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The People of the State of Illinois v. Donnell M. Taylor

June 27, 2012

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DONNELL M. TAYLOR,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of De Kalb County. No. 09-CF-582 Honorable Robbin J. Stuckert, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Schostok

JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Bowman and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 This case raises the issue of whether a person may be convicted of obstruction of justice (720 ILCS 5/31-4 (West 2008)) where he attempts to obstruct justice but his attempt is unsuccessful and does not interfere in any material way with the police investigation. We hold that, under the circumstances present here, such a conviction cannot stand.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 On the evening of October 22, 2009, the defendant, Donnell Taylor, had just left his dorm and was crossing a street in De Kalb when he was approached by police officers. At trial, De Kalb police officer Paul Mott testified that he had been driving past with his partner, Officer Keith Ehrke, when he saw Taylor, whom he recognized from previous encounters. (Mott had arrested Taylor before for jaywalking in the same area.) Mott had been informed that Taylor was wanted on a warrant from De Kalb County, and Taylor's photo was on the visor of the squad car along with photos of other persons who were wanted on warrants. (The case in which the warrant had been issued was a misdemeanor case in which Taylor pled guilty and had missed the court date for paying his fine.) After Mott saw Taylor, the police ran a records check through the state computer system and confirmed that the warrant was still active.

¶ 4 Mott testified that he approached Taylor and asked Taylor for identification even though he was "pretty sure" it was Taylor, because Taylor "could have had a brother or something" and he was not "100 percent" sure it was Taylor. Mott testified that Taylor said that he did not have any identification on him and that he was Keenan T. Smith and his birth date was December 26, 1987. Mott ran that information through the computer system. The search did not show that any such person existed. Mott then told Taylor that there was no Keenan Smith in the system and said, "Listen, you're going to be arrested for giving us false information. I know you're Donnell. This is your chance to tell the truth." Mott testified that Taylor repeated his assertion that he was Keenan Smith. According to Mott, they continued talking for a few minutes and then Mott said, "Hey, Donnell," and Taylor looked up and said, "Yeah?" Mott then arrested him. Mott stated that, as he was starting to arrest Taylor, Taylor tried to pull away. Ehrke came to Mott's assistance, and within about 30 seconds the officers were able to put Taylor in handcuffs. According to Mott, the entire encounter from first approaching Taylor to handcuffing him took "under ten minutes." They transported him to the police station, at which point they searched him and found identification with his correct name. Ehrke also testified, confirming this version of events.

¶ 5 Taylor testified at trial and conceded that he initially gave Mott a false name. Taylor said that he did so because he was a college student at the time, he did not have the money to pay the fine, and he was worried about having to go back and forth to court, which had caused him to lose a job in the past. However, according to Taylor, the police officers did not believe him when he said that he was Keenan Smith and they placed him in the back of their squad car almost immediately. They told him that they would give him one more chance to tell the truth or they would charge him with attempted obstruction of justice. Taylor testified that he then told them his real name and gave them his state identification card. According to Taylor, he did so voluntarily; it was not the result of Mott calling him Donnell and him responding. Taylor stated that he realized that he had made a mistake in giving the false name and he decided to cooperate. Taylor denied that he was ever handcuffed or that he resisted arrest. Taylor agreed that the entire incident took between 5 and 10 minutes.

¶ 6 Taylor was charged with obstruction of justice by furnishing false information to Mott (giving a false name and telling Mott that he did not have any identification on him) (720 ILCS 5/31-4(a) (West 2008)) and resisting a peace officer (720 ILCS 5/31-1 (West 2008)). A jury trial was conducted on January 10, 2011. The sole witnesses were Mott, Ehrke, and Taylor, all of whom testified as discussed above. The jury found Taylor guilty of obstructing justice but acquitted him of resisting a peace officer. On February 23, 2011, the trial court sentenced Taylor to 24 months of probation and 44 days of jail time with credit for the 22 days Taylor had already served. Taylor filed a timely notice of appeal.

¶ 7 ANALYSIS

¶ 8 On appeal, Taylor argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for obstruction of justice, because the evidence showed that his conduct of initially giving Mott a false name did not materially impede the investigation. In any challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, a rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Collins, 106 Ill. 2d 237, 261 (1985); People v. Mills, 356 Ill. App. 3d 438, 444 (2005). The determination of the weight to be given to the witnesses' testimony, their credibility, and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence are the responsibility of the trier of fact. People v. Steidl, 142 Ill. 2d 204, 226 (1991); Collins, 106 Ill. 2d at 261. This standard applies whether the evidence is direct or circumstantial and whether the judgment is the result of a jury trial or a bench trial. People v. Cooper, 194 Ill. 2d 419, 431 (2000).

¶ 9 To prove that Taylor obstructed justice, the State was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he violated section 31-4(a) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Code), which provides:

"A person obstructs justice when, with the intent to prevent the apprehension or obstruct the prosecution or defense of any person, he knowingly commits any of the following acts:

(a) Destroys, alters, conceals or disguises physical evidence, plants false evidence, [or] furnishes false information[.]" ...


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