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People v. Kucharski

March 12, 2004


APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 01-CF-1091 Honorable Raymond J. McKoski, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Grometer


Defendant, Sean P. Kucharski, was convicted of controlled substance trafficking (720 ILCS 570/401.1 (West 2000)), following a bench trial in the circuit court of Lake County. Defendant was also convicted of three related counts that the trial court found arose from the same act. The trial court sentenced defendant to 16 years' imprisonment. Defendant now appeals, alleging two errors. First, he contends that testimony of medical personnel, as well as some evidence they recovered during the course of a surgery, should not have been presented at trial due to the physician-patient privilege (735 ILCS 5/8--802 (West 2000)). Second, he argues that he was not proven guilty of possessing over 200 grams of a controlled substance, for the substance was weighed while wet, which improperly elevated its weight. For the reasons that follow, we affirm as modified and remand for a new sentencing hearing.


To facilitate an understanding of this case, we will summarize the events leading up to defendant's conviction. However, as the issues raised by defendant are discrete, we will discuss details of the evidence presented at trial in the course of addressing defendant's arguments.

On March 29, 2001, defendant entered Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington and was attended to by Dr. Gia Compagnoni. An X ray revealed that he had numerous balloons in his digestive tract, and it appeared that defendant was suffering from an amphetamine overdose. Compagnoni eventually performed surgery to remove the balloons.

Officer Tim Gretz, of the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group, was present at Good Shepherd. He observed the surgery and had several communications throughout the day with medical personnel regarding defendant's condition. Following the surgery, he, along with medical personnel from Good Shepherd, collected and counted the balloons. Approximately 230 balloons were recovered. Subsequently, a number of the balloons were tested and determined to contain methylenadioxy-methamphetamine or MDMA, which is commonly known as ecstacy.

Gretz testified that he had been directed to Good Shepherd by his supervisor. After arriving, he spoke with Leroy Monroy, an officer from the North Central Narcotics Task Force. Monroy told him that there was a patient at the Northern Illinois Medical Center by the name of Charlotte Cox, who had apparently ingested a number of balloons filled with ecstacy. Monroy informed Gretz that, in the course of their investigation, they had learned that Cox knew defendant. Cox and defendant had recently returned from a trip to Amsterdam and both had gotten sick. At trial, Cox testified to details of the trip, including that the two had ingested a large number of balloons filled with ecstacy. Four medical personnel from Good Shepherd also testified at trial: Compagnoni; Jonathan Aristoza, a nurse who assisted in the operation; Carol Alfieri, an administrative nursing supervisor; and Margaret Ann Obenauf, a nurse who was working in the emergency room when defendant arrived.

Gretz also testified that he was in a scrub room adjacent to the operating room during the operation. There was a window between the two rooms. Gretz stated that he observed the entire surgery and saw Compagnoni remove numerous balloons from defendant's abdomen. Following the surgery, he, with the assistance of hospital personnel, counted the balloons. Gretz then took possession of them.

Prior to trial, defendant moved to exclude the testimony of the four medical personnel, as well as the physical evidence recovered during the operation. The trial court rejected defendant's request. Relying on People v. Torres, 144 Ill. App. 3d 187, 190-91 (1986), the trial court first concluded that defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the operating room. The trial court also relied on section 3.2 of the Criminal Identification Act (20 ILCS 2630/3.2 (West 2000)) in holding that the hospital had a duty to inform the police of defendant's condition. The trial court also held that the ecstacy was properly weighed while it was wet because that was the state in which it was taken from defendant. Defendant now appeals.


We will first address defendant's contention that evidence should have been excluded under the physician-patient privilege (735 ILCS 5/8--802 (West 2000)). We will then turn to the question of whether it was proper to weigh the ecstacy taken from defendant while it was wet. A. The Physician-Patient Privilege

Defendant raises two distinct arguments regarding the application of the physician-patient privilege. First, he argues that the personnel who were involved in his treatment at Good Shepherd should not have been allowed to testify at trial. Second, he contends that the physical evidence gathered during the course of his treatment should have been suppressed. We agree with his first point, but not his second. Furthermore, we hold that the error in allowing the medical personnel to testify was harmless.

Generally, a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence is entitled to significant deference and will be disturbed only if it is manifestly erroneous. People v. Murray, 137 Ill. 2d 382, 387 (1990). However, the relationship between the physician-patient privilege (735 ILCS 5/8--802 (West 2000)) and section 3.2 of the Criminal Identification Act (20 ILCS 2630/3.2 (West 2000)) presents a ...

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