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People v. Ramirez

Court of Appeals of Illinois

October 4, 2013

The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Jesus RAMIREZ, Defendant-Appellant.

Page 1228

Sam Adam, and Samuel E. Adam and Josh Niewoehner, both of Henderson Adam, both of Chicago, for appellant.

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John Milhiser, State's Attorney, of Springfield (Patrick Delfino, Robert J. Biderman, and Anastacia R. Brooks, all of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

OPINION

STEIGMANN, Presiding Justice.

¶ 1 In September 2012, a jury convicted defendant, Jesus Ramirez, of two counts of attempt (first degree murder) (720 ILCS 5/8-4, 9-1(a)(1) (West 2010)), armed violence (720 ILCS 5/33A-2 (West 2010)), and possession with intent to manufacture-deliver a controlled substance (more than 900 grams of a substance containing cocaine) (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(2) (West 2010)). The trial court later sentenced defendant to an aggregate 90 years in prison.

¶ 2 Defendant appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court erred by not granting his " motion to quash arrest" ; (2) plain error was committed when the trial court permitted a police officer to testify about what he saw on a video recording; and (3) the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of attempt (first degree murder). We disagree and affirm.

¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 4 In January 2011, the State charged defendant as earlier stated. The two attempt (first degree murder) charges arose from defendant's pointing a loaded handgun at each of two uniformed police officers and pulling the trigger.

¶ 5 A. Defendant's " Motion To Quash Arrest"

¶ 6 In May 2011, defendant filed a motion " pursuant to 725 ILCS 5/114-12 [ (West 2010) ]," requesting the trial court to " quash the defendant's arrest." That motion, in its entirety, reads as follows:

" 1. The defendant was detained and arrested by officers of the McLean County Police Department at approximately 1:35 a.m. on the 13th day of January, 2011.
2. The detention, arrest and seizure of the defendant were without exigent circumstances, without a warrant, and without consent and were, therefore, illegal.
3. At the time of his arrest and/or detention, the defendant was not observed in the commission of a crime, nor did the police have probable cause to believe the defendant had committed a crime.
4. Said police officers did not have reasonable grounds to believe that a warrant for the arrest of the defendant had been issued in this State or in any other jurisdiction.
5. That the arrest and/or detention of the defendant violated the defendant's rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I of the 1970 Constitution of the State of Illinois.
WHEREFORE, the [d]efendant * * * prays this honorable court to find that his arrest and/or detention was illegal, because of the absence of authority or probable cause to effect it, and to allow his Motion to Quash Arrest."

¶ 7 In June 2011, the trial court began a hearing on defendant's " motion to quash arrest." (We note that neither the court nor the prosecutor raised any question regarding either the appropriateness or the sufficiency of that motion.)

¶ 8 Defendant's sole witness was Officer Kent Hair of the Chenoa police department. Hair testified that in the early morning hours of January 13, 2011, he saw a dark-colored sports utility vehicle (SUV)

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drive past him in the south lanes of Interstate 55 (I-55) without a rear registration plate light. Hair followed the SUV and ultimately stopped it by turning on his overhead lights, which also turned on the police car's dashboard-mounted video recorder. Hair reviewed the video recording and confirmed that it accurately portrayed what happened during the traffic stop. Based on the parties' agreement, the trial court viewed the video recording.

¶ 9 Hair testified that after he stopped the SUV, he walked to the passenger side and spoke with the driver and passenger to tell them why he had stopped them. Hair asked for the driver's identification and the SUV's registration. The driver identified himself as Jamaris Torbert. The passenger, defendant, sad the SUV was his, so Hair asked for his identification as well. Hair then did a computer check and learned that (1) neither Torbert nor defendant had any outstanding arrest warrants and (2) Torbert had a valid driver's license.

¶ 10 Hair asked Torbert to get out of the SUV and then showed him the defective light over the rear registration plate. Hair noticed that both Torbert and defendant were very nervous, would not make eye contact, and were visibly shaking as he spoke to them.

¶ 11 During his conversations with Torbert and defendant, Hair asked them whether the SUV contained drugs or anything illegal. They both answered, " No." Hair explained that whenever he stops a car, whether for a speeding ticket or a written warning for a defective registration light, he is always looking for narcotics. If a canine unit had been available, he would have requested one. Instead, Hair asked Torbert to accompany him to his police car, intending simply to write Torbert a warning ticket for the registration light and let him leave. As he wrote the warning ticket, Hair wanted defendant to stay in the SUV's passenger seat so he could not make any threatening moves toward Hair.

¶ 12 As Torbert sat in Hair's police car, waiting for Hair to issue the warning ticket, defendant moved from the SUV's passenger seat to driver's seat and drove off. The video recording showed defendant's movement as well as the ensuing chase.

¶ 13 The State and defendant filed written memoranda in support of their respective positions regarding defendant's " motion to quash." Defendant asserted that the initial traffic stop was not valid because, despite Hair's testimony, " the videotape of the stop clearly [showed] that the rear registration light was illuminating the license plate." Defendant further contended, citing People v. Sinclair, 281 Ill.App.3d 131, 217 Ill.Dec. 283, 666 N.E.2d 1221 (1996), that " after the illegal stop," he was " unlawfully detained by officer Hair." Defendant based this contention upon the fact that he " was not free to leave the scene nor was he free to exit the vehicle" during the time that Hair was writing Torbert the warning ticket in the police car. We note that defendant concluded his memorandum with the following prayer for relief: " WHEREFORE, the defendant prays this honorable court to grant the motion to quash the arrest of the defendant."

