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People v. Knight

June 29, 2001


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. 99 CR 1576 The Honorable Lon William Shultz, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Greiman


Following a bench trial, the defendant, Otis Knight, was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. He was sentenced to six years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. The principal witness for the State was Officer Roberto Miranda and it is his testimony that gives rise to the issue of whether the trial court properly excluded testimony revealing the exact location of Officer Miranda while he was conducting a surveillance of defendant.

Officer Miranda testified that on December 5, 1998, at approximately 6:45 p.m. he and his partner were conducting a narcotics surveillance somewhere in the vicinity of 2910 West Fillmore in Chicago, Illinois. They received information that a man wearing dark sweatpants and a red jacket was selling narcotics somewhere in the area. While on foot, about 1,000 feet from his parked vehicle, Officer Miranda saw a man he identified in court as defendant standing on the sidewalk in front of 2910 West Fillmore. Officer Miranda testified that he was standing approximately 50 feet away from defendant when a van pulled up to defendant. The passenger in the van gave defendant an unknown amount of money. Officer Miranda stated that he could see three-quarters of defendant's face and had a clear view of the passenger side of the van. Officer Miranda did not use any type of visual aid while observing defendant.

After defendant took the money from the passenger in the van, Officer Miranda testified that defendant turned around and walked toward a nearby flower pot where he reached in and pulled out a brown paper bag. Officer Miranda claimed that defendant removed an object from inside the bag, walked back to the passenger side of the van, and gave the object that he removed from the bag to the passenger. The van then drove away.

After viewing the transaction between defendant and the passenger of the van, Officer Miranda and his partner walked back to their car and drove to 2910 West Fillmore. Officer Miranda admitted that from the time he left the surveillance point to when he reached 2910 West Fillmore, which took approximately one to two minutes, he lost sight of the man who tendered the object to the passenger of the van. When Officer Miranda and his partner arrived at 2910 West Fillmore, they exited their vehicle and approached defendant. Shortly thereafter, Officer Miranda returned to the surveillance point and removed a brown paper bag from the flower pot. The brown paper bag contained five clear plastic bags. Inside these five clear bags, there was a total of 125 smaller bags of a rock-like substance suspected to be crack cocaine. After finding the contraband, Officer Miranda placed defendant under arrest. Officer Miranda admitted that at the time he arrested defendant there were several bystanders nearby. No money or contraband was recovered from defendant.

Prior to arresting defendant, Officer Miranda had observed him for approximately five minutes and from his observation of defendant he could not recall what type of jacket he was wearing. However, Officer Miranda testified that defendant did fit the description of the individual who was involved in the transaction with the passenger of the van.

The parties stipulated to the testimony of Jeffrey Buford, a forensic chemist associated with the Illinois State Police, who tested 80 of the 125 recovered bags. All 80 of the tested bags tested positive for the presence of 15.7 grams of cocaine.

Reverend Hazel Fort testified that she lives at 2918 West Fillmore and that her church is located at 2916 West Fillmore. At the time of trial, Reverend Fort testified that she had known defendant for several months. Reverend Fort asserted that sometime after 3 p.m. on the day of the crime in question, defendant assisted her in unloading the church's van, which was parked between 2916 and 2918 West Fillmore. According to Reverend Fort, she never saw defendant selling narcotics in the area on the day in question.

Yvette Young, defendant's girlfriend of four years at the time of the trial, testified that on the day in question defendant helped Reverend Fort unload a van at approximately 4:30 p.m. According to Young, defendant helped Reverend Fort for about 15 minutes and was arrested a few minutes later. Young stated that she told the police that defendant was not selling drugs on the day in question and that another man, with a jacket similar to defendant's, was selling drugs nearby.

Defendant testified that on the day in question he was standing in the vicinity of 2916 and 2918 West Fillmore when Reverend Fort asked him to help unload a van filled with furniture for the church. Defendant testified that he unloaded furniture for 45 minutes to an hour. After he finished unloading furniture, he was walking down the street to Young's house when he was stopped and searched by Officer Miranda while other officers retrieved the brown paper bag. A lighter and a box cutter were recovered from defendant. Defendant testified that he told the police he had not been selling drugs that day but that a man he knew as "D.C.," who wore a coat similar to his own, was in the area selling drugs.

On August 18, 1999, the court sentenced defendant to six years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for possession of cocaine with the intent to deliver. Defendant's sentence was ordered to run consecutively with his one-year sentence for his violation of probation. Defendant now appeals the judgment and argues that the trial court violated the confrontation clause (U.S. Const., amend. VI) when it restricted defense counsel's cross-examination of Officer Miranda as to the exact location of his surveillance.

Defendant asserts that the trial court improperly precluded him from cross-examining Officer Miranda regarding the officer's exact point of surveillance. Specifically, defendant argues that since the State's case rested entirely on Officer Miranda's credibility and his ability to observe the purported drug transaction, the trial court committed reversible error by unduly restricting defense counsel's cross- examination of Officer Miranda regarding his vantage point at the time of surveillance. The trial court allowed defense counsel to cross- examine Officer Miranda regarding "his distance, the lighting, opportunity to observe, obstructions blocking his view, and things of that nature without requiring the officer to disclose the exact location of this surveillance." The trial court stated that, based on certain case law, Officer Miranda was not required to reveal the exact location of his surveillance point. Thus, the issue now before the court is whether the trial court violated defendant's rights under the sixth amendment's confrontation clause by prohibiting defense counsel from cross-examining Officer Miranda as to his exact surveillance point. We conclude that defendant's rights under the sixth amendment were violated and, therefore, the instant matter is reversed and remanded.

The United States Supreme Court has held that a criminal defendant has the right to confront the witnesses against him, including the right to cross-examine those witnesses. Cruz v. New York, 481 U.S. 186, 189, 95 L. Ed. 2d 162, 169, 107 S. Ct. 1714, 1717 (1987); U.S. Const., amends. VI, XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §8. The Illinois Supreme Court has stated that "when identification is in issue the defendant should be given considerable latitude on cross-examination of the identifying witness to test the identification, the means of observation and the memory of the witness." People v. Struck, 29 Ill. 2d 310, 311 (1963), citing People v. Del Prete, 364 Ill. 376 (1936) and People v. Coli, 2 Ill. 2d 186 (1954); People v. Hunley, 189 Ill. App. 3d 24, 41 (1989);. However, "[a] trial court may not deprive a defendant of the right to question witnesses; however, it may limit the scope of cross- examination." People v. Criss, 294 Ill. App. 3d 276, 279 (1998), citing People v. Frieberg, 147 Ill. 2d 326, 357 (1992). Keeping in ...

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