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People v. Steele

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

September 30, 2014

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RODNEY STEELE, Defendant-Appellant

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Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 CR 11782. The Honorable James B. Linn Judge, presiding.

SYLLABUS

On appeal from defendant's convictions for aggravated battery to a peace officer and three merged counts of aggravated fleeing and eluding a peace officer arising from an incident in which he was stopped at a late-night traffic safety check for a seat belt violation, but he sped away rather than pull aside so a citation could be written and, in the course of fleeing, an officer was thrown from defendant's car into oncoming traffic, the appellate court reduced his aggravated battery conviction to battery based on the State's failure to present sufficient evidence of " great bodily harm," two of the aggravated fleeing and eluding convictions were vacated due to the absence of evidence that he was driving 21 miles per hour over the speed limit and that he disobeyed traffic signals, and the cause was remanded for resentencing on the battery conviction; furthermore, the appellate court rejected defendant's contention that his counsel was ineffective in dealing with the evidence related to the injured officer and found that the trial court did not err in failing to sua sponte conduct a Krankel hearing.

Michael J. Pelletier, Alan D. Goldberg, Kathleen Weck, State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for Appellant.

Anita M. Alvarez, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Christine Cook, Mary Beth Kinnerk, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

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

OPINION

HYMAN, JUSTICE.

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[¶1] In June 2011, Chicago police conducted a late-night traffic safety check--pulling cars over for seat belt violations and other obvious infractions--in Chicago's River West neighborhood, a popular late-night area. Defendant, Rodney Steele, was stopped by police officers for failing to wear a seat belt. When asked to pull to the side so a citation could be issued, Steele hit the accelerator, ran into Chicago police officer Alvin Porrata, and sped off. Several police officers pursued Steele to the south side of Chicago, where he ditched the car and was later caught on foot.

[¶2] Steele was charged with two counts of attempted murder (720 ILCS 5/8-4(a), 9-1(b)(1) (West 2010)) (counts I and II), one count of aggravated battery (720 ILCS 5/12-4 (West 2010)) (count III), and three counts of aggravated fleeing and eluding a peace officer by attempting to elude the police at a rate of speed at least 21 miles per hour over the legal speed limit (625 ILCS 5/11-204.1(a)(1) (West 2010)) (count IV), causing bodily injury to any individual (625 ILCS 5/11-204.1(a)(2) (West 2010)) (count V), and disobeying two or more official traffic control devices (625 ILCS 5/11-204.1(a)(4) (West 2010)) (count VI).

[¶3] Officer Porrata was taken to the hospital and discharged a few hours later. Although Porrata had been thrown from the car into oncoming traffic, his hospital discharge report stated he was treated only for bruises to his knees and arm. At trial, however, Porrata testified, over defense counsel's objection, that he tore ligaments in both knees and in his right shoulder and needed surgery to remove bone fragments from his shoulder. After a bench trial, Steele was acquitted on the attempted murder charge but convicted of aggravated battery and aggravated fleeing and eluding a peace officer and received concurrent sentences of nine years and three years, respectively.

[¶4] Steele contends his conviction for aggravated battery should be reversed because the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to cause great bodily harm to Porrata, where the evidence showed him trying to flee the scene and not injure the officer. Alternatively, Steele argues the State failed to prove great bodily harm beyond a reasonable doubt because the medical evidence showed Porrata only had leg and arm abrasions. He asks us to reduce his aggravated

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battery conviction from a Class 1 felony conviction to a Class 2 felony conviction.

[¶5] Steele also contends the trial court erred in allowing Porrata to testify about his injuries because he was not qualified as a medical expert and that his trial counsel was ineffective for not moving for discovery sanctions or asking for a continuance when Porrata's testimony on the severity of his injuries differed from the State's medical evidence provided in discovery. Steele further contends his defense counsel created a per se conflict of interest by raising his own ineffectiveness at trial during a posttrial hearing and the case should either be remanded for another motion for a new trial with new counsel or a hearing under People v. Krankel, 102 Ill.2d 181, 464 N.E.2d 1045, 80 Ill.Dec. 62 (1984), to determine if his trial counsel rendered effective assistance. Lastly, Steele asserts two of his three convictions for aggravated fleeing and eluding should be dismissed because the State failed to prove each element of the charged offenses.

[¶6] We modify in part, affirm in part, and vacate in part. Although the State proved Steele intentionally drove into Porrata causing bodily injuries, it failed to present sufficient evidence that Porrata suffered " great bodily injury." Thus, we reduce his aggravated battery conviction to a battery conviction and remand for resentencing. We affirm Steele's conviction and sentence on one of the aggravated fleeing and eluding a peace officer counts but find the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove all of the elements on the two other aggravated fleeing and eluding a peace officer counts and vacate those convictions.

[¶7] Background

[¶8] On June 13, 2011, Chicago police officers were conducting a traffic safety checkpoint in the River West area of the city, near the six-corner intersection of Kingsbury Street, Sheffield Avenue and Weed Street. This area contains several late-night bars, restaurants, and clubs. Six to ten uniformed Chicago police officers worked at the checkpoint or were stationed on foot throughout the well-lit intersection. Marked squad cars with emergency lights illuminated took positions at the intersection. When vehicles stopped at the intersection's stop signs, officers approached to check for violations. The officers directed vehicles with violations to a staging area on Weed Street, where citations were issued.

[¶9] At about 2:10 a.m., Steele, alone in a black Jaguar heading southbound on Kingsbury Street, approached the six-corner intersection. (Although Steele did not own the car and it had been reported stolen, Steele was not charged with possession of a stolen motor vehicle.) Officer Wagner testified that at the intersection, he approached Steele's car from the passenger side and told Steele he was being stopped for failing to wear a seat belt. Wagner then asked for Steele's driver's license and insurance card. Officer Porrata was in front of the Jaguar while other officers stood on all sides. Officer Wagner testified Steele drove slowly while Officer Christopher Rigan, who also was there, testified the vehicle lurched forward and Steele ignored the officers' orders to pull into the staging area. Wagner, having moved to the driver's side, spoke to Steele through the window. He thought Steele was stalling and being evasive so he reached into the car in an attempt to open the driver's side door. That's when Steele pressed the accelerator and ran into Officer Porrata, who landed on the car's hood. Porrata tried to hang on, but as Steele made a hard turn to the left, Porrata flew off the hood and landed in the street underneath

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a taxi cab traveling in the oncoming traffic lane.

[¶10] Steele fled westbound on North Avenue to the entrance of the Kennedy Expressway, and then headed southbound while pursued by Officer Rigan and his partner in an unmarked car with the emergency lights activated. Steele continued onto the Dan Ryan Expressway. Rigan saw him cross over four or five lanes of traffic and exit at 31st Street. Rigan exited at 35th Street and headed north. He found the Jaguar abandoned in a parking lot near the expressway at 31st Street and Wentworth Avenue. Rigan and his partner conducted a grid search of the area and found Steele in a nearby alley. They arrested Steele. He was charged with two counts of attempted first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/8-4(a), 9-1(b)(1) (West 2010)); one count of aggravated battery (720 ILCS 5/12-4(a) (West 2010)); and three counts of aggravated fleeing or attempt to elude a peace officer while ...


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