Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Honorable Nicholas R. Ford, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Lampkin
JUSTICE LAMPKIN delivered the opinion of the court: A jury convicted defendant, Jamael Brazziel, of first degree murder proximately caused by his personal discharge of a firearm. Defendant was sentenced to an aggregate of 60 years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends that (1) the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) the trial court's failure to comply with the mandates of Supreme Court Rule 431(b) (Official Reports Advance Sheet No. 8 (April 11, 2007), R. 431(b), eff. May 1, 2007) entitles him to a new trial; (3) the State improperly raised the issue of the defense witnesses' moral character; and (4) his sentence was excessive in light of mitigating factors. Based on the following, we affirm. FACTS
On April 26, 2006, the victim, Larry Brown, was shot to death following an altercation on the west side of Chicago, Illinois.
Prior to conducting voir dire, the trial judge, in relevant part, told the prospective jurors:
"Under the law, a defendant is presumed to be innocent of the charges against him. The presumption remains with him throughout every stage of the proceeding. It is not overcome unless from all the evidence in this case you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.
The State has the burden of proving the guilt of defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden remains on the State throughout the case. The defendant is not required to prove his innocence nor is he required to present any evidence in his own behalf. He may not even testify if he chooses to do so. He doesn't even have a duty to do so. He may rely simply on the presumption of his innocence in this case.
You shall be bound by your oath as jurors to follow the law as it is given to you. You may not disregard the law as given to you and apply the law that you think individually or collectively should be the law. In other words, I'm going to give you rules and those are the rules. You're to follow the rules that I give you in conjunction with your review of the evidence, okay? That's important.
If you become convinced beyond a reasonable doubt from all the charges in this case that the defendant is charged guilty within the indictment, it will be your duty to find him guilty. Do you all understand that?
Is there anyone who cannot follow that law?
I don't see anyone that's indicating that they couldn't.
On the other hand, if after hearing all the evidence in this case you are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt, it will be your duty to find him not guilty. Do you all understand that instruction?
Everybody is indicating yes.
Is there anyone who doesn't understand that instruction?
I got no one raising their hand. So that won't be something I'll address further."
While conducting voir dire of the first panel, the trial court asked the first prospective juror:
"Q. Do you understand if the State proves their case beyond a reasonable doubt, that it will be your duty to find the defendant guilty?
Q. Do you understand also that if you feel that the defendant's guilt hasn't been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be your duty to find him not guilty?
A. Correct. Q. Would you follow those rules along with all the other rules in this case in reaching a verdict?
The judge then directed his inquiry to the entire first panel:
"THE COURT: I'm going to ask that of all of you in the audience, do all of you understand that?
THE COURT: And would all of you follow that law along with all the other law I give you in the case?
THE COURT: All indicating yes. That's important stuff also, folks."
Later, while questioning a different prospective juror from the first panel, the judge inquired:
"Q. Do you understand the defendant---and I'm talking to all of you now and I'm going to see if anybody has a problem with it, just raise your hand.
Do you understand the defendant doesn't have to prove anything; it's the State's burden to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Do you understand that?
A. Yes. Q. And would you follow that law along with all the other law I give you in this case?
Ten jurors were selected from the first panel. Nine of the ten were asked individually some version of whether the juror could find defendant guilty if the evidence had demonstrated defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or find him not guilty if the evidence had not demonstrated defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Of that group of nine, one juror was asked whether he understood that "defendant has to prove nothing." The juror replied "yes." One other juror in the group of nine was asked, "You heard me talk about the burden of proof and the other things with everyone else. Were there any questions that you had for me[?]" The juror responded, "No. I understand and I could be objective, yes."
Prior to conducting voir dire of the second panel, from which two jurors were selected, the judge addressed the entire panel:
"THE COURT: Good morning. Again, folks, I've given several times the law that you'll all follow as a group. Have you all understood what I've been talking about all morning here?
THE COURT: And would you follow the law that I've been talking about all morning along with all the other law I give you in this case in reaching a verdict?
THE COURT: Everyone has indicated yes.
If there was one of these questions that I asked before where you kind of raised your hand, bring it to my attention now when I begin to question you individually."
The judge asked the eleventh impaneled juror:
"Q. Do you understand that it's the State's burden to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that burden remains with him throughout the entire case?
Q. If the State failed to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, could you find him not guilty?
Q. If the State did succeed at proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, could you find him guilty?
The judge asked the twelfth impaneled juror:
"Q. Would you follow all the law I gave you in this case in reaching your verdict?
Q. You've heard me talk about it with many of the jurors before. Do you have any problem following all of the law that I've given so far?
Voir dire concluded on a Friday. Opening statements and the presentation of witnesses began the following Monday. Prior to swearing in the jury, the judge said:
"Do you all -- and I'm going to ask this of the group. Do you remember the rules of law that I gave you on Friday?
Everybody is indicating yes.
And will you follow that along with all the other law that I give you in this case in reaching your verdict?
Everybody is indicating yes."
The trial evidence demonstrated that a crowd of teenagers was gathered on the street around 9 p.m. on April 26, 2006. The victim had been "slap boxing" with a girl named Jean McDaniel. McDaniel alerted her cousin, Anthony "Red" Raper. In response, Raper began searching for the victim. When McDaniel identified the victim, Raper approached him. Raper and the victim exchanged punches, none of which made contact. The victim then ran in the opposite direction and the crowd on the street, including Raper, chased after him. Raper's cousin, defendant, was at the front of that crowd with Raper. Defendant then drew a handgun and pointed it at the victim. He fired one fatal shot to the back of the victim's head. The victim immediately fell to the ground.
The State called six witnesses, all of whom testified to being in or near the crowd when the shooting occurred. Yolanda Floyd, who lived on the street where the crowd was gathered, and Raper testified that they witnessed ...