Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 00 CR 2613. The Honorable Stanley J. Sacks, Judge Presiding.
Where defendant's guilty plea to first degree murder was vacated by the appellate court based on his postplea counsel's failure to comply with the requirements of Supreme Court Rule 604(d) and his subsequent conviction for first degree murder after a jury trial was reversed on the ground that the trial court's failure to rule on his motion in limine to bar the use of his prior felony convictions for impeachment until after he testified was reversible error, his conviction for first degree murder after a second jury trial was upheld over his contentions that his impeachment with his prior felonies was improper and that his sentence was excessive, since the prior felonies at issue were admissible at the time of defendant's first trial, and even though the 10-year Montgomery period normally would have barred the use of the felonies at defendant's second jury trial conducted 11 years after the shooting, under the fundamental fairness doctrine set forth in Reddick, the felonies were admissible for impeachment in that trial, and defendant failed to establish that his sentence was excessive.
Michael J. Pelletier, Alan D. Goldberg, Jennifer L. Bontrager, State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for Appellant.
Anita M. Alvarez, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Anthony O'Brien, Iris G. Ferosie, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.
PRESIDING JUSTICE PUCINSKI delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Neville and Mason concurred in the judgment and opinion.
PUCINSKI, PRESIDING JUSTICE.
[¶1] Following a jury trial, defendant Vandaire Knox was convicted of first degree murder and was sentenced to 45 years' imprisonment. Defendant appeals his conviction and the sentence imposed thereon, arguing: (1) the circuit court erred in permitting the State to impeach him with his three prior felony convictions; and (2) the 45-year sentence imposed by the circuit court is excessive. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.
[¶3] Guilty Plea
[¶4] On December 18, 1999, Rodney Clifton was shot and killed. Defendant was subsequently charged with first degree murder in connection with Clifton's death. Thereafter, on May 20, 2002, defendant entered a negotiated guilty plea to the charge of first degree murder in exchange for a sentence of 35 years' imprisonment. Defendant, however, later sought to vacate his guilty plea, arguing that he had been deprived of his constitutional right to effective assistance of trial counsel during his plea proceedings. Defendant was appointed new postplea counsel, who filed a supplemental motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Postplea counsel, however, did not file a certificate of compliance in accordance with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 604(d) (eff. July 1, 2006). The circuit
court denied defendant's motion to withdraw his plea, and defendant appealed. On appeal, this court remanded the cause back to the circuit court for vacatur of defendant's plea. In an unpublished Rule 23 order, we found that vacatur was warranted because postplea counsel had not strictly complied with the mandatory certificate requirement set forth in Rule 604(d). People v. Knox, 351 Ill.App.3d 1168 (2004) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).
[¶5] First Jury Trial
[¶6] Following remand, defendant withdrew his guilty plea. Defendant then elected to proceed by way of a jury trial. Prior to that trial, defendant filed a motion in limine seeking to bar the State from using his prior felony convictions to impeach him. The circuit court, however, refused to rule on defendant's motion until after defendant testified, reasoning that such a ruling was premature absent defendant's decision to testify. During the trial that ensued, defendant did elect to exercise his right to testify and, thereafter, the circuit court permitted the State to impeach defendant with his prior convictions. At the conclusion of defendant's trial, the jury convicted him of first degree murder and he was subsequently sentenced to 45 years' imprisonment. Defendant appealed, challenging his conviction on several grounds, including the circuit court's delayed ruling on his motion in limine. In another unpublished Rule 23 order, this court reversed his conviction, finding that " the trial court's failure to rule on the defendant's motion in limine until after he testified amounted to reversible error." People v. Knox, No. 1-06-3278, order at 15-16, [published in table format at 391 Ill.App.3d 1119, 982 N.E.2d 988, 367 Ill.Dec. 838] (2009) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). Finding this issue dispositive, we remanded the cause for a new trial.
[¶7] Second Jury Trial
[¶8] On remand, the parties once again prepared for trial. Prior to the start of defendant's second jury trial, the State filed a motion in limine, seeking the circuit court's ruling on the admissibility of three of defendant's prior felony convictions. After hearing arguments from both parties, the court ruled that defendant could be impeached with his prior convictions if he elected to testify. Following the court's ruling on pretrial motions, the cause proceeded to trial.
[¶9] Misty Allen testified that she was Rodney Clifton's girlfriend in December 1999. They met at Schwab Rehabilitation Center, where they both worked. On December 19, 1999, Allen had plans to go to Vanity Nightclub (Vanity), located at 5005 West North Avenue, with her cousin, Sonya, and Ondrell Schaffer, her children's uncle. Allen explained that Schaffer was the younger brother of Reginald Schaffer, the father of her two children, and was often referred to by his nickname: " Country." Allen testified that shortly after midnight Country arrived on the block in which she lived. He was driving a red two-door Chevrolet Beretta, and defendant, whom Allen had known for approximately 10 years, was a passenger in Country's car. When they arrived, Allen was sitting in Clifton's car, a maroon four-door Chevy Malibu. Allen explained that Clifton had stopped by her apartment unannounced after he had been drinking and that he was not supposed to accompany her to Vanity that night. She was simply sitting in his car waiting for her friends to arrive.
[¶10] After Country and defendant arrived, defendant walked over to Clifton's car, approached the passenger side where Allen was sitting, pulled on the door handle, and said: " What you doing in the car with this nig***? You supposed to be
going out with us. Why you in the car with this nig***?" Allen recalled that Clifton became upset and told defendant to " let [his] car door go." Clifton got out of the car and the two men then " had a little tussle." After it was broken up, Clifton returned to his car and defendant returned to Country's car. The two vehicles then drove toward Vanity. On the way to the nightclub, Allen was a passenger in her boyfriend's car and stated that he and defendant continued " hollering and cussing" at each other. At one point, Clifton stopped his car in the street and exited the vehicle. Defendant then exited Country's car and walked toward Clifton. Defendant was holding a metal steering wheel locking device known as a " Club." Clifton was able to get the Club out of defendant's hands and Allen and Country were able to break the two men apart. Once the two men were back in their respective vehicles, both cars continued driving toward Vanity.
[¶11] Clifton and Allen arrived at the nightclub first and Clifton stopped his vehicle in front of the club. Although Clifton was dropping her off and was not planning to enter the nightclub, Allen testified that she remained seated in the front passenger seat of her boyfriend's car and waited for her cousin and Country to arrive. After waiting for approximately 10 minutes, a grey station wagon " pulled up fast" and stopped in front of Clifton's car. The car was driven by another one of Allen's acquaintances, Linnell Little. She saw defendant exit Little's car and begin walking toward Clifton's car. Defendant was carrying a gun. Allen immediately exited Clifton's car and approached defendant, urging him repeatedly " please don't do this." Defendant, however, raised the gun, pointed at Clifton ...