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People v. Smith

Supreme Court of Illinois

September 19, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellant,
v.
STEVIE SMITH, Appellee. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellant,
v.
JERRY BROWN, Appellee.

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

          OPINION

          THEIS, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Following simultaneous but severed bench trials in the circuit court of Cook County, defendants Stevie Smith and Jerry Brown were convicted of robbery and aggravated battery of a senior citizen in which defendants caused great bodily harm. In separate appeals, the appellate court vacated defendants' convictions for aggravated battery of a senior citizen under one-act, one-crime principles. People v. Brown, 2018 IL App. (1st) 151311-B; People v. Smith, 2018 IL App. (1st) 151312-B. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgments of the appellate court.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Defendants were charged by indictment with first degree felony murder predicated on robbery (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3) (West 2008)), aggravated battery of a senior citizen (id. § 12-4.6(a)), robbery (id. § 18-1(a)), and several counts of aggravated battery (id. § 12-4(a), (b)(8), (b)(10)).

         ¶ 4 The evidence at trial established that on the morning of November 16, 2009, William Burtner, a 65-year-old veteran, was attacked while attempting to deposit money at the A.J. Smith bank in Midlothian, Illinois. Burtner, in his role as the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, was responsible for making the deposits on behalf of the VFW. That morning, he was walking toward the bank entrance, carrying multiple deposit bags with $2100 in cash and a cigar box containing cash and checks from a fundraiser held the previous night.

         ¶ 5 A bank teller saw Burtner, a regular customer, walking toward the entrance with the deposit bags in hand. She saw a man in a hooded sweatshirt walk quickly behind him. After briefly losing sight of both men as they passed behind a wall, she saw the hooded man run in the opposite direction, carrying something in his hands. The man, later identified as defendant Smith, got into the passenger seat of a black car driven by codefendant Brown, and the car sped off.

         ¶ 6 A bank employee found Burtner lying on the ground by the front entrance, taking labored breaths, and grabbing his left side. Burtner told her that he had been punched in the side and asked her to retrieve the cigar box, which was on the ground. Burtner later told a paramedic that he fell after being hit from behind. At the hospital, Burtner complained of left side pain, difficulty breathing, and two bruised knees. X-rays taken at that time did not reveal broken ribs.

         ¶ 7 Meanwhile, after a high-speed police chase, the black car crashed and came to a stop. Defendants ran in opposite directions. Police found defendant Brown minutes later hiding underneath a car. During a custodial search, police recovered $1200 in cash from defendant Brown's pocket; they also recovered the A.J. Smith bank deposit bags and money from inside the car. DNA evidence from blood samples taken from the car was linked to defendant Smith.

         ¶ 8 Three days after the incident, Burtner died. Following an autopsy, the medical examiner's opinion was that the cause of death was a heart attack and that the assault was a significant contributing factor because it stressed Burtner's already weakened cardiovascular system. Burtner had heart disease, had two prior heart attacks, and suffered from lung cancer. The internal examination revealed three broken ribs on Burtner's left side and hemorrhaging on the left chest wall consistent with being punched. It was the medical examiner's opinion that the injuries were no more than four days old.

         ¶ 9 The trial court acquitted defendants on the felony murder charge but convicted them of robbery and aggravated battery of a senior citizen in which they caused great bodily harm, after merging the other aggravated battery counts. The court also found that consecutive sentences were warranted by the nature of the crimes and defendants' lengthy criminal histories. Smith was sentenced to 12 years for robbery and 6 years for aggravated battery of a senior citizen. Brown was sentenced to 15 years for robbery and 7 years for aggravated battery of a senior citizen.

         ¶ 10 On appeal, defendants argued for the first time that their convictions for aggravated battery of a senior citizen violated the one-act, one-crime rule because they were predicated on the same conduct as the robbery conviction. In each case, under a plain-error analysis, the appellate court agreed, finding that the evidence demonstrated that defendants committed one single physical act-a punch to Burtner's left side. The court found that the single punch became "the basis for the aggravated battery conviction, and as the element of force for the robbery conviction." People v. Brown, 2017 IL App. (1st) 151311-U, ¶¶ 22, 25, vacated by No. 123080 (Ill. Mar. 21, 2018) (supervisory order); People v. Smith, 2017 IL App. (1st) 151312, ¶¶ 22, 25, vacated by No. 123082 (Ill. Mar. 21, 2018) (supervisory order). Accordingly, the court vacated defendants' convictions for aggravated battery of a senior citizen. Brown, 2017 IL App. (1st) 151311-U, ¶ 25; Smith, 2017 IL App. (1st) 151312, ¶ 27.

         ¶ 11 Subsequently, this court issued supervisory orders in each case directing the appellate court to reconsider its decision in light of People v. Coats, 2018 IL 121926. On remand, the appellate court found Coats distinguishable and reiterated its conclusions that there was no evidence of a separate physical act to support both convictions. Brown, 2018 IL App. (1st) 151311-B, ¶¶ 26-28; Smith, 2018 IL App. (1st) 151312-B, ¶¶ 26-28. We allowed the State's petitions for leave to appeal (Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. July 1, 2018)) and consolidated the cases for review.

         ¶ 12 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 13 The sole issue in this appeal involves the application of the one-act, one-crime rule, which was established by this court in People v. King,66 Ill.2d 551 (1977), and reaffirmed in People v. Rodriguez,169 Ill.2d 183 (1996). The one-act, one-crime rule prohibits convictions for multiple offenses that are based on precisely ...


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