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The People of the State of Illinois v. Patrick Chambers

August 12, 2011


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois Circuit No. 08-CF-3032 Honorable Daniel J. Rozak, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Carter

PRESIDING JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lytton and Schmidt concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 After a jury trial, defendant, Patrick Chambers, was convicted of two counts of felony domestic battery (720 ILCS 5/12--3.2(a)(2) (West 2008)) and sentenced to two consecutive extended terms of five years' imprisonment. Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in: (1) allowing evidence of defendant's prior incident of domestic battery to be admitted at trial under section 115--20 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (the Code) (725 ILCS 5/115--20 (West 2008)); and (2) sentencing defendant to extended-term sentences based upon the same prior offense of domestic battery that was used to elevate the charges against him to felonies. We affirm defendant's convictions; reduce defendant's sentence on each offense to three years' imprisonment, to run consecutively; and remand the case to the trial court with directions to enter an amended sentencing order to reflect our decision here.


¶ 3 In December of 2008, defendant was charged with two counts of domestic battery, arising out of a confrontation that occurred between defendant and his girlfriend at the time, Amie Gaines. The charging instrument alleged that on or about December 16, 2008, defendant committed domestic battery in that he grabbed Gaines about the neck (count I) and grabbed Gaines about the face (count II). The two counts were elevated to felonies based upon defendant's prior conviction of felony domestic battery in Will County case number 08--CF--922.

¶ 4 Prior to trial, the State filed a motion in limine, pursuant to section 115--20 of the Code, seeking to admit testimony regarding the facts surrounding defendant's prior domestic battery, the one for which defendant was convicted in case number 08--CF--922, on the issue of defendant's propensity to commit the current offense. The prior domestic battery happened in April of 2008 (about eight months before the instant case), was factually similar to the instant case (according to the victim's version of events), and involved the same victim.*fn1 Defendant objected to the State's motion in limine. After hearing the arguments of the attorneys, the trial court found that the evidence was admissible under section 115--20 and granted the State's motion.

¶ 5 Defendant's case proceeded to a jury trial in August of 2009. The evidence presented at the trial established that in December of 2008, defendant lived with Gaines at her apartment in Will County, Illinois, along with their infant daughter, who had some medical problems, and Gaines's children from her previous marriage. During the late evening hours of December 15, a confrontation ensued between defendant and Gaines. According to Gaines's testimony, defendant threatened to kill her with a knife, choked her, and intentionally poked his thumb into her eye.*fn2 During the confrontation, Gaines cut defendant with the knife and also sustained some injuries herself. Gaines reported the incident the following day when she and defendant went to the hospital for treatment.

¶ 6 During the course of the trial, pursuant to the ruling on the motion in limine, the State presented testimony from Gaines and two other witnesses regarding the circumstances surrounding defendant's prior conviction of domestic battery, an incident that occurred about eight months before the current offense where defendant allegedly broke down the door of Gaines's residence, threatened to kill Gaines, and held a knife to her throat. Defendant renewed his objection to that evidence immediately before the start of the trial and maintained a continuing objection throughout the trial. In his case-in-chief, defendant took the stand and denied that he battered Gaines during the previous incident, claimed that he only pled guilty to the previous incident so that he could be out of custody for the birth of his child, and claimed that Gaines had attacked him with the knife during the current incident. Reference was also made to the previous incident during the State's closing arguments. After deliberations in the current case, the jury found defendant guilty of both counts of domestic battery.

¶ 7 Defendant filed a motion for new trial, again challenging the trial court's ruling on the motion in limine. The motion for new trial was subsequently denied. After a sentencing hearing, defendant was sentenced to two consecutive extended terms of five years' imprisonment. Defendant's eligibility for an extended-term sentence was based upon his prior felony conviction for domestic battery in case number 08--CF--922. Defendant filed a motion to reconsider sentence, which the trial court denied. This appeal followed.


