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The People of the State of Illinois v. Terrence Spencer

February 6, 2012

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
TERRENCE SPENCER,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 09 CR 06736 Honorable Nicholas Ford, Judge Presiding.

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

PRESIDING JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Karnezis and Rochford concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Following a bench trial, the defendant, Terrence Spencer, was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon (720 ILCS 5/24-1.1 (West 2008)) and sentenced to serve three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, with a recommendation for boot camp. On appeal, the defendant challenges his conviction, asserting that (1) the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and (2) the statute under which he was convicted is unconstitutional because it infringes on the right to bear arms as guaranteed by the second amendment. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

¶ 2 At trial, the State called Chicago police officer James Green, who testified that, at approximately 10 p.m. on March 21, 2009, he executed a warrant authorizing a search of the defendant and of the premises located at 2101 South 12th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. Officer Green stated that he was accompanied by about 16 other officers, some of whom went with him to the front door of the single-family house, while others proceeded to the back yard. According to Officer Green, the officers knocked on the front door and announced their office, but no one answered. After waiting an appropriate amount of time, they forced entry through the front door, which opened into a living room. Beyond the living room was a bedroom, a second bedroom, a bathroom, a third bedroom, a kitchen, and a rear door that led out to the backyard. In addition, there was a basement in the residence that contained a single bedroom.

¶ 3 Officer Green testified that, when he and his fellow officers entered the house, he saw the defendant and several other individuals in the living room, but the defendant immediately ran toward the kitchen and the rear of the house. Officer Green stated that he pursued the defendant as he fled from the house. When the defendant got to the backyard, he was detained by Officer Kuri, who was standing outside with the defendant's mother. Officer Green testified that he went out to the backyard and heard the defendant make a statement indicating that the police "were going to find nothing but money." The officers then took the defendant and his mother back into the house.

¶ 4 Officer Green further stated that, after a canine unit had completed a search of the premises, he began his own systematic search of the house. In the third bedroom, he found a bed, a dresser, and a closet containing men's clothes. Laying on the top of the dresser were three live rounds of .357-caliber ammunition, several bundles of cash totaling $9,286, and a plastic bag containing a substance that he suspected was cannabis. Another officer recovered several other items indicating that the defendant lived in the house. Those items consisted of (1) a December 29, 2008, letter from the Circuit Court of Cook County probation department, which was addressed to the defendant at that house, (2) the defendant's Illinois identification card bearing the same address, (3) two photographs depicting the defendant and other men, and (4) a set of keys that opened the outer doors of the house. The probation department letter was recovered from the closet, and the identification card, keys, and photographs were recovered from the "closet area." Officer Green testified that, when these items were discovered, he returned to the living room, placed the defendant in custody, and advised him of his Miranda rights. According to Officer Green, the defendant indicated that he understood each of his rights and then made a statement to the effect that "if you had my kind of money, you'd have a gun, too."

¶ 5 Officer Green further testified that he and some of his team members then proceeded to search the kitchen. Officer Lipsey knelt on the kitchen counter and reached up to the top of a kitchen cabinet, where she discovered a loaded blue steel .357-caliber revolver containing six live rounds, a black holster, and a plastic bag containing 14 rounds of 7.62-caliber ammunition and two rounds of .357-caliber ammunition. The officers then searched the first bedroom near the front of the house, where Officer Kuri recovered approximately $14,020 from a small metal box on the night stand. Finally, Officer Kuri performed a custodial search of the defendant and recovered $525. Officer Green further testified that he created contact cards for the individuals who were in the house at the time of the search. These individuals included Laura Grays, Devon Mennett, Lee Arlee, Dante Fox, and Terrell Spencer. Arlee, Fox, and Terrell Spencer all gave the address of the house identified in the search warrant as their residence.

¶ 6 Following Officer Green's testimony, the State introduced a certified copy of the defendant's conviction in case number 06 CR 10848, in which he had pled guilty to aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and was sentenced to 18 months' probation on December 12, 2008.

