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People v. Staake

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

November 10, 2016

JARED M. STAAKE, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Schuyler County No. 13CF29. Honorable Alesia A. McMillen, Judge Presiding.

          STEIGMANN, JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holder White and Appleton concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 In July 2013, the State charged defendant, Jared M. Staake, with second degree murder for the killing of Michael Box. In December 2013, the State filed an amended information, dropping the charge of second degree murder and adding a charge of first degree murder. In January 2014, the State filed a second amended information, this time charging first degree murder under a different theory. The trial court rejected defendant's objections to the January 2014 charge, and the cause proceeded to trial. After the close of evidence, the court instructed the jury on second degree murder over defendant's objection. The jury found defendant guilty of second degree murder and the court later sentenced him to 18 years in prison. Defendant appeals, raising several issues. We affirm as modified and remand with directions.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 A. Procedural Matters

         ¶ 4 In July 2013, the State charged defendant by information with second degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-2(a)(1) (West 2012)). The information alleged that defendant committed the first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 2012)) of Box while acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by Box.

         ¶ 5 In October 2013, defendant disclosed that he intended to assert the affirmative defense of self-defense if the cause proceeded to trial. The trial court scheduled a January 13, 2014, trial date.

         ¶ 6 On December 2, 2013, the State filed a motion in limine, asking the trial court to prohibit defendant from presenting evidence or argument relating to Box's refusal of medical treatment as an intervening cause of death.

         ¶ 7 That same day, defendant filed a motion in limine, seeking to admit evidence of Box's reputation and propensity for violence in support of his self-defense claim. Specifically, defendant sought to introduce the testimony of "several witnesses" who could testify to both specific acts of violence and to Box's reputation for violence. In addition, the motion indicated that defendant anticipated testifying about his knowledge of Box's violent tendencies.

         ¶ 8 At a December 4 status hearing, the prosecutor explained, "I do realize now that after reviewing, especially the Lynch motion and some of the other items, that there's a self-defense claim, your Honor. And I've done some research, and I feel at this time that it may be imminent that the State may be amending the charge to *** first-degree murder ***. However, that shouldn't change anything, because even in a second-degree murder case, the State still has to prove first-degree murder ***." Defendant, through counsel, responded as follows:

"And I would like to respond to what was just represented in open court for the first time, that being this transforming into a first-degree homicide case. Your Honor, it was manifestly clear at the preliminary hearing where it was factually established and adduced that [Box] first punched [defendant], and [defendant's] actions were responsive thereto, that we were dealing with a self-defense case. My first disclosure, which was timely filed within 28 days of the receipt of the initial tender of discovery, clearly set forth that self-defense would be raised as an affirmative defense, your Honor. So for this to come as some kind of a surprise to the State, just based upon the filing of the Lynch motion, I think that's disingenuous, your Honor. If the State would within 30 days of trial [sic] were to essentially transform a secondary case. And, your Honor, they essentially, for all intents and purposes, charged it as a second-degree event. I have to believe, based on knowing the facts at the time, that this was either responsive to a provocation, a mutual combat situation, but certainly not a first-degree homicide context, for them to now within 30 days of trial transform it into a first-degree homicide cause. I don't know, your Honor, if I could in good faith proceed to trial on 13 January with that little change in the course of the proceeding."

         ¶ 9 The trial court responded, as follows:

"I don't have any control over the charges the State files, except if they're filed the morning of trial, I probably have some control over that. But under these junctures, I think they have the right to do that. I think you have the right certainly to say there's some surprise there, and I don't know whether I can be ready. I appreciate all of your candor here, because everybody could just play it close to the vest, and I could subpoena all of my jurors, and we could come in here ten days before trial and know that we weren't ready.
* * *
And so I think, [defense counsel], it's just basically up to you whether or not you want to go forward with this case January 13th at this juncture or you know you don't want to do that."

         ¶ 10 Defense counsel responded as follows:

"You Honor, I have governed my affairs based on the charging instrument and the discovery received to date around trying this case on 13 January. Now, again, your Honor, that's based on the charging instrument that is on file at this point in time. Still having that charging instrument as our notice, and based on all of the discovery I have in fact received to date, I will represent to your Honor I'm fully prepared, willing, and able to start picking a jury on 13 January. But there's two things I don't have control over at this time your Honor, that being the discovery, which is still outstanding, and I do agree with your Honor the State has an absolute right to charge [defendant] differently than they've charged him now, but I state once again with full faith and confidence that my Lynch motion did nothing to change the dynamic in this cause as to whether or not we have a first-degree homicide cause or a second-degree homicide cause."

         The court then instructed the State to make any amendments to the charging information within the next seven days.

