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People v. Williams

November 18, 1999

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT, V. JETTIE WILLIAMS, APPELLEE.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Freeman

-Agenda 31-May 1999.

Defendant, Jettie Williams, pled guilty to the attempted murder of the victim, Leroy Wade. The circuit court of Cook County accepted defendant's guilty plea and, based thereon, convicted and sentenced defendant for that crime. Nearly five years later, the victim died. Defendant was then charged with the victim's murder. At a preliminary hearing, the circuit court granted defendant's motion in limine to bar the State from using the prior guilty plea to attempted murder as evidence at defendant's murder trial.

The State appealed (145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1)). The appellate court upheld the circuit court's in limine order (No. 1-97-2930 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23)). We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)). We now reverse the appellate and circuit courts, and remand the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

On February 1, 1989, defendant pled guilty to the charge of attempted murder. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, pars. 8-4, 9-1(a). The parties stipulated to the following factual basis for the plea. The victim and defendant were friends; they had known each other for over 10 years and had served time in a penitentiary together. Between midnight and 7 a.m. on September 29, 1986, the victim and defendant were sitting and talking in the front seats of a van. For some unknown reason, defendant produced a pistol and shot the victim once in the head. The victim next remembered awaking in a hospital. The victim's head wound rendered him a paraplegic with very limited use of his arms. After questioning and admonishing defendant, the circuit court found that defendant's guilty plea was knowing and voluntary. See 177 Ill. 2d R. 402. Accordingly, the circuit court convicted defendant of attempted murder and sentenced him to a prison term of nine years.

On April 14, 1994, the victim died. On May 2, 1994, defendant was charged with murder. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1), (a)(2). Defendant moved in limine to bar the State from using his prior guilty plea to attempted murder as evidence at his murder trial.

At a preliminary hearing, the circuit court granted defendant's motion. The circuit court concluded that the use of defendant's prior guilty plea to attempted murder as evidence at his murder trial was a "direct consequence" of the guilty plea, and that defendant was never advised of this consequence. Accordingly, the circuit court found that defendant's prior guilty plea to attempted murder was not knowing and intelligent and, therefore, inadmissible at his murder trial.

The appellate court, with one Justice Dissenting, upheld the circuit court. No. 1-97-2930 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). The appellate court reasoned that the use of defendant's guilty plea to attempted murder as evidence at his murder trial was so severe a consequence that it became a "direct" consequence. Thus, the circuit court was required to admonish defendant of this consequence to render his guilty plea knowing and intelligent. The State appeals.

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

The parties disagree, as they did before the appellate court, as to the standard of review. The State contends that our review of the circuit court's in limine order should be de novo because that order centers on an issue of law. Defendant contends that our review should be deferential because it was within the discretion of the circuit court to enter such an order. The appellate court employed a deferential standard of review.

This appeal is from the circuit court's in limine order excluding evidence. A motion in limine is a pretrial motion that seeks an order excluding inadmissible evidence and prohibiting questions concerning such evidence, without the necessity of having the questions asked and objections thereto made in front of the jury. Thus, the in limine order will protect the movant from whatever prejudicial impact the mere asking of the questions and the making of the objections may have upon a jury. Reidelberger v. Highland Body Shop, Inc., 83 Ill. 2d 545, 549 (1981); see generally M. Graham, Cleary & Graham's Handbook of Illinois Evidence §103.9 (7th ed. 1999).

A motion in limine is addressed to the trial court's inherent power to admit or exclude evidence. A court of review will not reverse a trial court's grant or denial of a motion in limine absent a clear abuse of discretion. People v. Holman, 257 Ill. App. 3d 1031, 1033 (1994); People v. Jordan, 205 Ill. App. 3d 116, 121 (1990); People v. Escobar, 168 Ill. App. 3d 30, 43 (1988); People v. Williams, 60 Ill. App. 3d 529, 532-33 (1978); see, e.g., People v. Eddington, 77 Ill. 2d 41, 44-47 (1979) (in limine order reviewed under abuse-of-discretion standard).

However, a trial court must exercise its discretion within the bounds of the law. Where a trial court's exercise of discretion has been frustrated by an erroneous rule of law, appellate review is required to permit the exercise of discretion ...


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