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The People of the State of Illinois v. Joann Higgenbotham

June 28, 2012

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOANN HIGGENBOTHAM, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Nos. TP311029; TP311030; TP311031; TB 311032; TP31033 Honorable Thomas Lyons, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Pucinski

JUSTICE PUCINSKI delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Lavin and Justice Sterba concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 The State appeals an order of the circuit court granting defendant Joann Higgenbotham's motion to dismiss multiple traffic law violations on speedy trial grounds. On appeal, the State argues that the circuit court's order fails to accord with the plain language of the speedy trial statute (725 ILCS 5/103-5(b) (West 2008)) as well as relevant case law interpreting that provision. For the reasons explained herein, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 On February 23, 2008, defendant was arrested and charged with multiple traffic law violations, including: failure to render aid (625 ILCS 5/11-403 (West 2008)); operating a motor vehicle without insurance (625 ILCS 5/3-707 (West 2008)); driving under the influence (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(4) (West 2008)); driving on a suspended license (625 ILCS 5/6-303(a) (West 2008)); and leaving the scene of an accident involving an unattended vehicle (625 ILCS 5/11-404 (West 2008)).

¶ 4 Following her arrest, defendant was released on her own recognizance with bail set at $3,000. Defendant failed to appear in court on March, 20, 2008, her initial court date, and the court issued a bond forfeiture warrant (BFW). The trial court subsequently quashed and recalled the BFW when defendant appeared on the judgment date. Another BFW was entered on July 10, 2008, when defendant failed to appear in court a second time, but was later quashed and recalled when she appeared on the judgment date. Thereafter, the cause was set for trial on October 30, 2008. Defendant, however, failed to appear on the trial date and the trial court issued a third BFW. This BFW was also subsequently quashed and recalled when defendant appeared in court on the judgment date. The trial date was then rescheduled for January 21, 2009. On that date, both parties entered appearances but neither party answered ready for trial, and a new trial date of March 25, 2009, was set by agreement. On that date, the trial court called the case but defendant was not present and the court issued yet another BFW. Defendant did appear in court later that day, however, and at that time the BFW was quashed and recalled and the parties agreed to a new trial date: June 9, 2009. Defendant, however, failed to appear on the June 9, 2009, trial date and another BFW was entered and the cause continued to June 23, 2009. Defendant also failed to appear in court on June 23, 2009, and the court issued a sixth BFW.

¶ 5 By agreement, the parties set a new trial date for November 20, 2009. On this court date, defendant answered ready for trial but the State answered not ready. Defendant immediately filed her first demand for a speedy trial and the cause was continued to January 5, 2010. On that date, both parties appeared in court but the State answered not ready for trial and defendant filed her second written demand for a speedy trial. The cause was then continued to April 23, 2010, at the request of the State. On that date, defendant was not present and defense counsel informed the court that she had been hospitalized in the intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital. Defense counsel then provided the court and the State with a note written by defendant's treating physician that stated: "To whom it may concern: This letter is to certify that Ms. Joann Higgenbotham (DOB 11/29/42) is currently admitted to Mercy Hospital Intensive Care Unit and will [be] unable to participate in scheduled court case." Defense counsel thus sought a continuance pursuant to section 114-4(i) of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Criminal Code) (725 ILCS 5/114-4(i) (West 2008)), as a result of defendant's documented physical incapacity. Given defendant's medical state, the trial court granted defendant's motion for a continuance until May 18, 2010. Because the case was "on term" the State also sought leave for an additional 21 days to be added to the speedy trial term, and the court instructed the State to "argue it on the next court date."*fn1

¶ 6 On May 18, 2010, defendant failed to appear in court. Defense counsel informed the court that she had been unable to reach defendant or any member of defendant's family since defendant's hospitalization and requested the court to continue the cause for one week. The State objected to defense counsel's request for a continuance and requested the court to issue another BFW. The trial court's denied the State's warrant request but indicated it would issue a warrant if defendant failed to appear on the next court date. The court then continued the case to May 25, 2010. On that date, defendant failed to appear in court once again. Defense counsel had no information about defendant's whereabouts and the State renewed its request for a BFW. The court instructed defense counsel to "[g]et letters out to everybody" and entered and continued the State's request for a BFW. The court indicated that the warrant would be issued on the next court date if defendant failed to appear. The trial court then continued the cause to June 22, 2010.

