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People v. Williams

June 10, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
GREGORY WILLIAMS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Marjorie C. Laws, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McNULTY

Following a bench trial the court found defendant, Gregory Williams, guilty of possessing more than one gram of cocaine, with intent to deliver, within 1,000 feet of a public park. The trial court learned during the trial that defendant suffered from a hearing impairment, but the court made no inquiry about the extent of the impairment, and the court made no effort to ensure that defendant heard the testimony against him. We reverse the conviction and remand for a new trial because the court violated defendant's constitutional rights to due process and to confront the witnesses against him.

Police arrested defendant on November 15, 1999. The defense made no pretrial motions and the defense did not formally enter any plea until the day of trial, April 6, 2000. Defendant then pled guilty and waived the right to a jury trial.

The prosecution presented the arresting officer as its only witness. The defense stipulated to the testimony of other witnesses. The prosecution rested and the defense called defendant to testify. Once the court swore him in, before any questioning began, defendant testified:

"[T]hey took my hearing aid from me because they had batteries and I wasn't allowed to hear [the prosecution's case]."

The court instructed defense counsel to question defendant in a loud voice, but the court made no inquiries about what defendant may have heard or missed of the prosecution's case. The court also made no effort to learn the extent of defendant's hearing difficulty. The court found defendant guilty as charged.

The presentence investigation disclosed that, due to a gunshot wound, defendant needed hearing aids for both ears. At the sentencing hearing the court asked defendant whether he wished to say anything. Counsel, on the record, repeated the invitation to defendant. The following colloquy ensued:

"THE COURT: Can you hear?

[Defense counsel]: He has a hard time hearing.

THE DEFENDANT: I'm deaf in one ear.

THE COURT: Did you hear what *** the State's Attorney[] said about you?

THE DEFENDANT: *** I heard some parts of it.

THE COURT: All right. Talk as loud as you want to."

Again, the court made no inquiry as to the extent of defendant's ability to hear or what arguments he may not have heard. The court did not even ask whether defendant had his hearing aids. The court listened patiently to defendant and sentenced him to nine years in prison. Defense counsel moved for a new trial, but ...


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