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People v. Palmer

March 26, 2004

[5] THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
NATHAN PALMER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 99-CF-1800 Honorable Timothy Q. Sheldon, Judge, Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

[8]  Following a jury trial, defendant, Nathan Palmer, was convicted of one count of attempted first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/8--4(a), 9--1(a)(1) (West 2002)), two counts of home invasion (720 ILCS 5/12--11 (West 2002)), one count of armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18--2(a) (West 2002)), and four counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault (720 ILCS 5/12--14(a)(1), 14(a)(2) (West 2002)). Adjudged an habitual criminal, defendant was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences. On appeal, defendant argues that the court erred in imposing consecutive life sentences, because section 33B--1(c) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (the habitual criminal statute) (720 ILCS 5/33B--1(c) (West 2002)) mandates that convictions connected with the same transaction be counted as one conviction (720 ILCS 5/33B--1(c) (West 2002)). In addition, defendant argues that two of the convictions violate the one-act, one-crime rule set forth in People v. King, 66 Ill. 2d 551, 566 (1977), and that the indictment failed to differentiate between separate acts of criminal sexual assault, as required under People v. Crespo, 203 Ill. 2d 335, 345 (2001) (supplemental opinion filed March 31, 2003). We affirm in part, reverse in part, and vacate in part.

[9]  In an amended indictment filed on March 22, 2000, defendant was charged with two counts of home invasion, one count of attempted murder, four counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, and one count of armed robbery. Count I alleged that defendant entered the dwelling place of M.J. and used force or threatened the use of force while armed with a dangerous weapon. Count II alleged that defendant entered the dwelling place of D.J. and intentionally caused him injury by slashing his throat. Count III alleged that defendant intended to kill D.J. by strangling him with an electrical cord and slashing his throat. Counts IV and V alleged that defendant, while displaying a knife, placed his penis in the mouth and vagina of M.J. by the use of force. Counts VI and VII alleged that defendant caused bodily harm to M.J. by placing his penis in her mouth and vagina. Count VIII alleged that defendant, while armed with a knife, took cash and a ring from M.J. by the use of force or by threatening the use of force.

[10]   Only a brief recitation of the facts is necessary for the purposes of this appeal. On July 18, 1999, at approximately 12:30 p.m., defendant knocked on the door of M.J. and D.J.'s two-bedroom apartment. M.J., D.J., and their two children were inside the apartment at the time. Defendant asked M.J. if she wanted to buy a newspaper, and M.J. replied that she did not. D.J., who was sitting on the couch at the time, also indicated that he did not wish to buy a newspaper. At this point, defendant was standing inside the apartment, although M.J. had not invited him to enter.

[11]   Defendant took out a steak knife and placed it against M.J.'s neck. Defendant instructed M.J. and D.J. to get M.J.'s purse, and defendant was given $50. While the children were in the living room, defendant then directed M.J. and D.J. into the bedroom, where he took M.J.'s wedding ring. Defendant then tied D.J.'s hands with an extension cord and had M.J. place a pillow case over D.J.'s head. Defendant threatened to kill D.J. if M.J. refused to comply.

[12]   Next, defendant unzipped his shorts and told M.J. to "suck" his penis. Defendant made M.J. get on her knees before "shov[ing] it in [her] mouth" for about 20 minutes. During this time, defendant held the knife at M.J.'s back. Defendant failed to ejaculate. When the children came to the bedroom door, defendant instructed M.J. to make them return to the living room. Defendant then had M.J. suck his penis again, although he did not ejaculate. At this point, defendant had M.J. remove her clothes, get on the bed, and "play with her genitals." Defendant fondled himself but again failed to ejaculate.

[13]   Defendant then directed D.J. to get on the bed, and told M.J. to "suck" D.J.'s penis. At trial, M.J. testified that defendant also placed his penis or his fingers into her vagina for a minute or two. After reviewing her taped statement to police regarding the incident, M.J. testified that she had told police that defendant inserted his penis into her vagina.

[14]   Next, defendant and M.J. went into the kitchen and defendant took some beer out of the refrigerator. Upon returning to the bedroom, defendant "shoved" his penis into M.J.'s mouth, causing her to vomit. After defendant forced M.J. to clean up the vomit, he had her sit on a chair where he tied her wrists with an electrical cord. Defendant again forced his penis into her mouth for about 15 minutes. After failing to ejaculate, defendant placed a pillow case over M.J.'s head, hit her in the face, put a towel in her mouth, and put her in the bathroom.