¶ 7 On that date, defendant appeared and presented the court with another's doctor's note that stated that she had been hospitalized at RML Specialty Hospital for acute respiratory failure from May 4, 2010, to June 2, 2010, which served to explain her two most recent absences from court. The parties then agreed to a new trial date: September 1, 2010. On that date, however, the State again answered not ready for trial and defendant filed her third demand for a speedy trial. At the State's request, the cause was continued to October 28, 2010. On the October 28, 2010, trial date, the State answered ready but defendant filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that her right to a speedy trial had been violated. In her motion, defendant observed that she had filed her first demand for a speedy trial on November 20, 2009, and that as of October 28, 2010, 210 days had passed since her first demand, which far exceeded the 160-day time limitation set forth in the speedy trial statute. Defendant calculated her speedy trial term as follows:

"November 20, 2009 to January 5, 2010 (46 days)

January 5, 2010 to April 23, 2010 (107 days)

September 1, 2010 to October 28, 2010 (57 days)

Total: 210 days"

¶ 8 The trial court conducted a hearing on defendant's motion that day. At the hearing, the State calculated defendant's speedy trial term to be 57 days. The State argued that the term had started over on September 1, 2010, when defendant made her third demand for a speedy trial. To support its calculation, the State cited section 103-5 of the speedy trial statute (725 ILCS 5/103-5 (West 2008)) and this court's decision in People v. Zakarauskas, 398 Ill. App. 3d 451 (2010), and argued that a defendant's failure to appear in court operates as a waiver of her demand for a speedy trial. Because defendant failed to appear at three scheduled court dates during her illness, the State argued that defendant's prior speedy trial demands were waived.

¶ 9 Defendant disputed the State's interpretation of relevant case law and statutory authority. Specifically, defendant argued that pursuant to this court's ruling in Zakarauskas, waiver only occurs where a defendant's absence is unexplained. Because defendant provided the court with doctors' notes and explained her failures to appear, defendant argued that her speedy trial term was merely tolled during the dates of her hospitalization. To further support her argument, defendant directed the court to section 114-4(i) of the Criminal Code (725 ILCS 5/114-4(i) (West 2008)) and argued that pursuant to that provision, a defendant's physical incapacity merely suspends, rather than waives, a defendant's demand for a speedy trial.

¶ 10 After hearing the arguments of the parties, the court granted defendant's motion to dismiss. In doing so, the court stated:

"[Defendant] was hospitalized. *** And I have no reason to believe she was belingering [sic]. I think she probably was in dire need of serious medical treatment. State, I know this is a draconian, that the relief sought by the Defense is very draconian in this case but I can also see why [defendant] in her fragile state would have been anxious to get this case released and at her attorneys urging get the case for trial. I do have, I have been satisfied with the documentation provided *** on behalf of [defendant] that she was incapacitated and hospitalized and to no fault of her own missed court. And therefore, I am reluctant to find that the delay was occasioned by the defendant."

¶ 11 The State subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the court's dismissal. After hearing the arguments of the parties, the court denied the State's motion. The court explained its rationale as follows:

"[T]he State is urging me to feel [sic] that [defendant's] failure to appear when she was in the intensive care unit should operate at the effect of a bond forfeiture warrant where she voluntarily relinquished her right to a speedy trial by failing to appear in court, and that the [S]tate should get a[n] entire new term.

The Defense urges me to treat that failure to appear because she was in the intensive care unit as a motion defendant something that would simply toll the term. I think that accurately describes both ...


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