Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Vanessa A. Hopkins, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson
William Stokes sued the City of Chicago for injuries he said he sustained when his foot caught in a hole in the sidewalk at 656 North Green Street. Throughout the trial the City insisted it had the right to impeach Stokes's credibility with his three prior burglary convictions. The trial court was equally insistent that the City had no such right.
The jury found in favor of Stokes, awarding him $30,000 in damages. The single issue in this appeal is whether the trial court committed reversible error when it refused to allow the City to impeach Stokes.
Because the City raises only the impeachment issue, we merely sketch the evidence presented at trial.
At the time of trial, in February of 2001, Stokes was an inmate at the Vienna Correctional Center in Vienna, Illinois. The trial court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus permitted Stokes to appear at trial, where he was allowed to wear civilian clothes.
He had been convicted of burglary three times: (1) August 23, 1993; (2) April 7, 1998; and (3) July 5, 2000. In a pretrial ruling, the trial court granted Stokes's motion to bar any impeachment use of his burglary convictions. The trial court found -- before, during, and after trial -- that there was no issue concerning Stokes's "honesty." That is, said the court, "that's saying he's testified to something, and then there was an observer, another fact witness who testified to something else."
The trial court rejected the City's suggestion that there are other ways a party's credibility can be brought into question, concluding: "The Court finds that its prejudicial effect outweighs its probative value."
At trial, Stokes testified that on September 15, 1993, he was living at 467 West Oak Street with Martha Sallay and their five children. During the day, the children were at school, Sallay was at work, and Stokes was at home because he was laid off from his job at a fast food restaurant.
After the children returned home from school, Stokes went to a basketball court to play with friends. Sallay met him there some time later, then they went home to eat dinner. After dinner and after putting their children to bed, just after 9:00 p.m., Stokes and Sallay went for their regular walk in their neighborhood. They walked at a strolling pace. Stokes was wearing low-top gym shoes.
After Stokes and Sallay had been walking for about 25 or 30 minutes they were on North Green Street. Although Stokes saw there were no street lights in the area, he and Sallay continued to walk down the 600 block of North Green Street. The street was dark; neither the moon nor the buildings in the area offered any illumination. Stokes said he never walked down North Green Street before that night.
Sallay held Stokes's right arm as they walked down North Green Street. As they walked, some people came near them on the same side of the street. He did not see the people until they were very near to them. When the people got close to Stokes and Sallay, he jerked Sallay close to him and moved over and away from the people. He did not know the people who were coming close to them.
As the strangers passed Stokes and Sallay, Stokes's foot caught in a hole in the concrete of the sidewalk. Stokes's foot went into the hole up to the bottom of his ankle bone and his heel hit something hard. When he tried to pull his foot out, he fell over. As he fell over, he heard something crack in his foot.
After Stokes fell, he tried to stand but could not. The pain was too much. Sallay left to get help and Stokes moved himself to some steps that were about 20 to 25 feet away from where he fell. Before Sallay returned, an ambulance arrived. The ...