Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 12th Judicial Circuit Will County, Illinois No. 97--CF--3043 Honorable Gerald Kinney, Judge Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Homer
After a stipulated bench trial, the defendant was convicted of the offense of escape (720 ILCS 5/31--6(a) (West 1998)), and sentenced to six years in prison. On appeal, he contends that the trial court erred in: (1) granting the State's motion in limine which barred him from presenting the affirmative defense of necessity, and (2) denying his motion to represent himself. After our careful review, we reverse and remand the case for a new trial.
During all times relevant, the defendant was serving a 50-year sentence at Stateville Correctional Center for his 1989 convictions for murder, attempted armed robbery, unlawful use of a weapon, and conspiracy. While incarcerated, the defendant was charged by indictment with the offense of forgery for allegedly engaging in a scheme to defraud inmates at other correctional institutions. The defendant allegedly sent letters to these inmates on altered law firm stationery indicating that they had been awarded $2,500 in a class action settlement, which they could collect if they sent $25 to the defendant's post office box.
On April 22, 1997, the defendant was transported to the Will County courthouse by Officer Timms, an employee of the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC), for an appearance on the forgery charge. As they prepared to leave, the defendant escaped from the back of the prison van before Officer Timms could close the door. After a brief foot chase, Officer Timms caught the defendant and placed him back into custody. The defendant was subsequently charged by indictment with the offense of escape (720 ILCS 5/31--6(a) (West 1996)).
Prior to trial on the escape charge, the defendant indicated that he intended to present the affirmative defenses of necessity and compulsion. He claimed that his life was in danger at Stateville because of the publicity surrounding the forgery case. The State filed a motion in limine, seeking to bar the defendant from presenting those defenses, which the trial court granted.
There were numerous delays in the proceedings. Thereafter, the defendant, who was represented by the public defender's office, requested that he be allowed to represent himself at trial. The trial judge denied his motion, finding that it was made too late and would further delay the trial. The case proceeded to a stipulated bench trial. After stipulating to the facts, the defendant was given the opportunity to make an offer of proof on the affirmative defense issues.
The defendant showed that after his indictment on the fraud charge, an article appeared in The Joliet Herald News identifying the defendant by name and describing his alleged scheme to defraud fellow inmates. The defendant testified that he first saw the article when it was posted on the bulletin board in the law library at Stateville in late 1996. Thereafter, he claims that he began receiving death threats and threats of physical harm from other inmates. He did not specifically know the names of the inmates, but knew some by their nicknames, gang affiliations, and job assignments. He stated that inmates had thrown urine and hot water on him and tried to strike him with broomsticks as he walked by the cells. The defendant's fellow inmate, Miles Barnes, testified that he was aware that the defendant had been threatened by inmates, but he had no information about specific threats.
The defendant stated that he first reported the threats to the warden and the assistant Director of Corrections in December 1996. In January 1997, the defendant filed a grievance that detailed his safety concerns and requested that the matter be handled as an emergency. The defendant's request for emergency status was denied. In the following months, the defendant wrote numerous letters regarding his safety concerns which he contends garnered no response. He stated that the purpose behind his escape attempt was to get the attention of the Department of Corrections officials. The defendant asserted that he had no intention of getting away, but he wanted to bring to their attention his serious safety concerns and his need to be protected and moved from Stateville.
Officer Timms testified that he could not recall any conversations he may have had with the defendant prior to the escape attempt. After his recapture, the defendant told Officer Timms that it was not personal, but that he had to do it because his life had been threatened. Will County Sheriff's Deputy Rafael Garza, who aided in the recapture, testified that he also heard the defendant make this statement.
When Officer Timms picked up the defendant at the segregation unit at Stateville, where inmates are kept in their cells 23 hours a day, he noticed that the prison was on lock down that day. He noted that during lock down no prisoner is allowed outside of his cell except for visits and emergency medical attention. The defendant acknowledged that the prison had been on lock down for two days, but he stated that it had no impact on his contact with other inmates.
At the conclusion of his offer of proof, the defendant was found guilty of escape and sentenced to six years in prison to be served consecutively to his current term. The defendant's post-trial motion was denied, and this appeal followed.
While motions in limine are encouraged in criminal cases to exclude collateral or extraneous matters, such motions should be used with caution so that they do not unduly restrict the opposing party's case or deprive a defendant of a legally viable defense. People v. Berquist, 239 Ill. App. 3d 906, 908, 608 N.E.2d 1212, 1214 (1993). A reviewing court will reverse the trial court's decision to grant a motion in limine if the ...