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People v. Green

May 24, 2007

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
EWATHA J. GREEN, APPELLEE.



CHIEF JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Freeman, Fitzgerald, Kilbride, Garman, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Defendant, Ewatha Green, was charged in the circuit court of Winnebago County with one count of robbery. 720 ILCS 5/18--1(a), (b) (West 2004). The single-count indictment stated: "EWATHA GREEN committed the offense of ROBBERY, in that the defendant knowingly took property, being a purse, from the person of Carol Mortonson, a person 60 years of age or over, by the use of force, in violation of 720 ILCS 5/18--1(a) (Class 1 Felony)."

At the trial's conclusion, the State submitted both the jury instructions and the verdict forms. Defendant did not object to any of the State's submissions, which were read aloud and tendered to the jury. Following its deliberation, the jury returned the verdict form stating, "We the jury, find the defendant, Ewatha Green, guilty of Robbery." Prior to sentencing, defendant filed a motion for a new trial. The motion raised six issues, none of which addressed either the jury instructions or the verdict forms. The trial court denied the motion and sentenced defendant to 25 years in prison.

Defendant appealed, raising only one argument: that the elements instruction used in this case, Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Criminal, No. 14.04 (4th ed. 2000) (hereinafter IPI Criminal 4th), contained a serious defect that deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair trial. As given in this case, IPI Criminal 4th No. 14.04 stated:

"To sustain the charge of robbery of a victim 60 years of age or over, the State must prove the following propositions:

First Proposition: That the defendant knowingly took property from the person or presence of Carol Mortonson; and

Second Proposition: That the defendant did so by the use of force; and

Third Proposition: That the person from whom the defendant took property was 60 years of age or over." Defendant argued that this instruction was deficient because it failed to include the following two paragraphs, which are standard in all criminal elements instructions and which were mistakenly omitted from the most recently published edition of IPI Criminal 4th No. 14.04:

"If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that each of these propositions has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant guilty.

If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that any one of these propositions has not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant not guilty." According to defendant, the absence of these two paragraphs, which explain how the reasonable doubt standard is applied to the elements of the charged offense, denied him his constitutional right to a fair trial.*fn1

In response, the State argued that defendant waived any alleged deficiencies in IPI Criminal 4th No. 14.04 by failing to object to the instruction as given, failing to tender any alternative instructions, and failing to raise the issue in his motion for a new trial. Moreover, the State insisted that invocation of the plain error exception to the waiver rule (see 134 Ill. 2d R. 615(a)) was unwarranted because (1) as given, IPI Criminal 4th No. 14.04 accurately sets forth the elements of Class 1 robbery; (2) the jury received IPI Criminal 4th No. 2.03, which expressly sets forth both the burden of proof and the presumption of innocence; (3) the trial court read the omitted portion of IPI Criminal 4th No. 14.04 to the jury on at least two occasions.

Defendant filed a reply brief, and shortly thereafter the appellate entered the following order, on its own motion:

"The record contains the jury's signed verdict which reads, 'We the jury, find the defendant, Ewatha Green, guilty of Robbery.' The charge contained in the verdict form is in conflict with several of the instructions given the jury, the trial judge's remarks to the jury, and the indictment which was read to the jury, all of which present a different charge, that of robbery of a person 60 years of age or over.*fn2 Accordingly, on the court's own motion, this court orders appellant to file *** a brief addressing the significance and effects of the inconsistencies between the charge as contained in the jury verdict and the charge as contained in the other trial proceedings as recited, and explaining how and why the inconsistencies occurred." (Emphases added.)

In response to the appellate court's order, defendant filed a supplemental brief citing this court's decision in People v. Mack, 167 Ill. 2d 525 (1995). In Mack, this court reversed and remanded for a new death sentencing hearing because, while the eligibility instruction form contained all of the necessary elements, the eligibility verdict form that the jury signed omitted one of those elements. In reversing and remanding, this court explained:

"It is well established that a general verdict of 'guilty in manner and form as charged in the indictment' or simply 'guilty' is sufficient to sustain a conviction [citation], as is a verdict identifying the offense by name [citation]. However, where the verdict purports to set out the elements of the offense as specific findings, it must do so completely or be held insufficient. [Citation.]" Mack, 167 Ill. 2d at 538. According to defendant's supplemental brief, the verdict form in this case is like that in Mack because "it failed to set forth an essential component of the charged offense of robbery of a person 60 or over--the enhancing element of the victim's age." Defendant continued, "[t]he signed verdict form did not refer to the indictment or simply find the defendant guilty without reference to a specific crime; rather, it identified an offense by name. But that offense was robbery, not the enhanced offense of robbery of a person 60 years of age or over." The State then filed a supplemental response, arguing that there was no conflict between the elements instruction and the verdict form and that, even if there were, defendant waived any objection to that conflict by failing to raise it below.

Supplemental briefing complete, the appellate court filed its decision. The appellate court began by addressing defendant's original argument--namely, that the omission of the two standard paragraphs from IPI Criminal 4th No. 14.04 compromised defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial. The appellate court disagreed with defendant on this point, explaining that the jury in this case was repeatedly instructed on both the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof, ...


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