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People v. Pierce

October 18, 2007

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
v.
ANTONIO D. PIERCE, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Burke

Chief Justice Thomas and Justices Freeman, Fitzgerald, Garman, and Karmeier concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice Kilbride specially concurred, with opinion.

OPINION

In this case, we must determine whether the modified jury instructions given at defendant's trial accurately stated the law when they defined the offense of theft from the person to include a taking from the "presence" of the person. To make this determination, we must decide whether one commits the offense of theft "from the person" in Illinois when he steals property that is not in physical contact with the person. The appellate court held that one commits the offense of theft from the person even if the property is not in physical contact with the person from whom it is taken. 367 Ill. App. 3d 203. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

Background

On September 13, 2004, Robert Gallaher was sitting at the bar in the Silver Moon Tavern in Quincy, Illinois, drinking beer. Gallaher had placed $50 on the bar in front of him and, after he paid for his drinks, several bills remained on the bar. Gallaher testified he had his hand on the money while he sat at the bar.

Defendant entered the Silver Moon and walked up to Gallaher, the only patron in the tavern. Gallaher testified that defendant offered to sell him cigarettes, but he declined. The two then engaged in conversation for several minutes. At one point, Gallaher removed his hand from the money to light a cigarette. Defendant then grabbed the money and ran out of the tavern. The bartender, Linda Sheehan, essentially confirmed Gallaher's testimony. A surveillance tape from the bar also confirmed the events.

At trial, in the circuit court of Adams County, defendant denied taking Gallaher's money. He testified that he had never seen Gallaher or Sheehan before and that he had never been in the Silver Moon Tavern. Defendant claimed to have been in Joliet at the time of the theft.

At the jury instruction conference, the State proffered modified versions of Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Criminal, Nos. 13.09 and

13.10 (4th ed. 2000) (hereinafter IPI Criminal 4th). The State's proffered modification added the phrase "or presence" to the two instructions. The modified version of IPI Criminal 4th No. 13.09 read:

"A person commits the offense of theft from the person when he knowingly obtains unauthorized control over the property by taking said property from the person or presence of another and intends to deprive the owner permanently of the use or benefit of the property." (Emphasis added.)

The modified version of IPI Criminal 4th No. 13.10 read:

"To sustain the charge of theft from the person, the state must prove the following propositions: First proposition, that Robert Gallaher was the owner of the property in question, and second proposition, that the defendant knowingly obtained unauthorized control over the property in question, and third proposition, that the defendant intended to deprive the owner permanently of the use or benefit of the property in question, and fourth proposition, that the defendant took the property in question from the person or presence of Robert Gallaher." (Emphasis added.)

The court gave the modified instructions to the jury over defendant's objection. Also, the trial court refused defendant's request to instruct the jury on the lesser offense of misdemeanor theft, i.e., theft not from the person. The jury found defendant guilty of theft from the person and he was sentenced to six years' imprisonment.

The appellate court affirmed. 367 Ill. App. 3d 203. Looking to the plain language of the statute, the court found that "[a] reasonable reading of the statute applies to the situation here. The money was directly in front of the victim, and the money was snatched just after the victim removed his hands from it." 367 Ill. App. 3d at 206.

The appellate court rejected defendant's argument that, pursuant to People v. Williams, 42 Ill. App. 3d 134 (1976), property must be taken from the victim's body or clothing in order to be theft from the person. Instead, the court relied on three cases decided after Williams: People v. Harrell, 342 Ill. App. 3d 904 (2003), People v. Sims, 245 Ill. App. 3d 221 (1993), and People v. Jackson, 158 Ill. App. 3d 394 (1987). 367 Ill. App. 3d at 207-09. ...


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