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People v. Brown

November 5, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
WILLIAM BROWN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 99 CR 9231 Honorable Fred G. Suria, Jr., Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cerda

Defendant, William Brown, contends on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion in coercing the parties to use the mere-fact method of impeachment and that his 20-year sentence is excessive.

Defendant was charged in a four-count indictment with residential burglary, aggravated battery, and two counts of home invasion. The residential burglary count was nol-prossed prior to trial. Following a jury trial, defendant was found guilty of home invasion and aggravated battery. The trial court merged the aggravated battery count and sentenced defendant to 20 years in prison for home invasion. Upon finding that defendant's actions caused the victim great bodily harm, the court noted defendant would be required to serve 85% of his sentence.

BACKGROUND

Prior to trial, defense counsel filed a motion in limine to exclude any evidence of defendant's 1983 convictions for rape and armed robbery, for which he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The defense argued that introduction of the crimes would cause defendant extreme prejudice due to the similarity between the prior armed robbery and the current home invasion charges. The State responded that pursuant to People v. Montgomery, 47 Ill. 2d 510 (1971), it was entitled to introduce defendant's prior crimes to impeach his credibility should he choose to testify at trial. The trial court found that, if defendant testified, the State would be entitled to reveal the fact that defendant received a felony conviction in 1983, but could not expose the nature of the crimes. The court specifically stated:

"This has been revisited within the last year and a half by the Supreme Court of Illinois. Unfortunately, in my judgment, they have said that if there is to be use of a prior conviction for the purpose of credibility only, that the basis of a conviction must be mentioned. I had always felt -- and where the Defendant asked not to have the nature of the charge revealed, I would not reveal it. Simply that there was a conviction in such-and-such a year, and that would be it. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, in a divided opinion, indicated that should not occur. The crime itself should be shown.

And we come to the second question, does it meet all the parameters of Montgomery. As you pointed out, Mr. Bellendir, it does. That means the last question for the Court, as to whether or not the probative value outweighs the prejudicial value -- at this point in time I don't know if the Defendant's going to be testifying or not and whether or not it's going to be an issue of credibility or whether or not it's an issue of fact that both sides agree on and whether or not those facts constitute a violation of the law as alleged by the State.

I would do this: If a defendant can give up his right, constitutional right to trial by jury, or constitutional right to remain silent, or constitutional right to have counsel, it seems to me that he ought to be able to give up the right as to whether or not if I permit the use of a prior felony and I eliminate the nature of the charge, accordingly, therefore, if your client -- I will be permitting the State to use the prior conviction. It is appropriate. They are entitled by case law. It does meet all the criteria set forth in the prior case. And if the Defendant requests that I not include the nature of the charge, over the State's vehement objection, I will not allow them to do so. I will allow them just to show that there was a conviction on such-and-such a date.

Mr. Brown, understanding I will be allowing the State to use the prior conviction, if you request it, I will deny the State their right to use the nature of the crime.

DEFENDANT BROWN: Yes, absolutely."

Following jury selection, the court clarified its position, stating:

"[Defendant's 1983 conviction] does fall within the ambit of the Montgomery decision. The issue therefore for the Court to decide is whether or not the prejudicial effect outweighs the probative value. In this case I am advised, although I don't know what the facts are or the allegations other than what the stark allegations are, there will be an issue of credibility that it would be appropriate for the State to use that to challenge the credibility of the defendant if he sees fit to take the stand based upon the Montgomery rule.

However, if I follow the Supreme Court rule [sic] opinion which means that the nature of the offense should also be indicated to the jury I would be weighing that and find that the prejudicial value would outweigh the probative effect.

I will however if there's an agreement between the parties I will allow it for the purpose of credibility only if the State sees fit to offer just the fact that it's a felony conviction. Otherwise I'll exercise my judgment and find that the prejudicial value outweighs the probative value.

So I need an answer from the State as to how they wish to handle it.

MS. LANAHAN: Judge, the State will -- if the defendant chooses to testify the State will offer the conviction without the *** offense being named.

THE COURT: And my reason for doing it was as I stated before I believe it's within the State's province to indicate where there is an issue of credibility there has been a felony conviction. He is not a middle-aged defendant who has no prior record.

On the other hand, the prejudicial effect of indicating the nature of the offense of which we speak in my judgment would outweigh the probative value and that's the reason I would be denying it if the State insisted on showing the nature of the offense.

Since they're agreeing not to do so I would permit the State to use the prior conviction in the event the defendant takes the stand as simply a felony conviction for the purpose of credibility only.

MS. LANAHAN: Judge, so the record is clear the State feels it's well within their right to use the conviction as well as the offense charged, but based on Your Honor's ruling we will abide by just giving the conviction without naming it."

At trial, Corliss Garrett testified that she lived in apartment 608 at 1246 West Pratt Avenue in Chicago. Around 7:30 p.m. on March 12, 1999, she was in her apartment and heard loud music and noise coming from the apartment directly above her. Garrett went upstairs to ask the neighbors, one of whom she knew as Luis, to be more quiet. Luis and his roommate denied there was any noise coming from their apartment. Garrett returned to her apartment, but the noise continued. She ...


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