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People v. Wassell

March 31, 2000

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
V.
TERRY L. WASSELL, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Pike County No. 98CF51 Honorable Richard D. Greenlief, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

In May 1998, the State charged defendant, Terry L. Wassell, with predatory criminal sexual assault of a child (720 ILCS 5/12-14.1 (West Supp. 1997)). In September 1998, the State filed a petition to proceed under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act (Act) (725 ILCS 205/3 et seq. (West 1998)). In May 1999, the State filed notice of its intent to call four witnesses at trial who would testify that defendant sexually assaulted them on prior occasions, pursuant to section 115-7.3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/115-7.3 (West Supp. 1997)). In June 1999, defendant filed a motion in limine seeking to prohibit that testimony and the trial court granted defendant's motion. The State brings this interlocutory appeal from that order (145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1)). Because we lack jurisdiction to hear this appeal, we dismiss it.

I. BACKGROUND

In May 1998, the State filed an indictment charging defendant with predatory criminal sexual assault of a child. The indictment alleged that defendant committed an act of sexual penetration with his three-year-old granddaughter.

In September 1998, the State filed a petition to have defendant adjudicated a sexually dangerous person. In November 1998 and December 1998, the State filed amended petitions to proceed under the Act. In January, February, and March 1999, the trial court struck paragraphs of the State's second-amended petition and limited the testimony of several witnesses. The stricken testimony included allegations by J.R., L.M., M.B., and W.S. that defendant sexually assaulted them when they were minors. The court found that the allegations were uncharged, unreported, nonlitigated, and uncorroborated, and that the prejudicial effect of the proffered evidence outweighed its probative value.

In May 1999, the State filed a notice of intent to offer into evidence the statements of J.R., L.M., M.B., and W.S. at defendant's sexual assault trial. Pursuant to section 115-7.3 of the Code (725 ILCS 5/115-7.3 (West Supp. 1997)), the State expected the witnesses to testify that defendant had sexually assaulted them when they were minors. In June 1999, defendant filed an objection to the State's notice and a motion in limine. The motion in limine argued that the testimony of the four witnesses was not admissible as "other crimes" evidence and any probative value of the evidence was substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect. The trial court granted defendant's motion in limine, finding that the four witnesses' testimony was not admissible under section 115-7.3 of the Code nor "generally admissible."

On June 7, 1999, the State filed a certificate of impairment and a notice of appeal. The State alleged that the trial court's grant of defendant's motion in limine substantially impaired its ability to prosecute defendant for predatory criminal sexual assault of a child. That same day, the State filed an application for leave to appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 (155 Ill. 2d R. 308) regarding its petition to proceed under the Act. In June 1999, this court denied the State's application. People v. Wassell, No. 4-99-0447 (June 24, 1999) (order denying appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 (155 Ill. 2d R. 308)). The State now seeks to appeal from the trial court's in limine ruling.

II. ANALYSIS

The State contends that we have jurisdiction pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 604(a)(1) (145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1)). We disagree and conclude, pursuant to People v. Drum, 307 Ill. App. 3d 743, 718 N.E.2d 302 (1999), appeal allowed, 187 Ill. 2d 577 (2000), that this court lacks jurisdiction to hear this appeal.

In Drum, we held that Rule 604(a)(1) did not confer jurisdiction on this court to hear an interlocutory appeal when (1) the State files a motion in limine that seeks admission of evidence and (2) the trial court enters a discretionary ruling denying that motion. Drum, 307 Ill. App. 3d at 745, 718 N.E.2d at 304.

Our holding in Drum was based on the interplay of three factors. The first factor was the availability of review under Rule 604(a)(1). Drum, 307 Ill. App. 3d at 745, 718 N.E.2d at 304. Rule 604(a)(1) provides, in pertinent part, as follows: "In criminal cases the State may appeal only from an order or judgment the substantive effect of which results in *** suppressing evidence." 145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1). The Supreme Court of Illinois has rejected a restricted reading of appellate jurisdiction through this rule. People v. Young, 82 Ill. 2d 234, 244-45, 412 N.E.2d 501, 506 (1980). Interpreting the supreme court's reasoning in Young, this court concluded that the supreme court did not intend to create unlimited appellate jurisdiction to hear the State's interlocutory appeals from discretionary rulings. Rather, a distinction exists between traditional discretionary rulings that relate to the evidentiary value of proffered evidence and suppression of evidence in the furtherance of some social policy. Drum, 307 Ill. App. 3d at 746, 718 N.E.2d at 305.

The second factor was the nature of motions in limine. Drum, 307 Ill. App. 3d at 745, 718 N.E.2d at 304. Motions in limine ask the trial court to make a ruling outside the normal trial context. McMath v. Katholi, 304 Ill. App. 3d 369, 376, 711 N.E.2d 1135, 1140 (1999), rev'd on other grounds, No. 87795, slip op. at 4 (March 23, 2000), ___ Ill. 2d ___, ___, ___ N.E.2d ___, ___. A trial court has the discretion not to address a motion in limine until the evidentiary issue arises in the normal course of the trial, and any ruling that the trial court makes is subject to reconsideration during the trial. Drum, 307 Ill. App. 3d at 747, 718 N.E.2d at 306. In either case, the trial court's final ruling takes place at trial, not before.

In addition, a review of in limine rulings in an interlocutory setting delays a trial on the merits, consumes judicial resources, and requires the reviewing court to make a ruling based upon the same underdeveloped record and limited information that was before the trial court when it made its preliminary ruling. Therefore, declining to review a trial court's discretionary pretrial ruling on a motion in limine prevents harming the flexibility of the motion in limine procedure and the fairness of trial. Drum, 307 Ill. App. 3d at 748, 718 N.E.2d at 306.

The third factor this court considered was the nature and scope of deferential review. Drum, 307 Ill. App. 3d at 748, 718 N.E.2d at 306. Generally, evidentiary motions, such as motions in limine, are directed to the trial court's discretion, and reviewing courts will not disturb a trial court's evidentiary ruling unless an abuse of discretion occurred. People v. Jackson, 182 Ill. 2d 30, 78-79, 695 N.E.2d 391, 415 (1998). Absent an abuse of the trial court's discretion, a reviewing court may not change the result of the trial even if it would have viewed the matter differently. People v. Coleman, 183 Ill. 2d 366, 388, 701 N.E.2d 1063, 1075 (1998). Therefore, no compelling reason exists for a reviewing ...


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