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People v. Owens

December 27, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
YUSEF OWENS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Frank Zelezinski, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Reid

UNPUBLISHED

Following a bench trial, Yusef Owens (Owens) was convicted of reckless driving. 625 ILCS 5/11-503 (West 2000). Owens claims the trial court conducted the bench trial without first admonishing him of his right to a jury trial and without getting a valid jury waiver before proceeding. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the trial court's judgment and remand for a new trial consistent with the views expressed herein.

BACKGROUND

The misdemeanor complaint alleged that Owens, with a wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property, drove over the curb and onto the easement, swerved from side to side, and nearly struck several parked vehicles. The complaint also alleged that Owens, when boxed in by police vehicles, placed his car in reverse and struck one of the police cars in an attempt to flee. The other complaints included charges for having no valid front license plate, failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, driving under the influence of alcohol, operating an uninsured motor vehicle, and driving on an expired driver's license.

The record shows that the trial court called the case but passed it because Owens' attorney was not present. When the case was recalled, the following exchange took place, after which the trial took place without further objection:

"THE COURT: Mr. Owens, did I previously admonish you of a jury-

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: All right. I thought I did."

At the close of the State's case in chief, Owens moved for a directed finding on all charges. The trial court granted the motion as to the driving under the influence charge but denied the motion as to the reckless driving charge and the other minor charges. At the end of the trial, the court found Owens guilty of reckless driving and the other minor charges. He was sentenced to 20 days in the Cook County Department of Corrections for the reckless driving and fined on the other minor charges, the incarceration satisfying all previous fines. His notice of appeal only makes reference to the judgment of guilt of reckless driving entered on December 18, 2000.

Owens argues that the trial court deprived him of his constitutional right to a jury trial by not admonishing him as to the right to a jury trial. Owens claims that the trial court failed to secure a knowing, voluntary, intelligent jury waiver. Owens admits he did not include this issue in a motion for a new trial, but he now argues that it should be reviewed by this court under the plain error doctrine because the error is of such a magnitude that it denied him a fair trial.

Owens argues error because the United States and Illinois Constitutions guarantee the right to a trial by jury, yet there is no proof in the record of a knowing, intelligent jury trial waiver. Here the colloquy between the trial court and the defendant is incomplete. It makes reference to some prior conversation having something to do with a jury, but the language is no more illuminating than that. Beyond that incomplete, unclear colloquy, the transcript of proceedings in the record is silent. The common law record does not contain a signed, written jury waiver. It does contain notations on the half-sheet and the order of sentence and commitment to the Department of Corrections suggesting that jury trial was waived.

The State responds that the issue has been waived by Owens' failure to preserve it below. The State argues that plain error review is not called for because the evidence is neither closely balanced nor is the error of such a magnitude that the defendant was denied a fair trial. The State argues that the evidence of intoxication, reckless driving, running up on the curb and grass easement, stopping the car in the middle of the street, and almost striking the parked cars is overwhelming evidence of guilt. The State also argues that opting for a bench trial should be considered a knowing waiver of the right to a jury because Owens was represented by counsel. The State further argues that the implication of the notation on the ...


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