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People v. Downs

Supreme Court of Illinois

June 18, 2015

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellant,
v.
MARK A. DOWNS, Appellee.

Chief Justice Garman and Justices Thomas, Kilbride, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

FREEMAN JUSTICE

¶ 1 Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Kane County, defendant Mark Downs was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 70 years' imprisonment. On appeal, the appellate court vacated defendant's conviction and sentence and remanded for a new trial. The appellate court concluded the circuit court erroneously defined "reasonable doubt" in response to a jury question during deliberations. 2014 IL App (2d) 121156, ¶¶ 31, 39. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and reinstate defendant's conviction and sentence.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 In October 2007 defendant was charged with first degree murder. The matter proceeded to a jury trial in April 2009.

¶ 4 After the presentation of all the evidence, and before the jurors began deliberations, the circuit court instructed them as to the law. The term "reasonable doubt" appears in three of these instructions. The first two involve the presumption that the defendant is innocent:

"The defendant is presumed to be innocent of the charges against him. This presumption remains with him throughout every stage of the trial and during your deliberations on the verdict. It is not overcome unless from all the evidence in this case you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty."
"The State has the burden of proving the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, and this burden remains on the State throughout the case. The defendant is not required to prove his innocence."

¶ 5 The third instruction sets forth the specific propositions that the State must prove to sustain the charge of first degree murder. After presenting these propositions, the instruction continues:

"If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that each one of these propositions has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant guilty. If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that any one of these propositions has not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant not guilty."

¶ 6 Following the court's instructions to the jury and the parties' closing arguments, the jury left the courtroom to begin deliberations. During those deliberations, the jury sent a note to the court asking for a definition of "reasonable doubt." The following colloquy occurred between the court and the parties:

"THE COURT: All right. We're present in court, outside the presence of the jury, and Mr. Downs is present.
And the jury has another question. I believe you will enjoy this: What is your definition of reasonable doubt, 80%, 70%, 60%?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Can I answer that?
THE COURT: Actually, don't they have it in the instructions, where they say the committee recommends no instruction on reasonable doubt?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: That's absolutely true. We can't give them a definition of reasonable doubt. We are one ...

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