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People v. Drum

May 01, 2001


Appeal from Circuit Court of Coles County No. 97CF2 Honorable Ashton C. Waller, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Steigmann

In January 1997, the State charged defendant, Charles C. Drum, with first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1996)). In September 1998, the trial court denied the State's pretrial motion to admit certain hearsay statements at defendant's trial, pursuant to section 115-10.2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/115-10.2 (West 1998)), and the State brought an interlocutory appeal from that order (145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1)).

In October 1999, this court dismissed the State's appeal on the ground that we lacked jurisdiction to hear it. People v. Drum, 307 Ill. App. 3d 743, 718 N.E.2d 302 (1999) (Drum I). The Supreme Court of Illinois granted the State's petition for leave to appeal, reversed our decision to dismiss the State's appeal, and remanded this case to us for further proceedings. People v. Drum, 194 Ill. 2d 485, 743 N.E.2d 44 (2000) (Drum II).

After further consideration in accordance with the supreme court's directive, we vacate the trial court's order and remand for further proceedings.


In January 1997, the State filed first degree murder charges against defendant, his brother, Thomas Drum, and their friend, Marcus Douglas, alleging that the three men had killed Shane Ellison. Thomas and Marcus were tried separately in August 1997 and February 1998 respectively. Each testified in his own defense and acknowledged their involvement in Ellison's death. However, they each attempted to characterize their involvement as minimal and claimed that defendant was the primary aggressor. Marcus testified in Thomas' trial but Thomas refused to testify in Marcus' trial. Juries convicted both men of first degree murder.

In April and May 1998, the State filed two pretrial motions in defendant's case, entitled "Motion For Admission of Tom Drum's Testimony at the Trial of Charles Drum" and "Motion for the Admission of Marcus Douglas' Testimony at the Trial of Charles Drum," in which the State asked the trial court to find that Thomas' and Marcus' prior testimony met the requirements for the then-new statutory residual hearsay exception contained in section 115-10.2 of the Code (725 ILCS 5/115-10.2 (West 1998)). In September 1998, the court conducted a hearing on the State's motions and denied them, finding that Thomas' and Marcus' testimony lacked sufficient trustworthiness to be admissible under section 115-10.2. The State's appeal of that denial is now before us.


A. Motions In Limine

In People v. Owen, 299 Ill. App. 3d 818, 822, 701 N.E.2d 1174, 1178 (1998), this court noted that although motions in limine are most frequently used to bar or limit evidence, they may also be used by the proponent of evidence, such as the State in this case, to obtain a pretrial ruling that the evidence at issue will be admitted at the appropriate point in trial. Thus, although the State in this case styled its pretrial evidentiary motions as motions "for admission of *** testimony," they clearly were motions in limine in both purpose and effect (see Black's Law Dictionary 1033 (7th ed. 1999)).

Regardless of how they are used, motions in limine always ask a trial court to make a trial 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, 191 Ill. 2d 251, 255, 730 N.E.2d 1, 3 (2000); Owen, 299 Ill. App. 3d at 822-24, 701 N.E.2d at 1177-79. A trial court considering a party's motion in limine therefore must rely upon counsel's representations or offers of proof to determine what the context for the evidentiary ruling will likely be at trial. Owen, 299 Ill. App. 3d at 823, 701 N.E.2d at 1178. For that reason, a trial court has discretion not to address a motion in limine at all and may instead wait for the evidentiary issue to arise in the normal course of events at trial. Owen, 299 Ill. App. at 823, 701 N.E.2d at 1178. Conversely, when the court does address a motion in limine on the merits, its ruling is always subject to reconsideration during trial. Illinois State Toll Highway Authority v. Heritage Standard Bank & Trust Co., 163 Ill. 2d 498, 502, 645 N.E.2d 896, 898 (1994); McMath, 304 Ill. App. 3d at 375, 711 N.E.2d at 1140-41, rev'd on other grounds, 191 Ill. 2d 251, 255, 730 N.E.2d 1, 3, (2000). In either case, the court's final ruling takes place at trial, not before.

When a trial court addresses a motion in limine that seeks to admit evidence rather than exclude it, events at trial may very well cause the court to reconsider its preliminary ruling. For example, even if the court grants a motion in limine to admit evidence, the proponent must still lay the proper foundation at trial or the evidence will not be admitted. If, on the other hand, the court denies the motion, the party opposing the evidence may nevertheless "open the door" at trial to its admission. Events at trial can also affect (1) the court's initial understanding of the probative value of the evidence, (2) the risk of unfair prejudice to the party opposing the evidence, or (3) its trustworthiness. As the supreme court wrote in People v. Childress, 158 Ill. 2d 275, 296, 633 N.E.2d 635, 644 (1994), "The decision whether to admit evidence cannot be made in isolation. The trial judge must consider a number of circumstances that bear on that issue, including questions of remoteness and prejudice."

B. Appellate Review of Evidentiary Rulings

Reviewing courts sometimes state, as a blanket rule, that all evidentiary rulings are reviewed deferentially. See, e.g., Hilgenberg v. Kazan, 305 Ill. App. 3d 197, 204, 711 N.E.2d 1160, 1165 (1999) ("[T]he admissibility of evidence is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial judge, whose decision will not be reversed absent a clear abuse of discretion"). However, as the Childress court correctly stated, the abuse-of-discretion standard is only a general rule (Childress, 158 Ill. 2d at 296, 633 N.E.2d at 644), and important exceptions exist. ...

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