         ¶ 11 The following day, December 5, 2013, the State filed an amended information. The amended information alleged that defendant committed first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 2012)) by stabbing Box, thereby causing his death, while knowing that the stabbing would cause his death. The amended information no longer charged second degree murder.

         ¶ 12 On December 18, 2013, the trial court conducted a hearing on the two motions in limine. As to the State's motion to prohibit defendant from producing any evidence or argument about an intervening cause of death, defendant argued that causation was an essential element of "the crime" and, as such, was a question of fact for the jury to determine. The court explained that if defendant planned to challenge the State's evidence of causation, "it has to be raised by evidence, not just by speculation." The court continued, "So, if the defense intends to actually question the State's causation evidence, I think they're entitled to do that, but then they're going to have to come up with, with actual evidence of that, not just their own speculation of what might have happened."

         ¶ 13 The trial court eventually granted the State's motion. However, the court allowed for the following procedure:

"[I]f the defense has evidence that they wish [sic] that's going to actually question the causation evidence, then again through an offer of proof they can, they can introduce that to me outside the presence of the jury, and I'll see if it raises to that. But what I'm not going to let either side do in this case is just raise question marks for the jury with no evidence behind it ***.
So the defense response didn't, by affidavit or otherwise, indicate that they had any evidence with regard to causation. And they may. I simply don't know. I don't know if they have a forensic expert as well that's going to question what the State's witnesses have said. But if that's the case, I'm going to need to know about that, and I'm assuming that's going to have been produced in the discovery. But at this juncture, I don't have any of that information. So I'm granting the [State's] motion in limine, their first motion in limine, that there will not be any questions asked, issues raised about causation, unless the defense has, has actual evidence they're going to produce. And if they do, then I'm going to see that in an offer of proof outside the presence of the jury. *** If the defense has a defense on this or any other issue they wish to raise, they are invited to do that, but it has to be by evidence, not just by a question that's to be speculative."

         ¶ 14 The trial court then addressed defendant's motion to introduce so-called "Lynch evidence"-i.e., evidence of the decedent's (1) reputation and (2) propensity for violence. The court denied defendant's request to introduce evidence of Box's propensity for violence, reasoning that such evidence is relevant only when a question exists as to who was the initial aggressor and that, in this case, there was no question that Box was the initial aggressor.

         ¶ 15 As to evidence of Box's reputation for violence, the trial court determined that defendant had not yet presented any evidence to establish that defendant was aware of any reputation for violence on the part of Box. As a result, the court determined that defendant would not be permitted to introduce evidence of Box's reputation unless and until defendant provided evidence establishing his knowledge of that reputation. The court added the caveat that if defendant wished to make a proffer of evidence-before trial-establishing that he had specific witness testimony showing that defendant had knowledge of Box's reputation for violence, defendant was free to do so. The court again voiced its concern about witnesses testifying to irrelevant evidence before the jury that the court would be required to strike.

         ¶ 16 The parties and the trial court then addressed whether a preliminary hearing was necessary on the State's amended information. The State explained that it "was unsure as to whether the court would require preliminary hearing since the court has already found there was probable cause as to the second degree murder. And, as the court is well aware, in order to-you have to prove all the elements. And so to prove the elements of second degree murder, the State must first prove first degree murder ***."

         ¶ 17 The trial court responded, "It's [the court's] belief that once there's a preliminary hearing on any felony matter, there's no requirement there be an additional preliminary hearing on additional or new charges." The court explained that it would not conduct a preliminary hearing unless either party objected. The following exchange between the court and defense counsel then occurred:

"[COURT]: Okay then, [defense counsel], are you requesting an additional preliminary hearing?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I am not requesting one, but the defendant does not wish to waive a preliminary hearing if this court were to conduct a preliminary hearing.
[THE COURT]: Okay. Well, I'm not-I'm not asking him to waive preliminary hearing. He didn't. We had a preliminary hearing on this charge. There has been an amended charge filed. If you are requesting an additional preliminary hearing, I will hear that request and make a determination on it. If not, we'll move along.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Just to clarify again, I am not requesting one nor is the defendant waiving his right to a preliminary hearing on the first [degree] murder charge.
[THE COURT]: Well, let's not dance with the words. Are you asking for preliminary hearing on the new charge or not? I did not ask him to waive preliminary hearing. He didn't. We had a preliminary hearing.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: No, your honor, I was just referencing the pleading, the preliminary hearing that was noticed up for today.
[THE COURT]: Okay. Then I will understand that I'm going to read the defendant the new charges again, presuming-'cause this was all discussed at our last hearing, so everybody came here with the intention that this was what was going to happen today. I'm not sure if either [defense counsel] was present at our last hearing. I know [other defense counsel] was here and knew, in fact there was some discussion about trial dates with that, knew that there were going to be amended charges filed."