¶ 7 The defendant called four witnesses to testify on his behalf. Liana Grays, the defendant's younger sister, testified that she lived at 2101 South 12th Avenue in Maywood and was in the living room when the police executed the search warrant. She also stated that, when the police entered the house, they met her cousin, Dante Fox, at the front door. The officers then told her to get on the floor while they searched and questioned her. According to Liana, the defendant was in the backyard of the house that day, but he did not live at the house, nor did he run to the back of the house when the police arrived. Liana admitted that she had a previous felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance from 2004 and that she is close to her brother and would not want anything bad to happen to him.

¶ 8 Dante Fox, the defendant's cousin, testified that he lived at the house in Maywood and was in the living room with Liana when the police arrived. According to Fox, the police told them to get down and put their hands up. Fox stated that he did not see the defendant run through the house when the police arrived and that he had not seen the defendant before the police arrived. He also acknowledged that he was close to the defendant and did not want anything bad to happen to him. In addition, Fox denied that he had ever spoken with the defendant about what occurred that day.

¶ 9 Laura Grays, the defendant's mother, testified that she operated a cash business from her home, selling packaged dinners for $10 each, and that she was in the kitchen when the police arrived. Laura denied that the defendant lived in her house at that time, but she acknowledged that he was in the backyard when the police came to execute the search warrant. She also denied seeing the defendant run through the house and out of the back door, though he had been inside the house earlier that day. According to Laura, the residents of the house consisted of herself, her daughter, Liana, Dante Fox, Michael Jenkins, and Devon Mennett. Laura also testified that she had never spoken with her son about the case.

¶ 10 Edwin King testified that he was the defendant's barber. King stated that, when the police arrived, he was in the kitchen because he wanted to purchase two packaged dinners from the defendant's mother. King stated that he did not live at the house and did not know where the defendant lived on March 21, 2009. King further stated that he had seen the defendant in the backyard earlier, but he did not know where the defendant was when the police arrived. King testified that he had cut the defendant's hair several times since the date of the search and that, although the defendant told him to be in court to testify, he had never spoken with the defendant about what occurred that day.

¶ 11 During closing arguments, the prosecutor stated that the letter from the probation department was dated "March 11, 2009, approximately ten days prior to this incident." In finding the defendant guilty, the trial judge stated that his ruling was predicated on his observation of the witnesses and his review of the exhibits. The court found that Officer Green was a "competent," "credible," and "good witness," and, based on the items recovered from the third bedroom, the court concluded that the defendant lived at the house. In particular, the court noted that there was "proof of residency dated almost on top of the date the search warrant was executed." The court further noted the defendant's Illinois identification card listed that address as his residence and that the photographs depicted the defendant and other men displaying gang signals. In addition, the court observed that, as soon as the defendant was apprehended and before the premises had been searched, he told the officers that all they were going to find was money and that the officers found almost $24,000 in cash, of which $9,000 was found along with ammunition on the dresser in the third bedroom. The court determined that the defendant's knowledge of the presence of the cash, coupled with the items indicating that he resided in the house, established that the defendant lived there.

¶ 12 The trial court further found that, although the defense witnesses were "not terrible," they were "tainted" by their relationships with the defendant and that "a dark cloud" was cast over their testimony. The court rejected as entirely implausible the defendant's theory that he did not live at the house but knew there would be a large amount of money there because his mother sold dinners for $10 each. The trial court also found it significant that the defendant connected himself to the revolver by stating that, considering the amount of money he had, it was necessary to have a gun. In particular, the court commented that, "[o]nce the gun is found, it's like, well, yeah, I've got a gun, you've got to have a gun if you've got this much money. His gun, his money, he constructively possessed it."

ΒΆ 13 The defendant filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that he had not been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In denying the motion, the trial court reiterated that the proofs of residence recovered from the same bedroom as the bullets and the defendant's statement to the police that they would not find anything but money were strong evidence of his residence at the house and his possession of those bullets. In addition, the court stated that the ...


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