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People v. Chavez

April 23, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Ralph Reyna, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson


On November 10, 1998, at about 9:00 p.m., a car pulled up next to where Francisco Rodriguez and John Sparks were walking. A man in the car asked them: "Who's got the weed?" When the two men stopped and looked toward the car, the man who asked the question fired a gun at them four or five times. Rodriguez was struck in the head, fatally.

Defendant Raul Chavez was arrested three days later. He was tried before a jury for the first degree murder of Rodriguez. He was found guilty of that charge and sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Chavez raises several issues in this appeal, but we focus only on one of them: his claim that he was denied the opportunity to question the bias and motive of a police officer who testified to an oral statement made by Chavez. Because we find Chavez's constitutionally protected right of cross-examination was violated in this case, we reverse Chavez's conviction and remand this cause for a new trial.



Chavez filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence recovered during a search of his car. He filed a separate motion to quash his arrest and suppress a photo album recovered by police officers when they searched the room in which he was arrested. The trial court held a hearing on both motions. Detective Wojcik of the Chicago Police Department was the only person who testified during the hearing.

Wojcik was assigned to investigate the murder of Francisco Rodriguez. Between the time of the shooting and the time of Chavez's arrest, Wojcik interviewed approximately 15 people; five were eyewitnesses. Several witnesses identified Chavez as the shooter.

On November 13, 1998, at about 4:45 p.m., Gang Crimes Specialist Joseph Merinowski told Wojcik that Chavez was at 2939 North Monitor Street, his sister's house. Chavez was preparing to flee to Mexico. Wojcik headed right over and arrived at the address within 15 to 20 minutes.

When Wojcik arrived, he saw a Ford Explorer matching the description of the car witnesses had said belonged to Chavez. Wojcik "ran" the plates on the Explorer and learned it was registered to an address Chavez had used as his residence. The Explorer was fitted with hand controls so that a person in a wheelchair could drive the car.

Wojcik went to the front of the residence and knocked on the door. A boy, approximately 10 years old, answered. Wojcik said "Police" and asked if Chavez was there. The boy stepped back, opened the door, and said Chavez was in the back. Wojcik and other officers entered the home and found Chavez seated in his wheelchair, two girls in the room. Wojcik told Chavez he was under arrest.

Chavez said the room was not his and the house was not his; the house belonged to his sister. When asked, Chavez admitted he had been sleeping in that room while staying at his sister's house. No one said anything to Wojcik about not wanting the police in the house.

After Wojcik told Chavez he was under arrest and advised him of his rights, Wojcik also asked Chavez if the officers could look around the room. Chavez responded he did not mind. Wojcik recovered a photo album that was on the dresser of the bedroom, which was about four or five feet from where Chavez was seated. The photo album contained what Wojcik referred to as "gang photographs."

Officers were posted to watch Chavez's car. A tow of the car was ordered.

Chavez was taken to the police station. Police officers interviewed him briefly, then asked him whether police could search his car. Chavez consented and signed a consent-to-search form.

At about 8:00 p.m., after Chavez signed the consent, Wojcik returned to the house and searched Chavez's car. It had not yet been towed. Wojcik testified he took items out of the car but did not describe these items. Wojcik did not have a warrant for the search or seizure of the car, for the search of the room, or for Chavez's arrest.

Chavez stipulated that the police had probable cause to arrest him.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the court disagreed with Chavez's position that the car had been seized the moment the officers were posted to guard it and the tow was ordered. The court found Chavez gave consent to search the vehicle. With respect to the entry into the home, the court found Chavez gave the officers consent to enter the room and to look around the room. The court then denied both motions to suppress.


Nicole Rafael and Athena Pagan testified for the State, giving similar accounts of the shooting. On the evening of November 10, 1998, Pagan and Rafael were at a wake for Shorty, a member of the Latin Eagles gang. At the time, Pagan was dating Cesar Diaz, also a member of the Latin Eagles.

Nicole Figueroa, Julio Rivera, Victor Orta, and Chavez were present at the wake. Rivera, Orta, and Chavez were members of the Latin Eagles. ...

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