         ¶ 18 The trial court then informed defendant of the nature of the first degree murder charge and the penalties defendant faced if found guilty. Defendant stated that he understood and persisted in his not guilty plea. Defense counsel then said the following:

"[T]o prove second-degree murder, you basically have to prove first-degree murder first. So this really changes nothing at all as far as our preparation and being ready for trial. All of the evidence is exactly the same as it was when the second-degree murder charge was the pending charge. And just as we answered a few weeks ago that we were ready for trial, we still are ready for trial."

         ¶ 19 On January 3, 2014, the trial court conducted a hearing on any proffers of evidence that defendant wished to present concerning the motions in limine. As to the State's motion to prohibit evidence of an intervening cause of death, defendant first argued that the court should reconsider its decision. Defendant argued that causation was an element of the offense and that he therefore had a constitutional right to cross-examine the State's witnesses (in particular, the medical examiner) on the issue of causation, and he should not first have to present a proffer of what testimony the State's witnesses might provide. Defendant therefore asserted that the court's ruling violated his sixth amendment right to confront witnesses. The court explained that the requirement of a proffer was intended to prevent a "fishing expedition that you know in advance isn't going to produce any evidence because you know what the medical examiner said." The court denied defendant's motion to reconsider but reminded defendant that he could still submit a proffer of evidence that he expected to extract from the medical examiner.

         ¶ 20 Defendant, through defense counsel, then made a proffer of Lynch evidence to establish that defendant knew about Box's reputation for violence. Counsel explained that one night the previous winter, defendant and Box were in the Freight House Tavern in Beardstown. That night, Box "cold cock[ed]" another patron, knocking him unconscious-an event witnessed by defendant. Defendant then saw Box approach the patron, who was lying unconscious on the ground. Defendant believed that Box intended to kick the victim. Defendant intervened and prevented any further violence. Counsel argued that episode established defendant's personal knowledge of Box's violent tendencies, which was relevant to establish the reasonableness of defendant's actions in relation to his self-defense claim. In addition, defendant had several previous interactions with Box, and on nearly every occasion, Box carried at least one knife. In particular, on July 2, 2013, defendant saw Box sitting at a picnic table, brandishing a knife.

         ¶ 21 In response to defendant's Lynch proffer, the State presented testimony from Jeremy Swan, a former employee of the Freight House Tavern. Swan stated that he saw Box come into the bar a few times but never saw him fight anyone. The State then presented the testimony of Darin Spears, owner of the Freight House Tavern. Spears testified that he was not aware of a January 2013 fight occurring between Box and a person named Joshua Cowden.

         ¶ 22 The State also presented the testimony of Tonia Walker, another former employee of the Freight House Tavern. Walker testified that Box was involved in one "incident" while Walker was employed there. On the night of the incident, Box approached Walker and asked her whether the bar had surveillance cameras out back. Box told Walker that "I hit that guy." Walker told Box to leave the bar and Box complied without any resistance. Walker explained that the person Box hit had been disturbing other patrons all night.

         ¶ 23 Defendant then testified in rebuttal. He testified that one night in January 2013, he and Box were at the Freight House Tavern, smoking cigarettes outside in the beer garden. Defendant testified that Box motioned for Cowden to come over. When Cowden approached, Box punched him in the face, and Cowden fell to the ground. Box then looked at defendant and smiled. Box approached Cowden as he lay on the ground. Defendant intervened and advised Box that he should leave. Box went back into the bar.

         ¶ 24 The trial court decided "to permit the Lynch evidence, but very limited." The court allowed defendant to testify about the incident at the Freight House Tavern to establish defendant's knowledge of Box's character for violence, as it related to the reasonableness of defendant's actions in response to Box's aggression. However, the court prohibited defendant from introducing the testimony of other witnesses as to the incident at the Freight House. The court described defendant's written descriptions of those witnesses' expected testimony as "totally inaccurate and totally wrong, based on the testimony of the [other] individuals, including the defendant." The court added that "I see no reason that any of these other witnesses [should testify], because what they observed has no affect on [defendant's] state of mind. So they will not be permitted to testify."

         ¶ 25 The trial court then summarized its concerns as follows:

"And the other thing I'm going to caution everybody right now about: I can see where this is going ***. That, again, the defense will want to make January of 2013 what this trial is about. That's not what this trial is about. I've stated what you will be permitted to introduce evidence-now, have a seat, [defense counsel]-what you're permitted to present evidence about. But already here today we attempt to take the straightforward testimony of the defendant and add some nice ...

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