The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kilbride
Docket No. 91464-Agenda 6-May 2002.
In this case, we consider for the first time whether, in a criminal bench trial, the State may present evidence relating to a witness' polygraph examination "for a limited purpose" if that purpose has not been established prior to the admission of the evidence. We hold that it cannot.
Defendant, Lamont Jackson, was indicted in the circuit court of Cook County on several charges, including first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2), (a)(3) (West 1992)) and attempted armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/8-4, 18-2 (West 1992)). During defendant's bench trial, the State elicited polygraph testimony from one of its witnesses. Over defense counsel's objection, the trial court admitted the evidence "for a limited purpose" despite the absence of a legally valid purpose at that time.
The trial court subsequently found defendant guilty of first degree murder and attempted armed robbery. Defendant appealed, and the appellate court held that although it was error to admit the polygraph evidence, the error was harmless because the evidence had been considered by the trial court "for a limited purpose." 321 Ill. App. 3d 498, 505-06.
We allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315) and now reverse and remand the cause for a new trial based on the improper admission of the polygraph evidence.
Defendant and Jessie Williford were indicted on several charges, including first degree murder and attempted armed robbery, related to the July 13, 1996, death of a female shopper at Tops and Bottoms, a retail clothing store in Chicago. Williford initially denied any involvement in the crime, but after being confronted with the results of his polygraph test, he confessed in a court-reported statement, naming defendant as the shooter. In December 1998, Williford entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 25 years for the murder and 4 years for the attempted armed robbery.
In his court-reported statement to police, Williford claimed that he was driving with defendant on July 13, 1996, when defendant showed him a black semiautomatic pistol in his waistband. Williford then suggested robbing a store to get some money, and defendant agreed. The two men discussed their respective roles in the robbery: defendant would pull out the gun and yell "stick up" while Williford got the money from the cash register and gave it to defendant.
According to Williford, the men then drove to Trak Auto, where Williford remained in the car while defendant made some purchases. After defendant returned to the car, the two men decided to rob Tops and Bottoms, a retail clothing store. At some point after entering the store, defendant looked toward the back and raised his pistol. Williford, who was standing in another aisle, looked and saw a man near the back of the store. Williford then ducked and heard shots being fired behind him from defendant's position. When the shooting stopped, Williford ran to his grandmother's house.
Williford's statement concluded with averments that he had been treated well by the police and the assistant State's Attorney and that he had no complaints. In addition, he stated that he was not threatened or promised anything in exchange for his statement. Finally, Williford indicated that he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time and that the facts provided in the statement were true.
As for defendant, he initially denied any involvement in the crime. Later, he gave the police an inculpatory statement that was generally consistent with Williford's statement, but named Williford as the shooter.
Defendant subsequently waived his right to a jury trial. At defendant's bench trial, the State called Williford as a witness. On direct examination, Williford denied making any deals with the State's Attorney's office in exchange for his testimony. He then gave testimony contradicting his prior inculpatory statement to police, insisting that neither he nor defendant had been in Tops and Bottoms on the day of the homicide and denying any involvement in a plan to rob the store. In response to this testimony, the State asked Williford whether he had taken a polygraph test and been told by the examiner that he was a "liar" just prior to making his inculpatory statement.
Defendant's counsel objected, arguing that Williford's polygraph examination was immaterial to defendant's case. The State countered that while polygraph evidence was inadmissible against defendant, it was admissible to show the "course of conduct" leading to Williford's prior inculpatory statement to the police. The trial court admitted the evidence, stating that it would be considered "for a limited purpose."
The State continued to question Williford about the polygraph test, and Williford indicated that after he had been confronted with the negative polygraph results, he admitted his involvement in the crime and implicated defendant as the shooter. He also acknowledged that he had changed his story "plenty of times." In addition, Williford claimed that he gave his statement "for his safety" and that he was suffering from severe heroin withdrawal and the police had promised to free him and not pursue first degree murder charges if he implicated defendant.
Defendant testified in his own defense, specifically denying any involvement in the attempted armed robbery and homicide at Tops and Bottoms or even being in the store that day. He maintained that he gave an inculpatory statement only after he had received a number of improper threats from the police and the assistant State's Attorney. According to defendant, these threats included charging him with first degree murder based on Williford's statement to the police and barring him from ever seeing his children again unless he implicated himself in the crime and named Williford as the shooter.
The State also presented testimony from a detective who had interviewed both defendant and Williford, as well as the assistant State's Attorneys who had taken the inculpatory statements from the two men. Each of these witnesses denied using any threats, false promises, or other improper inducements to obtain statements from either defendant or Williford. They also denied advising defendant to protect himself by admitting his involvement in the robbery and naming Williford as the shooter. Furthermore, they maintained that the two men were treated well and never complained about their well-being or treatment while in police custody.
After considering the testimony of the witnesses and the arguments of the parties, the trial judge found defendant guilty of first degree murder and attempted armed robbery, sentencing him to 50 years in prison for the murder and 15 years in prison for the attempted armed ...