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People v. Brexton

September 19, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES A. BREXTON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Stephenson County. No. 01-CF-135 Honorable Charles R. Hartman, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Bowman

UNPUBLISHED

Modified Upon Denial of Rehearing

In 2001, following a jury trial, defendant, James A. Brexton, was convicted of escape (720 ILCS 5/31--6(c) (West 2000)). Because his conviction qualified as a Class X felony, the court sentenced him to six years' imprisonment. He now appeals his conviction.

The following was adduced at trial. On June 3, 2001, in Freeport, police officer Fred Cass responded to a dispatch indicating that a suspected shoplifter was on a bicycle behind the local K mart store. When Cass arrived on the scene, he saw defendant standing behind the store with a bicycle between his legs. He then observed defendant putting something, later discovered to be a DVD player, into an Aldi shopping bag . Cass arrested defendant for retail theft.

Following the arrest, Cass turned defendant over to police officer Aaron Dykema to transport him to the Freeport police department. After handcuffing defendant and bringing him to the station, Dykema commenced the usual booking procedures.

After booking defendant, Dykema placed defendant in a holding room. He left defendant in the room by himself and walked across the hall to obtain a Miranda waiver form, because he intended to ask defendant to make a statement. When he returned to the holding room, defendant was not there. Defendant had left the station. About a week later, Officer Cass saw defendant and a foot chase ensued. Cass arrested him and defendant was subsequently charged with escape.

At trial, defendant's counsel attempted to question Cass regarding his reasons for arresting defendant. After the State's objection, defendant's counsel argued that it was necessary to elicit Cass's reasoning to determine if probable cause existed to take defendant into custody. The court sustained the State's objection, ruling that the determination of whether probable cause existed was a question of law for the court to decide. Then, during closing arguments, defendant's counsel attempted to argue that the State was required to prove that defendant was in custody for the commission of a felony. The court again upheld the State's objection, ruling that it was not an element of the offense of escape.

On appeal, defendant contends that the court erred by denying him the opportunity at trial to question Officer Cass regarding the existence of probable cause to effectuate an arrest. He also argues that the State was required to prove as an element of the crime of escape that defendant was in custody for the commission of a felony. Last, he asserts that he was denied a fair trial because the jury saw him in leg irons before he took the stand to testify. We affirm.

Defendant was convicted of escape under section 31--6(c) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Code) (720 ILCS 5/31--6(c) (West 2000)). Section 31--6(c) states:

"A person in the lawful custody of a peace officer for the alleged commission of a felony offense and who intentionally escapes from custody commits a Class 2 felony; however, a person in the lawful custody of a peace officer for the alleged commission of a misdemeanor offense and who intentionally escapes from custody commits a Class A misdemeanor." 720 ILCS 5/31--6(c) (West 2000).

Because defendant challenges the court's construction of section 31-- 6(c), our review in this matter is de novo. People v. Hart, 313 Ill. App. 3d 939, 941 (2000).

First, defendant argues that the phrase "lawful custody" in section 31--6(c) requires the State to show that the arresting officer possessed probable cause to take defendant into custody. He maintains that the element of "lawful custody" is synonymous with probable cause and that proving this element of escape requires a jury finding of the existence of probable cause. Thus, he believes that his counsel should have been allowed the opportunity to question Officer Cass regarding his reasons for arresting defendant.

Defendant did not challenge the legality of his arrest by filing a motion to suppress. We note that defendant has not asked us to decide if his arrest was illegal. Moreover, we have not been asked to decide whether defendant's conviction would be void as a consequence of an illegal arrest on the underlying offense of retail theft. Rather, defendant has raised a more limited set of questions, namely, whether the State had a burden to demonstrate that probable cause existed when defendant was taken into custody ...


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