Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division
Rehearing denied January 30, 2014
An adjudication of delinquency based on the trial court’s finding that respondent was guilty of aggravated battery involving great bodily harm was reversed where the State failed to sustain its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that respondent “knowingly caused great bodily harm, ” especially when the record showed the trial judge made no findings of fact and simply stated that respondent was guilty of aggravated battery involving great bodily harm and stated at the sentencing hearing that all of the witnesses lied.
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 12-JD-50129; the Hon. Richard F. Walsh, Judge, presiding.
Michael Maksimovich Attorney at Law P.C., of Lyons (Robert B. Marcus, of counsel), for appellant.
Anita M. Alvarez, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Anne L. Magats, and Matthew Connors, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.
Justices Neville and Pucinski concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Respondent, Vuk R., was charged in a petition for adjudication of wardship with two counts of aggravated battery stemming from an altercation with another minor on July 14, 2012. Following a trial, respondent was adjudicated delinquent on a finding of guilty on the offense of aggravated battery involving great bodily harm. 720 ILCS 5/12-3.05(a)(1) (West 2010). There was a finding of not guilty on the charge of aggravated battery on a public way. 720 ILCS 5/12-3.05(c) (West 2010).
¶ 2 Respondent appeals contending that the State failed in its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not acting in self-defense and that the victim suffered great bodily harm. Respondent further argues that because during the sentencing hearing the trial judge stated that he did not believe the testimony of any of the witnesses who testified regarding the altercation at trial, his adjudication for aggravated battery cannot stand. For the reasons that follow, we reverse.
¶ 3 The testimony at trial regarding the events of July 14, 2012, was disputed in almost every material respect. That evening there was an unsupervised party at another minor's house where liquor was served. The victim claimed respondent and his male friends were there; respondent and several witnesses testified they were not. The victim testified that he consumed one beer at the party. Respondent and other witnesses testified that the victim was inebriated when they first encountered him at a gas station around 9 p.m. When the victim followed the group including respondent and a number of his friends, he claimed respondent swore at him and called him a "faggot." Respondent denied doing anything other than telling the victim he was not invited to accompany the group to the home of respondent's girlfriend.
¶ 4 What is undisputed is that there was some sort of altercation between respondent and the victim. Respondent claimed that after he told the victim that he could not accompany the group, the victim confronted him physically and eventually threatened him with a knife. Respondent claimed that the victim was the aggressor and that he was acting in self-defense. Respondent testified that the victim sustained his injuries when he tripped and fell, striking his face on the pavement. Several witnesses corroborated respondent's version of events. The victim claimed that after respondent angrily informed him he was not invited to the gathering, respondent, without provocation, assaulted him and had to be pulled off the victim after striking him several times with his fists, breaking the victim's nose and causing him to lose consciousness. One other witness corroborated the victim's account.
¶ 5 Were this just a case involving the trial court's assessment of the credibility of witnesses with differing versions of events, we would affirm under the well-settled standard of review that accords great deference to a trial judge's resolution of factual disputes. See People v. Siguenza-Brito, 235 Ill.2d 213, 224-25 (2009) (a reviewing court will not substitute its judgment for that of the trier of fact on issues involving the weight of evidence or the credibility of witnesses). However, there are two aspects of this case that each independently provide grounds for reversal.
¶ 6 First, at the conclusion of the trial, the trial judge made no findings of fact, but simply pronounced respondent guilty of aggravated battery involving great bodily harm and not guilty of the charge of aggravated battery on a public way (given that the State introduced no evidence that the altercation occurred ...