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People v. Ephraim

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

March 19, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DONZELL EPHRAIM, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 13 CR 16403 Honorable Thomas J. Byrne, Judge, presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE PIERCE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Harris and Simon concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          PIERCE PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Following a bench trial, defendant Donzell Ephraim was found guilty of armed habitual criminal (AHC) (720 ILCS 5/24-1.7(a) (West 2012)), aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer (625 ILCS 5/11-204.1(a)(4) (West 2012)), and three counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon (AUUW) (720 ILCS 5/24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(C); (a)(2), (a)(3)(C) (West 2012)). The court sentenced defendant to concurrent prison terms of 12 years for AHC, 6 years for the AUUW convictions, and 3 years for aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer. On appeal, defendant contends that the State failed to prove him guilty of AHC because his conviction was predicated on his prior conviction for aggravated battery to a peace officer, which is not a qualifying offense for AHC. He therefore requests we reverse his AHC conviction. We reverse defendant's conviction for AHC.

         ¶ 2 At trial, Chicago police officer Matthew Mellett testified that, on August 16, 2013, at about 10:22 p.m., when he was on patrol in his squad car, he heard gunshots in the area of "5741 South Laflin." At that location, people told Mellett, "they were shooting, " pointing to a "green Buick Le Sabre." Mellett turned on his lights and sirens and pursued the vehicle, which went through two red lights and did not stop. The vehicle eventually stopped because it "spun out" after it tried to turn. Mellett went to the vehicle and observed defendant in the driver's seat.

         ¶ 3 Chicago police officer Steven Hefel testified that, at about 10:22 p.m., on August 16, 2013, he and his partner were alerted to a "police pursuit, " so they went to a location where they could observe it. At Hefel's parked location, he saw a police car following a "green Buick La Sabre [sic]" and, as the vehicle approached Hefel's car, the driver, identified as defendant, stretched his arm outside the driver's side window and "released" a "blue steal [sic] handgun."

         ¶ 4 After the police cars passed him, Hefel went to the location where he saw the gun drop and identified it as "blue steel 357 revolver." He stayed with the gun until the evidence technician arrived at the scene to recover it. Hefel then went to the location where the car chase ended and identified the Buick LeSabre as the vehicle he saw drive by him. Later, he went to the police station and identified defendant as the person he saw drop the gun.

         ¶ 5 The State presented a stipulation that Chicago police officer Philip Ryder, the evidence technician, recovered a "Ruger Blackhawk handgun" and "6 expended shell casings" from that firearm. The court admitted into evidence a certified record from the Illinois State Police showing that defendant had never been issued a Firearm Owner's Identification (FOID) card.

         ¶ 6 The court also admitted into evidence certified copies of defendant's prior convictions. People's Exhibit No. 7 was a conviction, in case No. 98-CR-0977701, for aggravated battery to a peace officer, and People's Exhibit No. 8 was "a conviction under case number 08-CR-0640501 for the offenses of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, two counts of that, and three counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon by a felon."

         ¶ 7 The court found defendant guilty of AHC, aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer, and three counts of AUUW. The court denied defendant's motion for a new trial and sentenced him to prison terms: 12 years for AHC, 6 years for the AUUW convictions, and 3 years for aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer. The court stated that "Count Two, Three, Four, " the AUUW convictions, would "merge into Count One, " the AHC conviction, and the aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer would be served concurrently with the "merged" AUUW and AHC.

         ¶ 8 Defendant contends, and the State concedes, that the State did not prove him guilty of AHC because his conviction was based on his prior conviction for aggravated battery to a peace officer, which is not a qualifying offense under the AHC statute. Defendant requests we vacate his AHC conviction and correct the mittimus to show the six-year sentence for the AUUW convictions. Defendant does not challenge his convictions for AUUW or aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer.

         ¶ 9 On appeal, when we review the sufficiency of the evidence, the question is whether, "after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." (Emphasis omitted.) Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). The State must prove "every essential element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." People v. Lozano, 2017 IL App (1st) 142723, ¶ 30.

         ¶ 10 To prove defendant guilty of AHC, the State had to prove that he possessed a firearm after having been convicted ...


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