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The People of the State of Illinois v. Lashon Stuckey

September 30, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
LASHON STUCKEY, , DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 06 CR 11987 Honorable Matthew E. Coghlan Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Connors

JUSTICE CONNORS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Cunningham and Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Defendant Lashon Stuckey appeals from his conviction by a jury for communication with a witness in violation of section 32-4(b) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/32-4(b) (West 2006)). Defendant argues that (1) the State's evidence was insufficient to prove him guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, (2) the trial court failed to properly admonish potential jurors pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431(b) (eff. May 1, 2007), and (3) the trial court improperly imposed certain fines and fees during sentencing. We affirm defendant's conviction and sentence, but we vacate in part the fines and remand for correction of the fines and fees order.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 In 2002, Latonia Jones witnessed a murder and identified Derrick Rogers as the killer. Defendant was an acquaintance of Rogers, and in April 2006, defendant approached Jones' mother Della Thomas about Jones' upcoming appearance as a witness in Rogers' murder trial. As Della later testified, defendant told Della that Rogers planned to give Jones $1,000 if she failed to appear in court and testify against Rogers. Whether defendant himself was initially part of this proposed transaction is somewhat unclear from Della's testimony, but she stated that "[defendant] said they were offering----[Rogers] would offer [Jones] a stack to not to [sic] testify, not to come to court to testify," and also that "[i]f she testified, something might happen to her, something would happen to her." At this point, Della appears to have taken defendant's statement as something of a warning as to Rogers' plans, rather than an explicit threat by defendant against Jones.

¶ 4 However, Della told Jones' sister Shauntae Thomas about the conversation with defendant, and when defendant approached Shauntae the next day he stated his intentions more explicitly. Shauntae testified that defendant told her, " '[Rogers] said if [Jones] don't come to court, they would give her a thousand dollars *** a thousand dollars to not come to court to testify, but if she do come to court to testify, something is going to happen to her."

¶ 5 Both Della and Shauntae related these conversations to Jones, but it was not long before defendant approached Jones herself. As Jones later testified, defendant asked her to "do [him] a favor," and defendant again reiterated that if Jones came to court "something bad" would happen to her. However, if Jones failed to appear she would "get paid dough."

¶ 6 Defendant was later arrested and charged with communicating with a witness in violation of section 32-4(b) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/32-4(b) (West 2008)). During jury selection, the trial court admonished the venire about the principles set forth in Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431(b) (eff. May 1, 2007). Although the trial court asked the venire if they accepted and understood three of the four principles and allowed the potential jurors an opportunity to indicate that they did not, the trial court did not inquire whether they understood and accepted the principle that a defendant's decision not to testify cannot be held against him. See Ill. S. Ct. R. 431(b) (eff. May 1, 2007).

¶ 7 The jury ultimately convicted defendant of communicating with a witness and, following posttrial motions, the trial court sentenced defendant to eight years' incarceration. As part of the sentence, the trial court imposed several fines and fees. After defendant's motion to reconsider the sentence was denied, defendant filed a timely notice of appeal. This case is now before us.

¶ 8 II. ANALYSIS

¶ 9 Defendant raises three issues on appeal that we will consider in turn: (1) whether the State's evidence was sufficient to prove defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) whether the trial court properly admonished potential jurors pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431(b) (eff. May 1, 2007); and (3) whether the trial court properly imposed certain fines and fees during sentencing.

¶ 10 A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

¶ 11 Defendant's primary argument on appeal is that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. When reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, "the relevant question is 'whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.' " (Emphasis in orginal.) People v. Jackson, 232 Ill. 2d 246, 280 (2009) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19 (1979)). We will not reverse a conviction "unless the evidence is 'unreasonable, improbable, or so unsatisfactory as to justify a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt.' " Id. at 281 (quoting People v. Campbell, 146 Ill. 2d 363, 375 (1992)).

¶ 12 The issue in this case is whether the State proved the mens rea element of the crime of communicating with a witness. At trial, the State presented three different witnesses who each testified, in essence, that defendant offered Jones $1,000 in exchange for her not testifying as a witness in Rogers' trial and threatened her with "something bad" if she did testify. The offense of communicating with a witness is defined as follows:

"A person who, with intent to deter any party or witness from testifying freely, fully and truthfully to any matter pending in any court, or before a Grand Jury, Administrative agency or any other State or local governmental unit, forcibly detains such party or witness, or communicates, directly or indirectly, to such party or witness any knowingly false information or a threat of injury or damage to the property or person of any individual or offers or delivers or ...


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