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People v. Dixon

November 23, 1999


Appeal from Circuit Court of Livingston County No. 98CF86 Honorable Harold J. Frobish, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

23 November 1999

In November 1998, a jury convicted defendant, Lawrence C. Dixon, of burglary and theft of property having a value less than $300 (720 ILCS 5/19-1(a), 16-1(a)(1)(A) (West 1996)), and he was later sentenced to 10 years in prison. Defendant appeals, arguing that (1) Public Act 89-689 (Pub. Act 89-689, §90, eff. December 31, 1996 (1996 Ill. Laws 3775, 3792-93)), which amended section 104-21(a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/104-21(a) (West 1994)) to eliminate the requirement that a defendant on psychotropic medication automatically receive a fitness hearing, is unconstitutional because it violates the single subject rule of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, §8(d)); and (2) the trial court committed plain error by allowing the State to impeach defendant by admitting in evidence the "mere fact" of his prior felony convictions. We affirm.


The evidence at defendant's trial showed the following. Around midnight on August 5, 1998, Brian Huhnke and Josh Monterastilli, two employees of Stanley Steemer's carpet cleaning service, were cleaning Buster's restaurant in Pontiac, Illinois. When they were almost finished, they went out to a van parked about 10 feet from the front entrance to do some paperwork. Huhnke and Monterastilli used a metal box with a clipboard writing surface on top. The box contained the keys to Buster's, a calculator, some Stanley Steamer documents, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and a pen. Approximately 15 to 20 feet from the van, a man walked by and said "Hey, what's up," then continued on his way. Huhnke and Monterastilli did not see the man very well. They left the box on the passenger seat of the unlocked van and went back inside Buster's to close up. About five minutes later they returned, discovered that the box was gone, and called police. Huhnke found a Stanley Steamer log sheet by a nearby Dumpster.

Officer Bradley Woolford and two other officers responded. The two other officers made inquiries at the Super 8 motel located behind Buster's and then radioed Woolford to meet them at Room 125 of that motel. Woolford brought Huhnke and Monterastilli with him. When Woolford arrived, the two other officers, defendant, Lisa Brown (his friend), and Brown's baby were already at the room.

Huhnke told Woolford that defendant fit the description of the man who had walked past the van, and defendant admitted that he had done so. Defendant consented to a search of the room, and the officers found the box and all of its contents, except the cigarette lighter. Woolford testified that defendant's demeanor during the search bordered on "overly cooperative." Less than 30 minutes had elapsed between the discovery that the box was missing and the search of defendant's motel room.

Defendant told the officers that the items they found belonged to his roommate, Glen Sharp, and that he had not seen Sharp for several days. Defendant also offered to pay for any missing items.

Sharp testified that he left Pontiac between noon and 2 p.m. on August 5, for Pekin, Illinois, and did not return until August 7, 1998.

Outside the jury's presence, the prosecutor sought a ruling on whether the trial court would permit the State to use defendant's prior burglary convictions to impeach him in the event defendant testified. Those prior convictions occurred in 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1995. Defense counsel argued that the nature of the felonies was not relevant to defendant's credibility and that revealing it to the jury would be more prejudicial than probative. The court ruled as follows:

"The court finds to admit the evidence of prior burglaries would have a prejudicial effect that would outweigh any value of impeachment. And so the State will be restricted to inquiring into whether or not the defendant has prior felonies. And the State can use the plural of that."

Defendant testified, and during his direct testimony his attorney asked the following question: "Now, you have suffered several felony convictions, prior in your life, have you not?" Defendant answered, "Yes."

Defendant testified that in August 1998 he was living temporarily at the Super 8 motel and working for Caterpillar. On the night in question, he had gone out to get milk and was on his way back to his room when he passed the Stanley Steamer van and greeted Huhnke and Monterastilli. After that, he ran into a couple of his co-workers-- backing a truck out of the parking lot--who happened to have a bag of his laundry. When he returned to his room and opened the laundry bag, he discovered the box inside. He later told the police he had not seen any of his co-workers for a couple of hours because he thought that they were looking for stolen goods and he wanted to cover for his friends.

During cross-examination, the State did not bring up defendant's prior convictions. During closing argument, the prosecutor once referred to the defendant's "background" and told the jury that his prior felonies could be considered only as evidence of his believability as a witness.

Defendant was convicted, and the trial court ordered a presentence investigation. Before this court, defendant asserts that the presentence investigation report indicated that defendant was taking Amitriptyline, an antidepressant, "while incarcerated at Livingston County." However, the presentence investigation is not included with the record on appeal. The court sentenced defendant, and this appeal followed.


A. Defendant's Single Subject Rule Challenge

Defendant first argues that because the trial court knew at the sentencing hearing that he was taking a psychotropic drug, the court was statutorily required to have a hearing on his fitness to stand trial. Although he acknowledges that Public Act 89-689 purportedly repealed this statutory requirement, he contends that the repeal was of no effect because Public Act 89-689 violates the single subject rule of the Illinois Constitution and is therefore void. We disagree.

Before Public Act 89-689 took effect, section 104-21(a) of the Code entitled a defendant on psychotropic medication to a fitness hearing before trial and sentencing. 725 ILCS 5/104-21(a) (West 1994); see People v. Kinkead, 168 Ill. 2d 394, 407-08, 660 N.E.2d 852, 858 (1995). At that time, section 104-21(a) read, in pertinent part, as follows: "A defendant who is receiving psychotropic drugs or other medications under medical direction is entitled to a hearing on the issue of his fitness while under medication." 725 ILCS 5/104-21(a) (West 1994). Public Act 89-689 amended section 104-21(a), so that it now reads: "A defendant who is receiving ...

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