¶ 14 In the State's response, the State asserted that the traffic stop was valid based upon Hair's testimony. The State also contended that when a vehicle is stopped due to a traffic violation, the police have a right to detain all occupants of that vehicle, including the driver and all passengers.

¶ 15 The trial court denied defendant's motion, explaining that the court accepted Hair's testimony that the light on the license plate was out. The court noted that

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the video recording was not inconsistent with that conclusion, " given the reflective nature of license plates and the fact that the police car [with its lights on] was directly behind the vehicle in question at the time of the stop."

¶ 16 Regarding defendant's claimed detention, the trial court noted that the officer invited Torbert back to speak with him in the police car. To the extent that defendant was detained, it was because he was a passenger in the car as the officer spoke to Torbert. (The record shows it was a cold winter's night and the SUV was then parked on the shoulder of a rural portion of I-55.)

¶ 17 B. Defendant's Jury Trial

¶ 18 The pertinent evidence introduced at defendant's jury trial follows.

¶ 19 Wendee Ramirez testified that she was married to defendant in January 2011, and she owned the SUV. As of January 2011, she and defendant had been either married or living together for approximately 10 years. During that time, she never saw defendant in possession of any guns.

¶ 20 Hair testified consistently with his testimony at defendant's " motion to quash arrest" hearing, adding that he asked Torbert if he had anything illegal inside the vehicle, like illegal narcotics or guns. Torbert responded, " No." Leaving Torbert at the rear of the SUV, Hair walked to the passenger side and asked defendant the same question. Defendant likewise said no. Hair also spoke to defendant about having a canine come to the location of the stop.

¶ 21 As Torbert sat in Hair's police car, defendant sped away in the SUV. Hair followed him for approximately 25 miles, traveling around 90 miles per hour. As Hair chased the SUV, he was in radio contact with other law enforcement agencies. The video recording from Hair's police car was played for the jury.

¶ 22 Other police officers from various central Illinois law enforcement agencies testified about being part of the pursuit of the SUV. Sergeant Nathan Scott of the Williamsville police department testified that he joined in the chase on I-55 and saw the SUV make a sharp turn onto the off-ramp at the Stevenson Drive exit into Springfield, Illinois. Scott's police car and other police cars followed the SUV onto the off-ramp, where it lost control, went into a spin, and ended up stopping in the snowy median between the on-ramp and the off-ramp for Stevenson Drive.

¶ 23 Scott's vehicle stopped about a car length behind the SUV and a police vehicle. Scott observed defendant get out of the driver's side of the SUV with a silver handgun in his hand. He pointed the gun toward Deputy Dickason, who was getting out of his police car. As this happened, Scott was approximately 25 feet away. Defendant ran up to Deputy Dickason as the deputy was exiting the police car, pointed the pistol at him, and " attempted to fire the gun." Scott explained as follows: " [Defendant's] hand— his finger was in the trigger, on the trigger, and when he attempted to pull the trigger, the gun malfunctioned, and I could tell he was trying to fire the gun because he was anticipating the recoil."

¶ 24 Scott explained that he was familiar with handguns and had received training regarding them. He was his department's range officer. Scott explained further the concept of " anticipating a recoil," as follows: " That's when you— pretend my hand has got a gun in it, and you go to fire, you jerk anticipating that there is going to be recoil action against your hand (indicating), and that's anticipating the recoil."

¶ 25 Scott testified that the gun appeared to malfunction. Defendant looked

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down at the gun and then ran in between Scott's police car and the back side of the deputy's vehicle. As he did so, defendant was " racking the slide back, attempting to chamber a round." Scott estimated the distance between defendant and the deputy at the time defendant attempted to fire the gun as under three feet.

¶ 26 Defendant ran toward the Drury Inn hotel, with several officers in pursuit. At no time did defendant's weapon discharge, nor did the officers ever discharge their weapons. As Scott approached the hotel, he saw defendant standing near its entrance with his handgun pointed to his chin. As the officers talked to defendant, he threw his handgun down and surrendered.

¶ 27 Scott testified that he had an in-car camera that recorded his involvement in the chase of the SUV. He said his camera was operating early that morning, and the video recording he saw accurately depicted what he observed that night. The video recording, which contained no audio, was then played for the jury.

¶ 28 Sergeant Christopher Russell of the Springfield police department testified that he participated in the effort to stop the SUV by driving to the on-ramp to I-55 from Stevenson Drive. His purpose was to keep people from entering onto I-55 southbound in front of the pursuit.

¶ 29 Russell observed the SUV traveling southbound at a high rate of speed. The driver tried to take the Stevenson Drive exit ramp off that highway, but the SUV started spinning and went off the exit ramp.

¶ 30 Russell got out of his police car on the driver's side, drew his weapon, and pointed it at the SUV. As Russell did so, the driver's door opened and the suspect got out. He " side-stepped a little bit, and then pointed a silver or chrome handgun at [Russell]." As the suspect did so, a county deputy's vehicle pulled up, so Russell could not discharge his firearm because the deputy was " behind where [his] line of sight was." The driver then turned, ran directly toward the deputy's location and pointed his gun at the deputy. Russell watched as the suspect jumped a fence, heading toward the hotel.

¶ 31 Dickason joined Russell in chasing after the suspect, who ran up to the hotel. Russell saw defendant put the gun to his head while other officers were telling him to put the gun down. Defendant ultimately threw his gun down and gave up.

¶ 32 Russell testified that he did not see the defendant pull the trigger when defendant pointed the gun at him, nor did he see defendant rack his weapon. Russell observed all of that only later when he watched the video, as he also did with regard to ...


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