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People v. Bennett

June 6, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MICHAEL D. BENNETT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Williamson County. No.99-CF-413 Honorable Brocton Lockwood, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Welch

Released for publication.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MICHAEL D. BENNETT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Williamson County. No.99-CF-413 Honorable Brocton Lockwood, Judge, presiding.

Attorneys for Appellant: Daniel M. Kirwan, Deputy Defender, Rita K. Peterson, Assistant Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Fifth Judicial District, Route 15 East, P.O. Box 2430, Mt. Vernon, IL 62864-0047

Attorneys for Appellee: Hon. Charles Garnati, State's Attorney, Williamson County Courthouse, Marion, IL 62959; Norbert J. Goetten, Director, Stephen E. Norris, Deputy Director, Patrick D. Daly, Staff Attorney, Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor, Route 15 East, P.O. Box 2249, Mt. Vernon, IL 62864

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Welch

On December 10, 1999, a motor vehicle accident occurred at the intersection of Route 13 and Route 166 in Williamson County. Eyewitnesses to the accident testified that just before 6 p.m. on that evening a white pickup truck traveling eastbound on Route 13 proceeded to make a left turn (north onto Route 166) in front of a black pickup truck that was traveling westbound on Route 13. The two vehicles collided. The driver of the black pickup truck, Jeremy Hughes, was killed. His wife, Brandy Hughes, a passenger in the vehicle, was seriously injured. The driver of the white pickup truck was also seriously injured. The three eyewitnesses to the accident all testified that immediately after the collision they ran to the white pickup truck and observed a man hanging out of the passenger-side window. They did not get a good look at his face and were unable to identify him. They did not observe any other individual in, or exit, the white pickup truck after the accident.

As a result of this accident, Michael D. Bennett (defendant) was charged by information, filed in the circuit court of Williamson County, with (1) reckless homicide in that while under the influence of alcohol and while acting in a reckless manner, he operated a motor vehicle in such a manner as to cause death or great bodily harm to an individual by turning left in front of, and colliding with, a vehicle driven by Jeremy Hughes, thereby causing the death of Jeremy Hughes, and (2) aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol in that he knowingly drove a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and was involved in a motor vehicle accident that proximately resulted in great bodily harm to Brandy Hughes, the wife of the decedent, Jeremy Hughes. Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of both counts. He was sentenced to 12 years in the Department of Corrections on the reckless homicide conviction. No sentence was imposed on the conviction for aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol. Defendant appeals.

Defendant raises three issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting the State's motion to reopen its case to present additional evidence after defendant had moved for a directed verdict at the close of the State's case, (2) whether the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was the driver of the white pickup truck involved in the motor vehicle accident out of which these charges arose, and (3) whether his conviction for aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol must be vacated because it was based on the same physical act as his conviction for reckless homicide. For the reasons that follow, we affirm defendant's conviction and sentence for reckless homicide and vacate his conviction for aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol.

At the close of the State's case, defendant moved for a directed verdict based on the fact that the State had failed to prove that defendant had been the driver of the white pickup truck which collided with the vehicle driven by Jeremy Hughes. The State responded that it had presented sufficient circumstantial evidence that defendant had been the driver of the truck; nevertheless, the State sought leave to reopen its case to present additional evidence on this point. The State was not clear on exactly what evidence it might present but indicated that it knew of the owner of the pickup truck, who could testify that he had loaned the truck to defendant, and of ambulance personnel who had removed defendant from the vehicle and had taken him to the hospital. The ambulance personnel had not been disclosed in discovery. Over defendant's objection, the trial court granted the State leave to reopen its case to present the testimony of Tad Thompson, an ambulance attendant who had responded to the scene of the accident. Defendant was given the opportunity to interview Thompson prior to his testimony.

At the trial, Thompson testified that he had responded to the accident scene with the ambulance. He proceeded to the white pickup truck and observed a man hanging out of the passenger-side window. This man was removed from the truck and transported to the hospital. There was no other individual in the truck when Thompson arrived. Thompson identified defendant as the man he had removed from the pickup truck and transported to the hospital. Thompson has a clear memory of this accident and defendant's identity because of the severity of the accident.

As defendant correctly points out, it is within the sound discretion of the trial court whether a case may be reopened for further evidence, and this discretion will not be interfered with except where it is clearly abused. People v. Cross, 40 Ill. 2d 85, 90 (1968). In Cross, the defendant, charged with burglary, moved for a directed verdict at the close of the State's case on the ground that the State had failed to prove the corporate ownership of the building. The trial court allowed the State to reopen its case to make this proof, and the supreme court found no abuse of discretion by the trial court. Defendant could not have been surprised by the additional proof and was not prejudiced by the trial court's ruling permitting the reopening of the case.

Although, in Cross, proof of the corporate ownership was merely a formal matter, the State has been allowed to reopen its case not only for the purpose of proving formalities but also to establish the very facts essential for a conviction. See People v. Price, 8 Ill. App. 3d 158, 160 (1972). Thus, in People v. Henderson, 223 Ill. App. 3d 131, 134 (1991), the defendant, charged with criminal damage to state-supported property, moved for a directed verdict at the close of the State's case on the ground that the State had failed to prove that the damaged property was supported by state funds. The trial judge agreed that the State had failed to establish this essential element of the offense, but the judge ...


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