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People v. Harris

August 23, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MACK HARRIS, A/K/A CORTILLAS HARRIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Preston L. Bowie, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice O'mara Frossard

UNPUBLISHED

Following a bench trial, defendant Mack Harris, was convicted of two counts of violating the duty-to-register provision of the Sex Offender Registration Act (Act) (730 ILCS 150/6 (West 2000)): (1) by failing to notify the Chicago police department of a change in address within 10 days; and (2) by failing to report to the police within one year of registering as a sex offender. He was sentenced to probation for 12 months with the condition that he obtain a State identification card, social security card and register his address. We find the State failed to prove defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We reverse defendant's convictions.

BACKGROUND

Officer Davis, from the Chicago police department, testified that on April 11, 2001, he observed the defendant smoking a cigarette on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Rapid Transit platform at 303 West 63rd Street. Officer Davis wrote defendant a citation for violating the ordinance which prohibits smoking on the train platform. Defendant gave his home address as 6040 South Harper. After checking defendant's name by computer, Officer Davis and his partner took defendant into custody. Area 1 detectives from the sex offender registration unit were contacted.

Detective Redfield from the sex offender registration unit testified that defendant's registration card from August 2, 2000 indicated he resided at 1939 West 59th Street. Detective Redfield further testified that after advising defendant of his Miranda rights, she had a conversation with defendant on April 11, 2001. When she asked defendant where he was living, "He stated that he was currently living at 6040 South Harper, apartment 909 and he had been staying there over a month." When asked what she had done to corroborate this information, she stated that she contacted the probation unit and was told that defendant had been staying at 6040 South Harper "for some time."

Officer Karadjias from the sex offender registration unit testified that defendant reported to his unit on August 2, 2000, filled out a sex offender registration form and gave his address as 1939 West 59th Street. As of the date when Officer Karadjias testified, July 25, 2001 defendant had not returned to register.

It was stipulated by the State and defense that on February 8, 1996, defendant was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault in case number 95 CR 13498.

The trial court found defendant guilty of both counts for violating the duty-to-register provision of the Sex Offender Registration Act (730 ILCS 150/6 (West 2000)). Regarding count I of the indictment, defendant contends on appeal that the State violated the corpus delicti rule in that the State failed to prove defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because the only evidence of defendant's change in address was his uncorroborated statement to the police. Under count II of the indictment, the defendant contends that the State's evidence was insufficient to prove that he failed to report to the police within one year of registering as a sex offender.

I. SHOULD CORROBORATION COMPONENT OF CORPUS DELICTI RULE BE ELIMINATED?

Defendant argues that he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because his conviction under count I of the indictment was based on an uncorroborated confession, in violation of the corpus delicti rule. We note there is no contention by the defendant that the incriminating statement made to the police was involuntary. The State, relying on People v. Schott, 145 Ill. 2d 188 (1991), argues that the only standard of review to be employed in a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence is whether, when considering all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, a rational fact finder could have found all of the elements of the offense proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The State contends that the corroboration component of the corpus delicti rule is inconsistent with that standard of review and should be eliminated.

To sustain a conviction, the State must prove the following: (1) a crime occurred, i.e., the corpus delicti; and (2) the crime was committed by the person charged. People v. Cloutier, 156 Ill. 2d 483, 503 (1993). In a case where the defendant's confession or admission is part of the proof of the corpus delicti, the State must also provide corroborating evidence independent of the defendant's confession or admission. Cloutier, 156 Ill. 2d at 503. In providing corroborating evidence under the corpus delicti rule:

"[I]f the independent evidence tends to prove that an offense occurred, then such evidence, if corroborative of the facts contained in the confession, may be considered along with the confession in establishing the corpus delicti. In such event, the independent evidence need not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that an offense did occur." People v. Willingham, 89 Ill. 2d 352, 361 (1982).

In support of the State's argument that the corroboration component of the corpus delicti rule should be eliminated, the State relies on People v. Dalton, 91 Ill. 2d 22 (1982), which we find distinguishable. In Dalton, the defendant was charged with indecent liberties with a child. The defendant argued that his age was an element of the corpus delicti of indecent liberties with a child and, therefore, the State was required to produce evidence corroborating defendant's statement to the police as to his age. As in this case, the State in Dalton contended that corroboration under the corpus delicti rule should be abandoned. In support of eliminating the corroboration component of the corpus delicti rule, the State in Dalton argued that a defendant's admission of his age is an inherently reliable statement and is, therefore, admissible to establish corpus delicti without corroboration. Dalton, 91 Ill. 2d at 28.

