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People v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

March 10, 2017

QUENTIN HARRIS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 CR 06744 Honorable Luciano Panici, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hoffman and Justice Rochford concurred in the judgment and opinion



         ¶ 1 The defendant appeals from his conviction for aggravated vehicular hijacking, arguing (1) that the State failed to prove that he had knowledge that his victim was deaf, so as to support the aggravated form of the offense of vehicular hijacking, and (2) that the prosecutor's conduct, including comments during opening and closing statements, deprived him of a fair trial. We find his contentions to be without merit and affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The defendant was charged with aggravated vehicular hijacking, vehicular hijacking, and attempted robbery in connection with a crime allegedly perpetrated against Carla Sarli-Roman on March 1, 2011. The aggravated vehicular hijacking charge was premised, in part, on the fact that Carla is deaf.

         ¶ 4 During opening statements at the defendant's trial, the prosecutor told the jurors that:

"Carla is in school. She is a young woman in her early 20's, and she is trying to get her license in cosmetology, cutting hair. *** Carla used to drive to cosmetology school, but she can't drive there anymore. Her dad has to drive her, because back on March 1st, 2011, this defendant decided to take something that wasn't his.”

         ¶ 5 The State called Carla as its first witness. Carla testified that she is deaf, but that she speaks Spanish and English, uses American Sign Language, and is able to read lips. Before asking her about the details of the alleged crime, the prosecutor elicited the following testimony:

“Q. Carla, are you in school now?
A. Yes.
Q. What are you learning to do in school?
A. To cut people's hair.
Q. All right. Do you drive to school, Carla?
A. No.
Q. And why don't you drive to school?
A. I don't have a car.
Q. Okay.
A. They stole it.”

         ¶ 6 Carla testified that around 6:30 p.m. on March 1, 2011, she was leaving a clothing store in Calumet Park, Illinois, when three young men, including the defendant, approached and said “sexual things” to her. Carla tried to ignore the men and walked toward her car, a Ford Taurus. She entered the driver's seat of her car and tried to close the door, but one of the men held the door to prevent it from closing.

         ¶ 7 The men surrounded her and one of them asked for money. Carla testified that the defendant had his hand inside his coat pocket, insinuating that he was holding a gun. The defendant told her, "You know what this is, " and then told her: "I don't want your money. I want your car." Carla testified that she was "terrified" and got out of the car. The defendant and the other two men took the vehicle and drove away. After a witness called police, Carla told the responding officer what had happened and described the three men as young black males. On cross-examination, Carla acknowledged that she had been unable to describe the suspects' hairstyles or their clothing, other than that one of the men was wearing a skull cap.

         ¶ 8 Two days later, on March 3, 2011, Carla identified the defendant in a photographic array at the Calumet Park police station. On March 30, 2011, Carla also identified the defendant in a physical lineup of six individuals at the police station.

         ¶ 9 Carla testified that her car was recovered by police but that the car was damaged. She indicated that the car had no damage before it was taken from her on March 1, 2011.

         ¶ 10 At the end of direct examination, the prosecutor asked Carla: "How do you feel about not having a car now?" Carla responded: "I don't have a car no more. It is bad, you know. *** I want a car so bad because I can take it to school. That's why-that's really sad for me."

         ¶ 11 The State also called Chicago police officers Shelley Heberger and Kevin Connolly. Officer Heberger testified that on March 2, 2011, she and Officer Connolly were on patrol in an unmarked police car when they observed a Ford Taurus containing five or six individuals. Officer Heberger ran a computer inquiry on the vehicle's license plates, which revealed that it was a stolen vehicle. When the officers activated the police car's lights and sirens, the occupants of the Taurus, including the defendant, fled in different directions. Officer Heberger testified that the defendant looked in the police car's direction before he ran and that she saw the defendant's face. Officer Heberger secured the Taurus while Officer Connolly chased the suspects.

         ¶ 12 Officer Connolly also testified that he saw the defendant flee from the back seat of the Taurus. He testified that he saw the defendant's face and recognized the defendant from "previous contact with him."

         ¶ 13 Officer Connolly transmitted a "flash message" over police radio describing the subjects and asking for assistance. Officer Connolly apprehended the driver of the Taurus, a man named Temmy Dixon. Another officer in the area apprehended the defendant and returned him to the scene, where officers Heberger and Connolly identified him as one of the men who had fled the stolen car.

         ¶ 14 The State also called Detective John Shefcik of the Calumet Park police department. On March 2, 2011, he was informed that Chicago police had recovered Carla's stolen vehicle and had arrested two individuals, including the defendant. On March 3, 2011, Detective Shefcik met with Carla at the Calumet Park police station. He noticed that ...

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