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People v. Richardson

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

August 23, 2013

JARON R. RICHARDSON, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 10-CF-4037 Honorable Theodore S. Potkonjak, Judge, Presiding.

Justices Zenoff and Birkett concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant, Jaron R. Richardson, was convicted of unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon while wearing body armor (720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(a), (e) (West 2010)). He appeals, contending that (1) the trial court erred by admitting a lay opinion that the vest defendant was wearing was "body armor, " and (2) to the extent that trial counsel allowed witnesses to testify without objection that defendant wore body armor, counsel was ineffective. We affirm.

¶ 2 At trial, Waukegan detective Brian Bradfield testified that he and two other officers were patrolling near the intersection of Belvidere and Lincoln. Bradfield saw someone walk into a fenced area behind an auto repair shop. The man he saw (later identified as defendant) was wearing a knee-length coat and clutching his arm to his chest.

¶ 3 The driver of the police vehicle, Officer Francisco Cancino, turned it around. The officers saw defendant emerge from an alley and walk down the sidewalk on Lincoln. They drove along beside him, separated by a line of parked vehicles. One of the vehicles was a large truck. As defendant walked past the truck, the officers could still see his feet underneath it. Defendant stopped near the rear axle. Cancino stopped the car. Two of the officers got out and identified themselves as police. They heard a loud metallic sound and defendant took off running. Bradfield and Officer Murauskes chased him through a parking lot, eventually catching him in a yard, where they placed him under arrest. The officers retraced the path of the chase, looking for any contraband that might have been dropped. Back at the truck, they found a shotgun resting on the gas tank beneath the passenger-side door.

¶ 4 Officer Mallory Baker arrived and transported defendant to the police station. In the booking room, Baker had defendant undress. When defendant took off his sweatshirt, Baker noticed that "he was wearing a bullet-proof vest." Baker and Cancino both testified that the vest was like ones they wore daily. (The vest was admitted into evidence without objection.) Specifically, Cancino testified that the vest had "trauma plates" to cover vital organs. He removed a blue insert from the portion of the vest that would cover the center of the chest. The purpose of the inserts was "to stop bullets."

¶ 5 Cancino stated that he served in the army before becoming a police officer. There, he wore a flak jacket, which is basically the same thing except that it is worn over clothing. When the prosecutor asked whether the vest was meant to be worn under clothing, the defense objected. During a sidebar, the court stated that one did not have to be an expert to know how a bulletproof vest works, but the court allowed the State to begin qualifying Cancino as an expert. After a further objection, the court reiterated its original ruling that expert testimony was not necessary.

¶ 6 Cancino continued that he would describe the item as a bulletproof vest and as "soft body armor." The vest was lightweight and flexible and could be worn under clothing. The parties stipulated that defendant had previously been convicted of a felony. During closing argument, the prosecutor read from the vest's label, which stated that it was made by American Body Armor.

¶ 7 The jury found defendant guilty. After denying his posttrial motion, the court sentenced him to 17 years' imprisonment. Defendant timely appeals.

¶ 8 Defendant contends that the trial court erred by allowing Cancino to give his lay opinion that the vest in question was body armor. Defendant argues that Cancino was improperly allowed to usurp the jury's function on an ultimate issue in the case. He alternatively contends that, to the extent that defense counsel allowed witnesses to testify without objection about the nature of the vest, counsel was ineffective.

¶ 9 Defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon. To convict him of this offense, as charged here, the State had to prove that defendant possessed on or about his person "any firearm or any firearm ammunition if the person has been convicted of a felony." 720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(a) (West 2010). Further, the State sought to enhance the offense to a Class X felony with a minimum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment by virtue of the fact that defendant committed the offense while wearing body armor. 720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(e) (West 2010). The Criminal Code of 1961 (Code) defines "body armor" in several ways. The definition applicable here is "[s]oft body armor which is made of Kevlar or any other similar material or metal or any other type of insert and which is lightweight and pliable and which can be easily concealed under a shirt." 720 ILCS 5/33F-1(a)(2) (West 2010).

¶ 10 Whether to admit evidence lies within the sound discretion of the trial court and its ruling will not be reversed unless that discretion was clearly abused. Klingelhoets v. Charlton-Perrin, 2013 IL App (1st) 112412, ¶ 44. Generally, lay witness opinion is admissible where the facts could not otherwise be adequately described to the fact finder so as to allow the fact finder to reach an intelligent conclusion. People v. Novak, 163 Ill.2d 93, 102 (1994). While a lay witness should not be permitted to testify to a legal conclusion at issue (see Town of the City of Bloomington v. Bloomington Township, 233 Ill.App.3d 724, 735 (1992)), a lay witness may express an opinion on an issue if that opinion will assist the trier of fact. Novak, 163 Ill.2d at 102. Accordingly, as long ...

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