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People v. Harper

March 26, 2004

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



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County. No. 02-CF-318 Honorable E. Dan Kimmel, Judge, presiding.

[9] Justices: Honorable Richard P. Goldenhersh, J., Honorable Terrence J. Hopkins, J., and Honorable James K. Donovan, J., Concur

[10]  The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Goldenhersh

[11]   The defendant, Maurice Harper, was convicted of first-degree murder, after a bench trial in the circuit court of Jackson County. The defendant's appeal raises issues of whether the trial court erred in striking the defendant's motion to reconsider his posttrial motion. We reverse and remand.

[12]   The defendant and Daron Woods were both charged by information with the murder of Kenji Tipton. A public defender was appointed to represent the defendant. Before the trial, private counsel was substituted.

[13]   The defendant waived his right to a jury. On September 26, 2002, a one-day bench trial was held. Woods was tried separately at a later date. The State presented several witnesses who suggested that the defendant had provided Woods with a gun to shoot Tipton. The defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder.

[14]   The following day, while still represented by private counsel, the defendant filed a motion for a new trial. In the motion, the defendant contended that the State had failed to disclose an anonymous telephone call made by a witness, who later identified himself and testified at the trial. Attached to the motion was a petition. The attachment addressed issues not argued in the motion. The attachment asserted that the witnesses for the State were biased, and it identified several people who were willing to testify on behalf of the defendant but were not called upon. Attached to the petition were more than 100 purported signatures.

[15]   On October 23, 2002, the court entered an order denying the motion for a new trial. The court based its decision on the rationale that there is no requirement that all oral statements, such as the anonymous phone call, be reduced to writing.

[16]   On November 25, 2002, attorney Paul Christenson moved for leave to substitute himself as counsel for the defendant and moved for a continuance of the sentencing hearing scheduled for the next day. The court granted both requests.

[17]   On December 31, 2002, the defendant filed what was titled a motion to reconsider the motion for a new trial. The motion contended that new evidence and new occurrence witnesses had been discovered. Attached to the motion were the affidavits of 12 individuals. The affidavits indicated that Woods' girlfriend, Carla Felten, had brought the handgun to Woods. Also attached was a police report from the Murphysboro police department regarding the questioning of Felten about her possible involvement. Several affidavits suggested that one of the State's key witnesses had a history of personal animosity towards the defendant. The new motion also alleged that defense counsel had ignored the defendant's request to testify in his own defense. The defendant submitted an affidavit to that effect.

[18]   On January 2, 2003, the motion to reconsider proceeded to a hearing. The State moved to strike the motion. The court found the motion to be untimely. The court stated:

[19]   "The *** [m]otion for [n]ew [t]rial attempted to bootstrap new arguments onto the old motion. Unfortunately, the [c]court feels that that cannot be done. I believe that Mr. Christenson[-]by the time he got into this matter, the time had already run for the filing of the motions for new trial and that, therefore, the People's motion to strike the [m]otion to [r]econsider is granted and that the motion is struck [sic] from the record."

[20]   The court granted the defendant's request that the motion remain in the record for the purposes of appeal.

[21]   The court then conducted a sentencing hearing. The defendant was sentenced to 25 years in the Department of Corrections. The defendant appeals.

[22]   Section 116-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) provides the requirements for ...


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