toward the defendant, because I also think that the State's Attorney has the leverage in the case.

I also think it's very difficult for anyone poor to get a fair and impartial trial in America.

Having said that, I would probably weigh the facts.

THE COURT: All I'm asking you, can you wait, even with these readily accepted preconceived notions and understanding -- friendship with the Public Defender's [sic], understanding that on alot of cases poor people -- and I disagree with you, you know, starting with the O.J. case, that is an Assistant Public Defender defense. That is the age-old conspiracy. That is a million dollar lawyer who got luckier than any other lawyer in history."

After the potential juror was excused by the State, defense counsel moved for a mistrial. During the discussion on the motion, the following occurred:

"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I think some cumulative comments by the Court regarding the O.J. Simpson case has [sic] left this jury polluted, Judge.

THE COURT: Well, sir, make your objections as to the time that you're troubled about ...


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