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People v. Staake

Supreme Court of Illinois

November 30, 2017

JARED M. STAAKE, Appellant.

          JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Kilbride, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Following a jury trial on a first degree murder charge, defendant Jared M. Staake was convicted in the circuit court of Schuyler County of second degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-2(a)(1) (West 2012)) for the stabbing death of Michael Box. The trial court sentenced defendant to 18 years in prison. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed his conviction, [1] finding that (1) the State's amendments of the initial charge from second degree murder to first degree murder did not amount to a "new and additional" charge for speedy-trial purposes and (2) defendant's failure to make an offer of proof deprived the appellate court of a proper record to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting the State's motion in limine to preclude defendant from presenting evidence and argument as to an intervening cause of death. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In July 2013, the State charged defendant by information with second degree murder, alleging that he committed the first degree murder of Box while acting under sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation from Box. Trial was scheduled to commence January 13, 2014. In October 2013, defendant disclosed that he intended to assert self-defense as an affirmative defense if the cause proceeded to trial. Thereafter, 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 being an intervening cause of death.

         ¶ 4 In early December 2013, the State told the court at a status hearing that it might amend the charge to first degree murder given that defendant was now claiming self-defense. The State asserted that its proposed amendment "shouldn't change anything, because even in a second-degree murder case, the State still has to prove first-degree murder." The court instructed the State to make any amendment to the charging instrument within the next seven days. The following day, the State filed an amended information, alleging 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.

         ¶ 5 On December 18, 2013, the trial court conducted a hearing on the State's motion in limine 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 trial court found that if the defense planned to challenge the State's evidence of causation, it would have to produce its own evidence of causation and not just speculation of what might have happened. The trial court then granted the State's motion with the following qualification:

"It is quite true that the [State] must prove causation. *** I know there have been statements by the [State] on more than one occasion that they have a forensic scientist who is going to testify as to cause of death. And I agree it is their burden and one of the elements of their case to prove causation.
On the other hand, if the Defense is going to raise an alternate theory, a question mark to some of the [State's] evidence, it has to be raised by evidence, not just by speculation. *** And so if the Defense thinks they're just going to come in and say, oh, the defendant [sic] went to the hospital, but he left the hospital and we don't know what would have happened if he had stayed at the hospital, that's not evidence. That's guess, speculation, and conjecture. 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. ***
*** [I]f the defense has evidence *** to actually question the causation evidence, then *** through an offer of proof 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 *** unless the Defense has *** actual evidence they're going to produce. And if they do, I'm going to see that in an offer of proof outside the presence of the jury."

         ¶ 6 After moving on to other matters, the trial court informed defendant of the nature of the first degree murder charge and the penalties he faced if found guilty. Defendant indicated that he understood and persisted in his plea of not guilty. Defense counsel then conceded that he was prepared for trial and that the amendment from second degree murder to first degree murder had no affect on the defense's preparation for trial.

         ¶ 7 On January 3, 2014, 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 the State's witnesses might provide. The court responded by explaining 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 told defendant that he could still submit a proffer of evidence he expected to extract from the medical examiner.

         ¶ 8 On January 9, 2014, the State filed a second amended information. The new information again charged defendant with first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2012)) but this time under a different theory than that alleged in the first amended information. The second amended information alleged that defendant stabbed Box, causing his death, knowing that the stabbing created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm.

         ¶ 9 On January 13, 2014-the day of trial-defendant filed a motion challenging the second amended information. Defendant argued that it charged him under a different subsection of the first degree murder statute than had the first amended information. Defendant maintained that section 9-1(a)(2) contained a different mens rea requirement than section 9-1(a)(1). As a result, defendant argued that he now lacked time to adequately prepare for trial that day on the second amended information. Defendant requested that the trial court prohibit the State from charging first degree murder under section 9-1(a)(2).

         ¶ 10 The trial court denied defendant's motion as to the second amended information. Defendant then requested a continuance to prepare for trial on the recent amendment. The State responded that, when charging first degree murder, the State is required to notify a defendant only that he is being charged with first degree murder, not to identify which subsection of the first degree murder statute the State intends to pursue. The court denied defendant's motion for a continuance, finding that defendant had not pointed to anything about the trial or the evidence that had changed because of the second amended information.

         ¶ 11 Defendant again inquired about whether he could question the State's expert witnesses about the cause of death. The trial court responded, "No. The limitations as to whether or not the [victim's] seeking or not seeking medical treatment affected causation, and my ruling stands with regard to that. You may not go into those issues."

         ¶ 12 The cause then proceeded to a trial in front of a jury, where the evidence presented was as follows. Casey Slusser testified that she was employed managing carnival games for Kenny Fox, who operated a travelling carnival business. In July 2013, Slusser worked for Fox at the Schuyler County fair. She and Box were the only two employees who managed carnival games for Fox, and while traveling for work, both Slusser and Box lived together in a trailer in which they had separate rooms. Slusser described Box as her ex-boyfriend's best friend and her "protector."

         ¶ 13 Slusser further testified that on July 1, 2013, defendant visited the fairgrounds and socialized with other carnival workers. Slusser and Box began playing a beer-drinking game. After they finished playing the game, Box went to his room. Slusser asked defendant if he wanted to come to her room. Defendant agreed, and the two went to Slusser's room, where they lay down and talked. After about two or three minutes, Box began yelling and banging on Slusser's door. Defendant exited Slusser's room, opening the door so hard that it banged off the trailer.

         ¶ 14 Slusser testified that as defendant exited the trailer, Box punched him in the face. Defendant took a couple of steps backward before taking a knife out of his pocket. Defendant stabbed Box with the knife in the left abdomen. Box fell into a pile of tires. Defendant said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to stab you, " before running off.

         ¶ 15 Slusser took Box to the hospital and dropped him off there. Two days later, Slusser checked on Box in his trailer. She found him dead and lying naked on the floor.

         ¶ 16 Dr. Mark Day testified that in the early morning hours of July 2, 2013, he treated Box at the hospital for a "small" stab wound. Day testified that it was difficult to examine Box because he was very uncooperative. Day tried to examine the wound, but Box took a swipe at him. Box was not bleeding significantly, and Day left the room for a minute. By the third or fourth time that Day tried to evaluate Box, Box had passed out. Day did not think the stab wound had penetrated Box's fascia. Day explained that the fascia is underneath the muscle, and in the absence of an injury to the fascia, the wound is one that "you need not worry about that much." Day reluctantly ...

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