Regarding the corroboration component of the corpus delicti rule, the Dalton court noted as follows:

"The corroboration rule was the result of an historical mistrust of extra-judicial confessions. Two reasons for this mistrust have commonly been cited: confessions are unreliable if coerced; and, for various psychological reasons persons 'confess' to crimes that either have never occurred or for which they are not legally responsible. [Citations.] Although the rule has been criticized and its elimination urged [citations], we remain unconvinced that it should be completely abandoned." Dalton, 91 Ill. 2d at 29-30, citing Willingham, 89 Ill. 2d at 358.

Whether the statement by the defendant regarding his age was admissible without corroboration, the court in Dalton noted: "An admission of one's birth date is not subject to the peculiar perceptions or recollections of a defendant who is under the psychological pressures of an arrest or indictment. [Citation.] It appears to be inherently more reliable than a statement of what one did, or saw, or heard, or thought because it is a statement of an immutable characteristic. In this regard it is much more similar to personal characteristics such as fingerprints, handwriting, blood type or voice pattern. Unlike these latter characteristics, which might tend to prove an element of a crime, in this case, the characteristic itself, without more, is an element of the crime. We do not believe that this distinction requires application of the corroboration rule. Accordingly we hold that the statement was admissible without corroboration." Dalton, 91 Ill. 2d 22 at 30.

In this case, defendant was charged in count I with failing to register a change of address within 10 days as required by the Sex Offender Registration Act (730 ILCS 150/6 (West 2000)). Specifically, count I of the indictment alleged that defendant "having been previously convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault under case number 95 CR 13498 in 1996 and, thus, required to register under the Sex Offender Registration Act, changed his residence address and failed to report in writing to the law enforcement agency with whom he last registered, to wit: the Chicago Police Department, within 10 days of such change of address." To sustain a conviction for a violation of section 6 of the Sex Offender Registration Act the State was required to prove the following: (1) defendant was previously convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault; (2) defendant changed his residence address; (3) defendant failed to report the change; (4) in writing to the Chicago police department; (5) within 10 days of such change of address. See 730 ILCS 150/6 (West 2000).

We further note that each element of the alleged violation of the Act is required to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 316, 61 L. Ed. 2d 560, 571, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 2787 (1979). Changing the residence address and residing at the new address in excess of 10 days are two of the five elements the State is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to sustain a conviction against defendant for violation of the Act. Under the terms of the Act, a sex offender has 10 days to report a change in residence address. Failure to report the change within 10 days is a violation of the Act. Therefore, a change in defendant's residence address and the amount of time he resided at the new address are critical elements for the State to prove to sustain a conviction for violation of the Act. The statements made by the defendant were offered by the State to prove both of these elements.

We note that defendant's statement regarding his change in residence address is a statement regarding what defendant did, namely, change residences. Moreover, the statement by defendant as to how long he resided at the address he gave to the police is also a statement of what he did. The Dalton court distinguished a statement by a defendant regarding what he did from a statement by a defendant regarding his age. The Dalton court found a statement by a defendant regarding his age to be inherently more reliable than a defendant's statement of what he did because it was a statement of an immutable characteristic. Dalton, 91 Ill. 2d at 30. Although age was an element of the corpus delicti of indecent liberties with a child, Dalton did not require corroboration for defendant's statement as to his age because such a statement of an immutable characteristic was inherently reliable. Dalton, 91 Ill. 2d at 29. As the Dalton court recognized, unlike a defendant's statement regarding his age, a defendant's statement of what he did is not inherently reliable because it is not a statement of an immutable characteristic but, rather, is a statement subject to the peculiar perceptions or recollections of a defendant. Dalton, 91 Ill. 2d at 30.

We conclude, in the factual context of this case, that defendant's statement regarding a change of residence address and his statement as to how long he resided at the new address are not statements regarding immutable characteristics but, rather, statements regarding what defendant did and as such are subject to the peculiar perceptions or recollections of the defendant. Such statements involve admissions by the defendant as to what he did and, unlike an admission regarding age, are not inherently reliable. See, Dalton, 91 Ill. 2d at 29-30. We reject the State's request to eliminate the corroboration component of the corpus delicti rule, as the incriminating statements made by defendant and relied upon by the State to sustain defendant's conviction under count I are neither inherently reliable nor statements of immutable characteristics. Here, the defendant's confession or admissions are part of the proof of the corpus delicti. We, therefore, hold the State must provide corroborating evidence independent of the defendant's admission regarding the new address where he was currently living and independent of defendant's admission as to how long he had been staying at the new address.

As previously noted, that corroborating evidence need not establish the corpus delicti beyond a reasonable doubt. Willingham, 89 Ill. 2d at 359. The independent evidence need not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that an offense occurred; however, if it is corroborative of the facts contained in the confession, the independent evidence may be considered together with the confession in proving the corpus delicti. Willingham, 89 Ill. 2d at 361. Under the facts of this case, for the reasons ...


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