Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 09-CF-1779 Honorable Thomas E. Mueller, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Birkett
JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hutchinson and Zenoff concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 After a bench trial, defendant, Torico M. Scott, was convicted of armed violence (720 ILCS 5/33A-2(a) (West 2008)) and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Defendant appeals, contending that he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We affirm.
¶ 2 Defendant was charged with two counts of armed violence, alleging that (1) while armed with a dangerous weapon, he committed a felony, possession of cannabis (720 ILCS 550/4(d) (West 2008)) and (2) while armed with a dangerous weapon, he committed a felony, possession of cannabis with the intent to deliver (720 ILCS 550/5(d) (West 2008)). Defendant was also charged with the two cannabis offenses; he pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to deliver, and the State dismissed the other charge. The case proceeded to a bench trial. We summarize the evidence.
¶ 3 Illinois state police officer Keith Chesnut testified as follows. On June 19, 2009, at about 5:35 a.m., he was part of a narcotics task force tactical unit that executed a search warrant at 217 Laurel, Unit A, in North Aurora. There were two entry teams, one at the front door and one at the back door. After knocking and opening the front door, Chesnut saw a stairway directly in front; to the left was a door that opened into a small living room. Chesnut opened the living room door and looked in. To his immediate left was a couch along the wall, in front of the windows. To his right was another couch, running along the wall adjacent to the stairway. As Chesnut stood in the doorway, the far end of either couch was no more than 10 feet from him.
¶ 4 Entering the living room, Chesnut saw defendant, who was standing five to seven feet from the door. Defendant was within a foot of either couch. Nobody else was in the living room. Chesnut saw nothing in defendant's hands. Chesnut approached defendant, pointed his M-4 semiautomatic carbine at him, and ordered him to lie on the ground. Defendant complied. Soon, another officer "flex-cuffed" defendant.
¶ 5 Charles Pierce, a St. Charles police officer who participated in executing the search warrant and collecting evidence, testified as follows. As he entered the living room, he saw a couch immediately to his left. The far end of the couch was no more than 10 feet from the door. Immediately to his right was a shorter couch or love seat, the far end of which was seven or eight feet from the door. Pierce identified People's exhibit No. 1 as a shotgun that the officers found underneath the love seat. He also identified People's exhibit No. 11 as a photograph of the shotgun in the position that the officers found it. The shotgun had been "free and open on the carpet on the floor" under the love seat. The love seat's legs were about four inches tall.
¶ 6 The parties stipulated that defendant's guilty plea to possession of cannabis with the intent to deliver satisfied the State's burden to prove that, at the time of the alleged armed violence, he had been committing a felony (see 720 ILCS 5/33A-2(a) (West 2008)).
¶ 7 Aurora police inspector Paul Lindley testified as follows. He helped to execute the search warrant but stayed outside until the tactical unit had "cleared the location." Entering the apartment, Lindley learned that defendant had been secured on the couch in the living room. The couch and the love seat were about two feet apart. Lindley showed defendant a copy of the search warrant and gave him Miranda warnings. Lindley looked down and saw a scale and what looked like a bag of cannabis on the floor near defendant. He pointed to these objects and asked defendant what he had been doing. Defendant admitted that he had been up all night "weighing bags out and smoking cannabis." Defendant was then taken to the police station, where he signed a Miranda waiver and again spoke to Lindley. He told Lindley that he had the shotgun to protect himself from gang members who might break into his home.
¶ 8 The parties stipulated to the admission of the transcript of a hearing held July 1, 2009, on defendant's motion to reduce bond. At the hearing, defendant testified that, on June 19, 2009, he lived at 217 Laurel, Unit A, with his girlfriend and their two children. At about 5:30 a.m., he was at home when the police entered. At the time, defendant was 10 feet away, sleeping on the couch with his daughter. When he heard the police, he got up and walked toward the front door of the apartment. He had no weapons on his person.
¶ 9 Defendant moved for a directed finding, arguing that the State had failed to prove that, at the time of the alleged offense, he had been armed with a dangerous weapon (see 720 ILCS 5/33A-2(a) (West 2008)). Defendant contended that, even viewed in the light most favorable to the State, the evidence failed to show that, when the police entered the apartment, defendant was armed; he had been standing some distance from the love seat under which the shotgun lay and had had neither the opportunity nor the intent to reach for the weapon. The judge denied defendant's motion, explaining that People's exhibit No. 11 showed that the handle end of the shotgun had been "inches from the leg of the couch," thus placing the shotgun "within arm's reach" of defendant, who had testified that, just before the police knocked and entered, he had been sleeping on the couch.
¶ 10 Defendant then testified as follows. On the morning of June 19, 2009, he was home with his son and daughter. Defendant was in the living room, sleeping on the couch with his daughter. At about 5:30 a.m., he heard the police knock. Defendant rose and walked toward the door. He had put the shotgun under the love seat and had "kind of forgot[ten]" that it was there. When he rose, he was within four feet of the shotgun. He did not try to grab it or move toward the love seat. The police entered and pointed their guns at him. He put his hands up and was soon handcuffed.
¶ 11 The trial judge found defendant guilty, explaining his decision as follows. As defendant had pleaded guilty to possessing cannabis with the intent to deliver, the State had proved the predicate felony for armed violence. The only issue was whether the State had proved that defendant had been armed with a dangerous weapon-the shotgun. Whether defendant actually reached for the shotgun when the police entered was irrelevant. The intent of the armed violence statute is to deter those who commit crimes-including drug dealers such as defendant-from attempting to protect their enterprises or themselves by having access to dangerous weapons. Here, the evidence showed that defendant had placed the shotgun under the love seat, so as to protect himself. Given the dimensions of the living room, the shotgun had been "in close proximity to [defendant] when he [was] in that ...