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People v. Bracey

December 10, 2003


Appeal from Circuit Court of Livingston No. 02CF18 Honorable Harold J. Frobish, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Myerscough


In July 2000, the trial court found defendant, Ernest Bracey, guilty of aggravated battery (720 ILCS 5/12-4(b)(6) (West 2000)). In August 2000, the court sentenced defendant to two years' imprisonment to run consecutive to the sentence he was then serving. Defendant appeals, arguing that (1) his rights to a jury trial and due process of law were violated when the court proceeded with a bench trial without any indication that he knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his right to a jury trial; and (2) he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We affirm.


In February 2002, the grand jury indicted defendant for committing aggravated battery to a correctional institutional employee who was engaged in the execution of his official duties. 720 ILCS 5/ 12-4(b)(6) (West 2000). On March 6, 2002, defendant made his first appearance, and the trial court appointed counsel for defendant. On March 20, 2002, defendant's counsel informed the court that defendant wished to waive his right to a jury trial. The court admonished defendant that he had a right to a jury trial. Defendant executed a written jury waiver, and the court found defendant's waiver to be knowing and voluntary.

In April 2002, the trial court conducted a bench trial. The State presented its evidence and rested. Defense counsel then stated that he did not wish to present any evidence. The court found defendant guilty of aggravated battery and asked defendant if he had any questions. Defendant indicated that he never stated that he did not want to testify. He wanted to "tell [his] side of the story." The court found that it should have inquired of defendant whether he wanted to testify, vacated its guilty finding, and set the matter for trial in front of another judge.

On July 17, 2002, the trial court called defendant's case, and the following transpired:

"THE COURT: This is [No.] 02-CF-18. Mr. Jackson for the State. Defendant with Mr. Ahlemeyer. Cause comes on for bench trial. I just verified to be sure that there was a jury waiver taken, I see that there was by Judge Frobish back on March 20 of 2002. So anything, Mr. Jackson, before we start with the evidence?

MR. JACKSON [Assistant State's Attorney]: No, [y]our Honor.

THE COURT: Mr. Ahlemeyer?

MR. AHLEMEYER [defense counsel]: No, [y]our Honor."

The State then called its first witness, John Deal. Deal testified that he had been a correctional officer at Pontiac Correctional Center (Pontiac) since September 2000. On November 30, 2000, Deal was escorting an inmate from the library back to his cell at approximately 12:15 p.m. Deal always positions the inmate that he escorts farthest away from the cell. For example, if the door is on the left, he places the inmate on the right, and he usually is approximately 1 1/2 to 2 feet behind the inmate. As he passed defendant's cell, he was splashed with a liquid substance that smelled like apple juice. The substance hit him in the left arm. He was somewhat disturbed because he wanted to determine whether anything harmful was in the substance. He further testified that he was insulted by the incident, which was something that did not occur on a regular basis. Deal concluded that the liquid was directed at the inmate he was escorting because the majority of the liquid splashed on the inmate but some of the liquid had also splashed on him.

Defendant's cell door was perforated steel with holes approximately an inch in diameter and an eighth of an inch apart through which defendant can look. Deal testified that if an inmate looks out the cell, he can see six or seven cells down and can see someone walking fairly clearly. Deal further testified that defendant said that the liquid was not meant for Deal.

Jack Libby, a correctional officer at Pontiac, testified that he investigated the incident involving Deal and defendant. Defendant admitted to Libby that defendant struck Deal with a liquid substance, but he stated that it was an accident. Defendant was trying to hit the inmate Deal was escorting. The State rested.

Defendant testified that he threw some apple juice through his perforated cell door. He did not intend to hit Deal. Defendant admitted that he thought that the juice might "splash on [Deal]," but defendant did not know for sure whether it would. On cross-examination, defendant admitted that he was aware that the correctional officer would have been walking pretty close behind the inmate being escorted. Defendant also admitted that he knew that if he threw apple juice through his cell door that it might hit the correctional officer because of where the correctional officer would have been in relation to the inmate.

The defense rested. After closing arguments, the trial court found defendant guilty of aggravated battery. Specifically, the court stated:

"From the evidence, no question, [defendant] knew that the officer would be with [the inmate] as the defendant testified[.] *** [A]s the defendant himself said on direct he thought it might splash on Deal. But he really intended--or not intended--he wanted to hit [the inmate], but he knew it might splash on Deal. ***

I mean, that is a fact that [defendant] had to be--had to be consciously aware of. Like he even said, it might have splashed. He wasn't even worried about it, didn't pass through his mind. So I would think given those facts, a person would be consciously aware of it, it is going to hit the guy next to him right behind the inmate and it did."

After the sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced defendant as stated.

This appeal ...

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