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People v. Curry

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

May 22, 2018

DEONTAE CURRY, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 CR 10019 The Honorable Charles P. Burns, Judge, presiding.

          JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Neville and Justice Mason concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Deontae Curry acted as the getaway driver, while some of his associates robbed a video game store and used pepper spray to incapacitate the store clerk. Curry was convicted of armed robbery (on an accountability theory) and sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment.

         ¶ 2 At a posttrial hearing, Curry's counsel told the trial court that Curry alleged that counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress Curry's statement to police based on Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The trial court did not ask any further questions of Curry or his counsel to discern the claim's factual basis, so we remand for an adequate preliminary inquiry. We reject, however, Curry's request for a new sentencing hearing on the grounds that he was guilty of robbery, but not armed robbery, because we find that the pepper spray used on the store clerk was a "dangerous weapon."

         ¶ 3 Background

         ¶ 4 As Alonzo Mitchell worked behind the counter at a Game Stop store, three men entered wearing hooded sweatshirts. One man approached the counter and sprayed Mitchell with pepper spray, another man went behind the counter and tackled Mitchell, and the first man sprayed Mitchell again. The men took Mitchell's store keys and stole several video game systems.

         ¶ 5 Meanwhile, a coworker who had been hiding in the store's break room called police. A nearby police officer heard the radio call and saw individuals come out of the store and get into a silver Pontiac. The officer pursued the Pontiac, which was later found unoccupied and parked on a residential street. The backseat and trunk of the Pontiac contained several video game systems, as well as Mitchell's store keys. On the sidewalk nearby lay a hooded sweatshirt and a can of pepper spray. The car's registration revealed that a woman owned the car; she gave police the name of a potential suspect, Terry Johnson.

         ¶ 6 Johnson told police that he and some friends robbed the Game Stop store while Deontae Curry acted as getaway driver in the silver Pontiac. Curry told police that his friends had planned only to shoplift while he waited in the car.

         ¶ 7 The trial court found Curry guilty (under an accountability theory) of armed robbery, with the pepper spray being a "dangerous weapon." Curry's counsel then filed a motion for a new trial. During argument, counsel mentioned that Curry wanted to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel: "There was not a motion to suppress and my client wishes to state that it was an error for-to fail to file a motion with respect to that statement." The trial court asked, "Based on what?" Counsel responded, "Based on Miranda versus Arizona." The trial court asked no other questions about the issue, either to Curry or his counsel; found credible the police officer's testimony that Curry had been advised of his rights before making a statement; and stated that it would not have ruled differently if a motion had been filed. Curry received a prison sentence of 12 years.

         ¶ 8 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 9 Inadequate Krankel Inquiry

         ¶ 10 Curry argues that the trial court erred in its inquiry into his posttrial claim of ineffective assistance under People v. Krankel, 102 Ill.2d 181 (1984). When a defendant makes a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, either orally or in writing, the trial court must address the claim so as to potentially limit the issues on appeal. People v. Willis, 2016 IL App (1st) 142346, ¶ 17. The trial court's first step involves an inquiry into the factual basis underlying the claim. People v. Ayres, 2017 IL 120071, ¶ 11 (quoting People v. Moore, 207 Ill.2d 68, 79 (2003)). To accomplish this, the trial court may ask trial counsel about the facts underlying the claim; discuss the claim with the defendant; or base its evaluation on its own knowledge of counsel's trial performance. People v. Jolly, 2014 IL 117142, ¶ 30. Whether the trial court conducted an adequate preliminary inquiry presents a question of law we review de novo. Id. ¶ 28.

         ¶ 11 Curry's counsel offered an elementary description of the alleged ineffectiveness: failure to move to suppress his statement. The trial court asked just one question as to the basis of the claim, and Curry's counsel named Miranda without elaboration. The trial court did not ask any questions underlying the claim before immediately ruling. This falls far short of " 'determin[ing] the factual basis of the claim.' " Ayres, 2017 IL 120071, ¶ 11 (quoting People v. Banks, 237 Ill.2d 154, 213 (2010)); cf. Willis, 2016 IL App (1st) 142346, ¶ 20 (trial court's inquiry was adequate where it discussed claim with defendant and evaluated claim based on its knowledge of defense counsel's performance and facial insufficiency of claim). The trial court did not ask counsel or Curry whether he was alleging that he had not been given Miranda warnings at all, whether the warnings were inadequate, whether he did not understand them, or whether he initially waived but later decided to assert his rights. As perhaps the most well-known case in the history of American criminal jurisprudence, the word "Miranda" is totemic to a layman criminal defendant, and its use, without detail, does not yield enough to inform a trial court as to the claim's factual basis. This mystery could have been solved within a ...

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