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People v. Cervantes

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

December 3, 2014

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JUSTIN CERVANTES, Defendant-Appellant

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois. Circuit No. 11-CF-957. Honorable Stephen Kouri, Judge, Presiding.

SYLLABUS

Defendant's conviction for the first-degree murder of a person he had been drinking with was reversed and the cause was remanded for a new trial where the trial court erred in admitting three of defendant's prior convictions for violent offenses as rebuttal evidence with respect to defendant's claim of self-defense; furthermore, regardless of the error with respect to the evidence of defendant's prior convictions, the instant conviction could have been reversed based on the denial of due process that occurred when a sentence that was " tantamount" to a life sentence was imposed based on the judge's private investigation of life expectancy tables without allowing either party to review or evaluate the source of the court's information or test that information by cross-examination.

Mark D. Fisher (argued), of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Ottawa, for appellant.

Jerry Brady, State's Attorney, of Peoria (Mark A. Austill (argued), of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

JUSTICE WRIGHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice McDade concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Holdridge dissented, with opinion.

OPINION

WRIGHT, JUSTICE.

Page 509

[¶1] Following a jury trial, defendant, Justin Cervantes, was convicted of first-degree murder. On appeal, defendant first contends the trial court erred when it allowed the State to introduce evidence of defendant's prior convictions for a purpose unrelated to impeachment. Second, defendant argues the trial court erred when it instructed the jury it could consider defendant's previous convictions for violent offenses when deciding whether defendant used justifiable deadly force against the

Page 510

victim in self-defense. Finally, defendant contends the trial court committed error by imposing a sentence " tantamount" to a life sentence based on the court's personal review of life expectancy tables. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

[¶2] FACTS

[¶3] On October 25, 2011, the State charged defendant by superseding indictment with two counts of first-degree murder for the death of Sven " Gus" Mundt. 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2010). Defendant notified the State on April 27, 2012, he intended to present self-defense as an affirmative defense.

[¶4] Defendant's trial began on July 16, 2012, and continued through July 19, 2012. Peoria police officer Shannon Walden testified that, on October 6, 2011, at 11:57 a.m., he responded to a report of a stabbing and detained defendant, who matched the ...


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