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People v. M.F.

August 02, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 98--JD--154 Honorable Barry E. Puklin, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hutchinson

In March 1998, the State filed a petition to adjudicate the respondent, M.F., a delinquent minor. The petition alleged that, on March 17, 1998, respondent was under 17 years of age and committed the offense of obstructing justice, a Class 4 felony (720 ILCS 5/31--4(a), (d)(1) (West 1998)). The petition further alleged that, with the intent to obstruct his own prosecution, "he knowingly concealed physical evidence from Phillip Brown, a police officer, in that he threw baggies containing cocaine, a controlled substance, off of a rooftop located at 253 Villa Street, Elgin." The petition also alleged that respondent committed the offense of unlawful possession of a controlled substance (unlawful possession), a Class 4 felony, in that he "knowingly had in his possession not more than 15 grams of a substance containing cocaine." 720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 1998). The trial court found that the respondent committed both offenses beyond a reasonable doubt, adjudicated him a juvenile delinquent, imposed a 24-month term of probation, and ordered that he be placed in the local "Challenge Program" and undergo counseling.

Respondent timely appealed, and the office of the State Appellate Defendant was appointed to represent him during this appeal. Appellate counsel filed an Anders motion seeking leave to withdraw as counsel on appeal. See Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 18 L. Ed. 2d 493, 87 S. Ct. 1396 (1967). In his motion, appellate counsel concluded that there were no issues of merit that warranted relief in this court. Appellate counsel suggested two possible justiciable issues: whether the charges were proved beyond a reasonable doubt and whether the disposition was appropriate. This court denied the motion and ordered the parties to brief the issue of "obstructing justice." The sole question now before this court is whether the respondent was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the offense of obstructing justice based on his alleged concealment of the cocaine baggies. We reverse the finding and order of the trial court with respect to the charge of obstructing justice, and we remand the cause for the modification of the record and relevant orders to show that respondent was only found guilty of the unlawful possession offense. See In re W.C., 167 Ill. 2d 307, 341-43 (1995) (order modified to avoid future prejudice to minor).

At the adjudicatory hearing, Officer Phillip Brown of the Elgin police department testified that, on the date in question, he went to an apartment at 253 Villa Street in Elgin, Illinois, at about 7:30 p.m. to assist the narcotics unit with a search warrant. He was to secure the front of the residence as the other officers went upstairs to execute the warrant. After hearing the police knock at the door and announce their presence, Brown saw respondent come out of the window onto the front "landing" or roof over the entrance to the building. Brown told him to stay there and not move because the police were there with a search warrant. Respondent twice reached into his pocket and each time made a throwing motion toward the street behind Brown, who was standing on the sidewalk about 30 feet from respondent. Brown did not see what the respondent had in his hands. Brown's flashlight was shining onto respondent's face and person, and Brown got a good look at him.

Brown testified that, after making the throwing motions, respondent lay down on the landing and then tried to jump onto a tree near the landing. At that point, Officer Adam came out the window, and respondent was taken from the landing and placed into custody. Brown then looked in the direction respondent had thrown the objects, approximately 10 feet from him. He located three bags containing a rock-like substance, which were turned over to the evidence technician. The ground was wet as it was misting that night, but the objects were "relatively" dry.

On cross-examination, Brown testified that it was pretty dark out and he did not see anyone else on the landing. Once inside the apartment, Brown identified respondent by his clothing. On redirect examination, Brown stated that 15 seconds elapsed between his first observation of respondent being taken into custody and his later identification of him inside the residence. Brown went inside after picking up the evidence he had located.

Officer Jeffrey Patrick Adam testified that he went to the apartment to execute a search warrant for narcotics. Detective Rouse knocked and announced their office and their intentions. After a few seconds, Sergeant Barnes made a forced entry into the residence with a battering ram. This took 5 to 10 seconds. Adam and Officer Theriault went to the kitchen area and located Laveda J. and had her lie down. Adam observed that the kitchen window that opened onto the landing was forced out. As he went to the window, Anthony C. began to crawl in through the window. Adam pulled him through the window and handed him over to Theriault. Respondent was crouched on the landing just outside the window. Adam leaned against the wall, grabbed him, and pulled him through the window. Adam found suspected rock cocaine on the landing where respondent was crouched, and he turned the evidence over to Detective Elias.

There was a recess in the proceedings. At the direction of the trial court, the prosecution presented argument on the law regarding the offense of obstructing justice and whether the act of throwing the baggies off the roof or landing would support the offense. Apparently, no case law directly on point was found. After hearing arguments about other cases generally, the court denied respondent's motion for a directed finding. The court concluded that "technically, there is obstructing justice, and especially in Juvenile Court, it does not make any difference what the offense is and the punishment only runs up to the 21st birthday or whatever the punishment is."

The State also presented the testimony of Barbara Schuman, a forensic scientist. She testified that she tested two samples of the evidence recovered from the scene and found that the substances tested positive for cocaine. One exhibit weighed 4.33 grams and the other weighed 1.6 grams.

The defense called Officer Adam, who testified that the light was on in the kitchen. There was light shining up from at least two officers' handheld flashlights. He did not believe there was any light on Anthony. He only saw parts of Anthony. From the window, Adam later saw respondent crouched on the landing or overhang. Although it was dark outside, there was enough background lighting to keep the area "moderately lit."

Officer Brown further testified that he found the three separate baggies containing a rock-like substance while Adam was placing respondent into custody.

Respondent testified that he was at Laveda J.'s house to meet a friend. Someone knocked at the door. Then respondent heard someone kicking the door. He saw Anthony go outside the window. Respondent followed behind him and went out onto the roof. He did not know who was hitting the door, and he was scared. He then saw Adam bring Anthony in through the window. Adam also brought respondent in and placed him in handcuffs. Respondent did not see any officers below until he saw the flashlight. He did not know they were police officers until he saw Anthony being pulled in through the window. Respondent denied throwing anything off the roof and denied hearing the officer tell him not to move. He admitted crouching down on the roof to see who was down below; it was dark out.

The trial court found respondent guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the unlawful possession of cocaine, having determined that the cocaine came from respondent. The court also found him guilty of obstructing justice, adding, "which is also a Class 4 felony, which is overkill, but I'll find him guilty of that."

In a juvenile delinquency proceeding, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the respondent committed the charged offense. In re W.C., 167 Ill. 2d 307, 336 (1995). As in criminal cases, the standard of review in determining the sufficiency of the evidence is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. W.C., 167 Ill. 2d at 336. We will not reverse a criminal conviction unless the evidence is ...

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