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People v. Henry

April 17, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
JASON HENRY, APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice McMORROW

PUBLISHED

Docket No. 93602-Agenda 9-January 2003.

The principal issue presented in this appeal is whether certain statements made by the circuit court amounted to an acquittal, for double jeopardy purposes, under the reasoning set forth in People v. Williams, 188 Ill. 2d 293 (1999).

BACKGROUND

On September 3, 1996, defendant was charged in a juvenile petition with the offense of involuntary manslaughter (720 ILCS 5/9-3(a) (West 1996)). The petition alleged that defendant, who was 16 years old at that time, was a delinquent minor in that on September 2, 1996, he recklessly struck Curtis Hurlbut in the face, causing him to fall and strike his head on a concrete sidewalk, resulting in Hurlbut's death. Defendant, represented by the public defender, pled guilty to the allegations in the petition. As part of the plea agreement, the State agreed not to file any proceedings to transfer this matter to the adult criminal court. The circuit court of Madison County accepted defendant's guilty plea, adjudged defendant a delinquent minor, and, on October 30, 1996, committed defendant for an indeterminate period to the juvenile division of the Department of Corrections.

On November 13, 1996, defendant, represented by retained counsel, filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. In his motion, defendant alleged that he was not appraised of his rights in this matter prior to agreeing to plead guilty, and that he made the plea under duress due to the prosecutor's threats that he would be charged with murder as an adult if he did not plead guilty. In addition, defendant also alleged that the guilty plea was made despite the fact that no autopsy report or death certificate had been filed with respect to Hurlbut, which would allow defendant or his counsel to make an informed decision as to how to proceed in this matter. Finally, defendant further alleged that there were conflicting witness statements with respect to the events leading to Hurlbut's death, and that the evidence indicated that Hurlbut's death was accidental and not intentional. On December 31, 1996, the circuit court granted defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

On January 8, 1997, the State filed a motion, pursuant to section 5-4 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/5-4 (West 1996)), requesting that defendant be tried as an adult. The circuit court granted the State's motion on January 22, 1997, and transferred this matter to adult criminal court. On January 24, 1997, defendant was charged by information with the involuntary manslaughter of Curtis Hurlbut. Defendant was charged for this same offense by indictment on February 6, 1997. On March 9, 1998, the State filed an amended information, which, in addition to involuntary manslaughter, charged defendant with the offense of aggravated battery. Specifically, count II of the amended information alleged that defendant committed aggravated battery in that he committed a battery on a public way, being a public sidewalk, by striking Hurlbut in the face, in violation of section 12-4(b)(8) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/12-4(b)(8) (West 1996)).

On March 10, 1998, defendant's jury trial commenced. The State presented the testimony of two eyewitnesses who stated that defendant, on a dare, struck Hurlbut in the face with a closed fist. The witnesses further testified that at the time he was hit, Hurlbut was standing on a grassy lawn. However, as a result of the impact, Hurlbut fell backwards and struck his head on a concrete sidewalk. The State also presented the testimony of a law enforcement officer who arrived at the scene shortly after the incident. The officer found Hurlbut, still alive, lying face up, bleeding from the back of his head and his mouth. According to the officer, the lower part of Hurlbut's body was located on the grassy lawn, while the upper part of Hurlbut's body was on the sidewalk. Hurlbut was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he later died.

Defendant testified on his own behalf. According to defendant, Hurlbut had previously made comments that made defendant uneasy. According to defendant, on the date of Hurlbut's death, Hurlbut approached defendant and defendant became nervous. Defendant admitted striking Hurlbut and that Hurlbut thereafter fell to the ground and hit his head on the sidewalk. Defendant stated that Hurlbut's upper body-his shoulders and head-were on the sidewalk, while the lower portion of Hurlbut's body remained on the grassy lawn.

At the close of evidence, defense counsel moved for a directed verdict on both charged counts. With respect to the charge of aggravated battery in count II, defense counsel argued that the State had failed to prove that the victim was "on or about a public way," as required by section 12-4(b)(8) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/12-4(b)(8) (West 1996)), in that the State adduced no testimony that the battery was committed on the sidewalk. Defense counsel argued that the evidence showed that the victim was standing on the grass when he was hit, and that when he landed he was lying partially on the sidewalk and partially on the grass.

The circuit court denied defendant's motion for directed verdict as to the charge of involuntary manslaughter contained in count I. However, as to the aggravated battery charge contained in count II, the following colloquy occurred between the circuit court judge, the prosecutor, and defense counsel:

"THE COURT: "[C]learly, based on the evidence of the two eyewitnesses, even taking into account some distinction that [one witness] made as to [Hurlbut's] location being a little closer to the sidewalk, I don't believe we have any evidence that [Hurlbut] was on or about a public sidewalk, in that he was just simply up in the yard when this happened. So I'm going to grant the directed verdict as to Count II. Anything else while we are still on the record?

THE PROSECUTOR: Judge, I would ask for leave to appeal that ruling and let it go up.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Does that mean a mistrial here or-

THE PROSECUTOR: That's your option at this point in time whether you want to go on the other count or not, but I intend to appeal it and would notify the Court that I intend to appeal that.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Well, you can appeal Count II and we'll just go ahead and- well-

THE PROSECUTOR: Are you willing to sever them at this time?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: No, I'm not willing to sever them at this time. This puts us in a precarious position. I would ask for a moment or two recess to talk to my client.

THE COURT: Sure.

(A recess was held)

DEFENSE COUNSEL: For the record, Your Honor, first of all, it would appear to me that, and the Court will correct me if I'm wrong, but there is some good question whether or not the granting of a directed verdict is an appealable order. It certainly seems to me that it's a finding by the court that the defendant is not guilty. It's not a ruling on the-not a procedural ruling on the form of the indictment or the sufficiency of the information, it's a ruling that as a matter of law that the man is not guilty. So the last time I checked not guilty's are ...


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