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People v. Coats

Supreme Court of Illinois

January 19, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellee,
v.
LESHAWN COATS, Appellant.

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

          OPINION

          THEIS JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Following a bench trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant Leshawn Coats was convicted of several offenses, including being an armed habitual criminal (720 ILCS 5/24-1.7(a) (West 2012)) and armed violence (id. § 33A-2(a)). The trial court sentenced him to 7 years in prison on the armed habitual criminal count, consecutive to a term of 15 years in prison on the armed violence count. Defendant appealed, contending that his convictions were predicated on the same physical act of gun possession in violation of the one-act, one-crime rule. The appellate court concluded that the one-act, one-crime rule did not prohibit the multiple convictions. 2016 IL App (1st) 142028-U. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In June 2013, Chicago police officer Edwin Utreras was part of a team executing a search warrant at a two-flat basement apartment in Chicago. After forcing entry into the apartment and detaining four individuals, Utreras and his team approached a locked, rear room. They knocked on the door and heard people shuffling around inside the room, but nobody answered the door. Utreras's partner then forced entry into the room, where Utreras saw defendant holding a handgun in his left hand and two plastic bags in his right hand, which he was placing on a window ledge.

         ¶ 4 Utreras recovered a .45-caliber handgun loaded with nine live rounds of ammunition, as well as both bags. Inside one bag was a clear bag containing 53 smaller bags of suspected crack cocaine and one "knotted bag" containing suspected crack cocaine. Inside the other bag was a clear plastic bag containing 92 bags of suspected heroin. Drugs were also recovered in other areas of the room, including suspected heroin recovered from the refrigerator. The police also recovered cash currency, ammunition, and narcotics packaging materials. The contents of the plastic bags were tested. The parties stipulated that a chemist verified the contents of the plastic bags defendant was holding, which contained over 15 grams of heroin. The parties also stipulated to defendant's prior convictions for robbery and aggravated robbery.

         ¶ 5 The trial court found defendant guilty of being an armed habitual criminal, armed violence, and two counts of possession of a controlled substance (heroin) with intent to deliver. The possession counts merged into the armed violence count. Defendant was sentenced to 7 years in prison on the armed habitual criminal count to run consecutively to a term of 15 years in prison on the armed violence count.[1]

         ¶ 6 On appeal, defendant argued for the first time that his convictions for both armed violence and armed habitual criminal violated the one-act, one-crime rule because they were predicated on the same physical act of gun possession. After reviewing the claim under the second prong of the plain error doctrine, the appellate court affirmed, finding that the offenses did not result from precisely the same physical act and that neither offense was a lesser-included offense of the other. 2016 IL App (1st) 142028-U, ¶¶ 27-29.

         ¶ 7 In reaching its conclusion that the multiple convictions did not violate the one-act, one-crime rule, the court recognized a conflict between the Second District decision in People v. Williams, 302 Ill.App.3d 975 (1999), and the Fourth District's decision in People v. White, 311 Ill.App.3d 374 (2000). 2016 IL App (1st) 142028-U, ¶¶ 25-27. The appellate court found White to be more persuasive. Id. ¶ 27. We allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Mar. 15, 2016).

         ¶ 8 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 9 Initially, defendant recognizes that he has forfeited his one-act, one-crime argument by failing to raise it before the trial court, but he seeks review under the plain error doctrine. The plain error doctrine allows a reviewing court to consider an unpreserved error "(1) when 'a clear or obvious error occurred and the evidence is so closely balanced that the error alone threatened to tip the scales of justice against the defendant, regardless of the seriousness of the error, ' or (2) when 'a clear or obvious error occurred and that error is so serious that it affected the fairness of the defendant's trial and challenged the integrity of the judicial process, regardless of the closeness of the evidence.' " People v. Sebby, 2017 IL 119445, ¶ 48 (quoting People v. Piatkowski, 225 Ill.2d 551, 565 (2007)).

         ¶ 10 The State maintains that defendant has forfeited his plain error argument because he failed to show that the claimed error was clear or obvious. We disagree. This court has previously explained that one-act, one-crime violations fall within the second prong of the plain error doctrine as an obvious error so serious that it challenges the integrity of the judicial process. People v. Nunez, 236 Ill.2d 488, 493 (2010); see also People v. Artis, 232 Ill.2d 156, 168 (2009) (protections afforded to defendants by the one-act, one-crime rule are integral to maintaining the integrity of the judicial process); In re Samantha V., 234 Ill.2d 359, 378-79 (2009) (a one-act, one-crime violation "satisf[ies] the second prong of the plain-error test"). Thus, despite the forfeiture, we will address defendant's argument under the second prong of the plain error doctrine.

         ¶ 11 We first consider whether a one-act, one-crime error occurred. In People v. King, 66 Ill.2d 551, 566 (1977), this court held that a criminal defendant may not be convicted of multiple offenses when those offenses are all based on precisely the same physical act. Although this rule is not derived from the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy, we have continued to reaffirm and adhere to it over the last four decades based on the prejudice that results when there are multiple convictions for precisely the same criminal conduct. Artis, 232 Ill.2d at 164-68.

         ¶ 12 Whether a violation of the rule has occurred is a question of law, which we review de novo. People v. Robinson, 232 Ill.2d 98, 105 (2008). In making that determination, this court has long followed a two-step analysis. People v. Rodriguez, 169 Ill.2d 183, 186 (1996). First, the court ascertains whether the defendant's conduct consisted of a single physical act or separate acts. Id. If it is determined that the defendant committed multiple acts, the court then moves to the second step and determines whether any of ...


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