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People v. Aaron

May 11, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
VERA AARON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 94--CF--1890 Honorable Philip L. DiMarzio, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rathje

The defendant, Vera Aaron, was charged by indictment with armed violence (720 ILCS 5/33A--2 (West 1994)), unlawful possession of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 1994)), and criminal fortification of a residence (720 ILCS 5/19--5 (West 1994)). On April 19, 1995, based upon a psychologist's evaluation, the State and the defendant entered into an agreed order in which the State stipulated that the defendant was unfit to stand trial and that there was a substantial probability that she would not be rendered fit to stand trial within one year (see 725 ILCS 5/104--16 (West 1994)). The State moved for a discharge hearing. See 725 ILCS 5/104--23, 25 (West 1994).

A discharge hearing was held on June 5, 1996. The following evidence was adduced at that hearing.

Louis Puscas, an officer with the Aurora police department, testified that he executed a search warrant at a single-family two-story residence located at 229 Schiller Avenue in Aurora. There were 11 other officers involved in the execution of the search warrant. There were two outdoor entrances to the residence, the front door and the side door. Officer Puscas and his team attempted to open the side door. When they were unable to do so, they entered using a "battering ram." A 2- by 6-inch plank of wood had been nailed across the door's frame from the inside.

On cross-examination, Officer Puscas testified that the search warrant in this case was a "no-knock" warrant, which does not give the individual inside the residence an opportunity to answer the door first. Officer Puscas never checked the door to see if there were other means of locking the door, nor did he know if the windows of the residence were locked. The officer was aware that the residence was in an area where property offenses had occurred.

Robert Reichardt, an officer with the Aurora police department, testified that he was in charge of the execution of the search warrant at the Schiller Avenue residence. He entered the residence through the front door after the door was smashed in. A 2- by 4-inch block of wood had been nailed to the floor and braced up against the door.

Officer Reichardt spoke to the defendant, who had been brought downstairs from the upstairs southwest bedroom. According to the officer, when he asked the defendant if she owned or rented the residence, she responded that she rented it and that she did not sell cocaine, "they only use it."

Officer Reichardt further testified that a search of the upstairs of the residence revealed three weapons in a small room, designated the southeast room. Two of the weapons were pistols; both were loaded and were located in a video cassette holder. In the closet area in that room was a shotgun with one shell in it. Officer Reichardt estimated that the southeast room was 30 to 40 feet from the southwest bedroom.

Officer Reichardt further testified that two homemade smoking devices were found in a trash can downstairs and one such device in an upstairs cabinet. Three white rocky substances were found in a candy dish in the upstairs hallway. A razor and a white substance were found on top of a sheet of glass on a dresser in the southeast room.

Officer Reichardt further testified that a man later identified as Clarence Boseman was discovered in the residence's attic area, which he had accessed from the southeast room. A second man, unidentified, was discovered in the living room of the residence.

On cross-examination, Officer Reichardt testified that the substance found in the candy dish weighed less than .60 grams and would fit on a fingertip. The substance on the dresser weighed .34 grams and would also fit on a fingertip. The officer admitted that he had to look closely before he could detect the cocaine. He also acknowledged that the area in which the residence was located was known for the occurrences of property offenses. He did not check to see if the doors to the residence could have been locked in any other way.

Officer Reichardt further testified that he did not know if the other officers who escorted the defendant downstairs made any statements to her. He agreed that there was no evidence that the defendant was any closer than 30 to 40 feet from the nearest weapon. He never questioned the defendant as to the guns or drugs that were found in the residence.

William Hull, an officer with the Aurora police department, testified that he took part in the execution of the search warrant at the Schiller Avenue residence and was in charge of retrieving the evidence found there. According to Officer Hull, the southwest bedroom was no more than 10 feet from the farthest opening to the southeast room.

Dr. Frank Scommegna, a clinical psychologist, testified that he performed a psychological evaluation of the defendant's fitness to stand trial in March 1995. The defendant suffers from schizophrenia and is in the borderline range of intelligence, which is one step away from the mentally retarded range. The results of certain of the tests showed that the defendant is likely to misperceive cues in her environment and lacks the capability for critically thinking and assessing her environment.

In response to a hypothetical question in which he was asked to assume the circumstances of the execution of the search warrant in this case, Dr. Scommegna opined that the defendant would not have accurately perceived what was going on in her home. Given that she could not perceive the situation accurately, she could not have responded with the statement that was attributed to her by the police that they only smoked or used the cocaine in the house. Dr. Scommegna further opined that she would not be able to perceive that other people kept drugs or used drugs and weapons in her home, even if the items were out in the open. The defendant's performances on the tests demonstrated that, even when the situation was relatively clear and obvious that something was wrong or out of place, the defendant did not perceive that fact. Dr. Scommegna did not detect any malingering with the defendant.

The defendant testified that at the time of the execution of the search warrant she was in the upstairs southwest bedroom of the residence watching television. She heard a noise at the front door and then heard the sounds of someone breaking into the residence. When she moved into the residence, the landlord had placed a 2-by-4 behind the front door because the lock was broken. The back (side) door also had a board behind it because the deadbolt lock did not work because the wood was damaged. The boards were there ...


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