¶ 9 On appeal, defendant argues first that the trial court erred in allowing evidence of the prior incident of domestic battery to be admitted at trial under section 115--20 of the Code. Defendant does not dispute that the underlying requirements for admissibility under section 115--20 were satisfied. Rather, defendant asserts that under section 115--20, only the fact that defendant was convicted of the prior qualifying offense may be admitted, not the factual circumstances surrounding that offense. Defendant reaches that conclusion through statutory interpretation and by comparing the language of section 115--20 to the language of a similar statute, section 115--7.3 of the Code (725 ILCS 5/115--7.3 (West 2008)). Based upon the claimed evidentiary error, defendant asks that we reverse his convictions and that we remand this case for a new trial.

¶ 10 A determination of the admissibility of evidence, including other-crimes evidence, is in the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion. See People v. Illgen, 145 Ill. 2d 353, 364 (1991); People v. Dabbs, 239 Ill. 2d 277, 284 (2010). An abuse of discretion occurs where the trial court's ruling is arbitrary, fanciful or unreasonable, or where no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the trial court. People v. Donoho, 204 Ill. 2d 159, 182 (2003). Under the abuse of discretion standard, the reviewing court owes some deference to the trial court's ability to evaluate the impact of the evidence on the jury. Donoho, 204 Ill. 2d at 186. Reasonable minds can disagree about whether certain evidence is admissible without requiring a reversal of a trial court's evidentiary ruling under the abuse of discretion standard. See Donoho, 204 Ill. 2d at 186.

¶ 11 The interpretation of a statute is subject to de novo review on appeal. Donoho, 204 Ill. 2d at 172. The fundamental rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. Dabbs, 239 Ill. 2d at 287. The most reliable indicator of that intent is the plain and ordinary meaning of the language of the statute itself. Dabbs, 239 Ill. 2d at 287. In determining the plain meaning of statutory terms, a court should consider the statute in its entirety and keep in mind the subject the statute addresses and the apparent intent of the legislature in enacting the statute. Dabbs, 239 Ill. 2d at 287; 5 ILCS 70/1.01 (West 2008) (in construing a statute, "[a]ll general provisions, terms, phrases and expressions shall be liberally construed in order that the true intent and meaning of the General Assembly may be fully carried out"). If the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, it must be applied as written, without resorting to further aids of statutory construction. Dabbs, 239 Ill. 2d at 287. A court may not depart from the plain language of the statute and read into it exceptions, limitations, or conditions that are not consistent with the express legislative intent. Town & Country Utilities, Inc. v. Illinois Pollution Control Board, 225 Ill. 2d 103, 117 (2007).

¶ 12 The common law rule is that other-crimes evidence is not admissible to show a defendant's propensity to commit crimes. Dabbs, 239 Ill. 2d at 283; Donoho, 204 Ill. 2d at 170; Ill. R. Evid. 404(b) (eff. Jan. 1, 2011). However, by statute, the legislature has made exceptions to that rule in a few specific areas, such as domestic batteries (see 725 ILCS 5/115--7.4, 115-20 (West 2008)) and certain sex offenses and related offenses (see 725 ILCS 5/115--7.3 (West 2008)). See Dabbs, 239 Ill. 2d at 291; Donoho, 204 Ill. 2d at 176; Ill. R. Evid. 404(b) (recognizing that sections 115--7.3, 115--7.4, and 115--20 of the Code are statutory exceptions to the general rule of inadmissability). In those areas, evidence of a defendant's commission of a prior qualifying offense may be admitted, in the trial court's discretion, to show the defendant's propensity to commit the charged offense if, after weighing certain statutory factors, the trial court determines that the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the risk of undue prejudice. See Dabbs, 239 Ill. 2d at 291; Donoho, 204 Ill. 2d at 176; 725 ILCS 5/115--7.3, 115--7.4, 115--20 (West 2008); see also Ill.

R. Evid. 403 (eff. Jan. 1, 2011).

ΒΆ 13 As noted above, one of the statutory exceptions that allows for the admissibility of propensity evidence is contained in section 115--20 of the Code, the section under which the evidence was admitted in ...

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