[15]   While in the bathroom, M.J. removed the pillow case from her head and observed defendant and D.J. struggling in the bedroom. According to D.J., defendant attempted to strangle him with the extension cord, and D.J. pretended that he was dying. After learning that D.J. was trying to trick him, defendant took the knife and slit his throat. M.J. then ran screaming out of the apartment, defendant exited via the stairwell, and a 911 operator was called.

[16]   The jury found defendant guilty on all eight counts and judgment was entered on February 27, 2002. On May 14, 2002, the State filed a petition to have defendant adjudicated an habitual criminal. On May 30, 2002, defendant filed a motion for a new trial and a motion to declare the habitual criminal statute (720 ILCS 5/33B--1 (West 2002)) unconstitutional. The court denied these motions.

[17]   At the hearing on the petition, the State presented certified copies of convictions showing that defendant was convicted of criminal sexual assault on October 14, 1987, and aggravated criminal sexual assault on March 25, 1994. Defendant stipulated that this information was accurate and that he met the statutory requirements necessary to be adjudicated an habitual criminal. The court adjudged defendant an habitual criminal on May 30, 2002. The court then ordered that counts I and II as to home invasion would merge together for the purposes of sentencing. Defendant was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences for counts II through VIII.

[18]   On appeal, defendant contends that the court erred in imposing consecutive life sentences. As a preliminary matter, we note that the State argues that this issue was waived because it was not raised at trial. However, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 615(a), we may review plain errors affecting substantial rights even where they were not brought to the attention of the trial court. 134 Ill. 2d R. 615(a). Because sentencing issues are regarded as matters affecting a defendant's substantial rights and are thus excepted from the doctrine of waiver, we consider the merits of defendant's argument. See People v. Baaree, 315 Ill. App. 3d 1049, 1050-51 (2000).

[19]   According to defendant, the court erred in imposing seven consecutive life sentences, because the habitual criminal statute prohibits the imposition of more than one sentence of life imprisonment when all of the convictions "are connected with the same transaction, or result from offenses committed at the same time" (720 ILCS 5/33B--1(c) (West 2002)). Defendant maintains that, because all of his convictions were connected with the same transaction, section 33B--1(c) mandated that they be treated as "one conviction" for the purposes of sentencing. Thus, based on this "one conviction," only one life sentence should have been imposed. As this is an issue of statutory construction, our review is de novo. In re Detention of Lieberman, 201 Ill. 2d 300, 307 (2002).

[20]   Our primary objective in construing the meaning of a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature. Lieberman, 201 Ill. 2d at 307. In order to determine legislative intent, we examine the language of the statute, which is " 'the most reliable indicator of the legislature's objectives in enacting a particular law.' " Lieberman, 201 Ill. 2d at 308, quoting Michigan Avenue National Bank v. County of Cook, 191 Ill. 2d 493, 504 (2000). The statutory language is to be afforded its plain, ordinary, and popularly understood meaning. Lieberman, 201 Ill. 2d at 308. If the language of the statute is unambiguous, the court must not depart from the language and read into it exceptions, limitations, or conditions. People v. Patterson, 308 Ill. App. 3d 943, 948 (1999). Moreover, "criminal or penal statutes are to be strictly construed in favor of the accused, and nothing should be taken by intendment or implication beyond the obvious or literal meaning of the statute." People v. Davis, 199 Ill.2d 130, 135 (2002).

[21]   This case hinges upon the interpretation of section 33B--1(c) of the habitual criminal statute, which states, in pertinent part:

[22]  
"(a) Every person who has been twice convicted in any state or federal court of an offense that contains the same elements as an offense now classified in Illinois as a Class X felony, criminal sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping or first degree murder, and is thereafter convicted of a Class X felony, criminal sexual assault or first degree murder, committed after the 2 prior convictions, shall be adjudged an habitual criminal.

[23]   (b) The 2 prior convictions need not have been for the same offense.

[24]  
(c) Any convictions which result from or are connected with the same transaction, or result from offenses committed at the same time, shall be counted for the purposes of this Section as one conviction.

[25]   ***

[26]  
(e) Except when the death penalty is imposed, anyone adjudged an habitual criminal shall be sentenced to life ...

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