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People v. Scott

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

September 30, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RONALD SCOTT, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 16 CR 4637 The Honorable James B. Linn, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE PIERCE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Griffin and Justice Walker concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          PIERCE JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Following a bench trial, defendant Ronald Scott was convicted of delivery of more than 1 but less than 15 grams of heroin (720 ILCS 570/401(c)(1) (West 2016)). On appeal, he argues that the State failed to lay a sufficiently complete foundation for the admissibility of the heroin. Alternatively, he argues for the first time on appeal, and the State concedes, that his mittimus should be corrected to reflect the proper offense for which he was convicted. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County, and remand to the circuit court to permit defendant to file a motion pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 472(a), (e) (eff. May 17, 2019).

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Defendant was charged with one count of delivery of more than 1 but less than 15 grams of heroin (720 ILCS 570/401(c)(1) (West 2016)), and one count of delivery of more than 1 but less than 15 grams of heroin within 1000 feet of a school (id. § 407(b)(1)). Prior to trial, defendant moved to exclude the heroin, arguing that the initial narcotics investigation report drafted by the police estimated that the heroin weighed 0.6 grams, while the Illinois State Police chemist intended to testify at trial that the heroin weighed 1.09 grams. The circuit court denied the motion to exclude, and the matter proceeded to a bench trial.

         ¶ 4 Chicago police officer Cobb[1] testified that on February 21, 2016, he was working as an undercover buy officer. At 1:46 p.m., he approached the intersection of West Augusta Avenue and North Long Street on foot. Officer Cobb approached defendant and asked "You working?" Defendant responded, "You want something, too?" Officer Cobb said "Three," and observed defendant retrieve small items from a clear plastic bag that defendant was holding in his hand. Officer Cobb handed defendant three premarked $10 bills, and defendant handed him three clear capsules containing a white powder that Officer Cobb believed to be heroin. After leaving, Officer Cobb radioed his team that the "suspect narcotics transaction was a positive," and provided a description of defendant and his clothing. After other officers detained defendant, Officer Cobb drove past the scene and identified defendant as the person whole sold him the capsules. He then drove back to the police station with the capsules, where they were inventoried and assigned inventory no. 13631143. The capsules were then placed in a heat-sealed bag, which was then placed in a narcotics vault. Officer Cobb identified People's Exhibit. No. 1 as the inventory bag containing the suspected narcotics. He testified that the bag was in the same or substantially similar condition as when he last saw it, except that the bag itself had been placed inside a different clear plastic bag with two different stickers on it with numbers and serial numbers. Also on February 21, 2016, Officer Cobb was shown a photograph array from which he identified defendant as the person who sold him the capsules. The State published a video of the transaction to the circuit court, and Officer Cobb identified himself and the defendant in the video. On cross-examination, Officer Cobb testified that he weighed the capsules, which came to an estimated weight of 0.6 grams. On redirect, Officer Cobb clarified that he did not place the capsules on a scale, but instead used a chart that estimates weight based on the size of a capsule.

         ¶ 5 Chicago police officer Lacko[2] testified that on February 21, 2016, he was working as a surveillance officer as part of an undercover buy team. He was in an unmarked police vehicle with a hand-held video recorder. He testified that Officer Cobb was going make a buy. Officer Lacko observed Officer Cobb approach the defendant and have a short conversation, after which Officer Cobb handed defendant premarked currency and defendant dropped unknown items into Officer Cobb's hand. Officer Lacko recorded the transaction with his video camera. After the transaction, he heard over his radio that Officer Cobb made a positive narcotics transaction. Officer Lacko continued to observe defendant for 30 minutes after the transaction. Officer Lacko made an in-court identification of defendant as the person whom he saw hand Officer Cobb the capsules.

         ¶ 6 Chicago police officer Beluso[3] testified that he was working on the undercover buy team on February 21, 2016. He did not observe the transaction between defendant and Officer Cobb. After Officer Cobb confirmed over the radio that a narcotics transaction occurred and provided a description of defendant, Officer Beluso made contact with defendant. Officer Beluso made an in-court identification of defendant as the person with whom he had spoken. After Officer Beluso asked defendant to approach his vehicle, defendant fled and Officer Beluso gave chase. After catching up to defendant, Officer Beluso performed a soft stop, which he described as "very casual, easy going conversation." He did not perform a pat down or search of defendant. Defendant provided his name, and Officer Beluso used his computer to search for defendant. After the encounter, Officer Beluso filled out an investigatory stop report.

         ¶ 7 Forensic scientist Tiffany Neal testified that she was employed by the Illinois State Police Forensic Science Center in Chicago. She specialized in drug chemistry, and defendant stipulated to her qualifications to testify as an expert. She identified People's Exhibit no. 1 as the evidence for laboratory case no. C-164104. She stated that she could identify it as something that she had worked on by the laboratory case number, her initials, and the date. She stated that she received the evidence in a heat-sealed condition from an evidence technician on February 24, 2016, at the drug chemistry vault. After receiving the evidence, she locked it inside her drug chemistry work station until she could analyze it. She recognized the markings on the outside of the evidence bag because she had analyzed and tested what was inside the bag. She testified that she opened the bag and verified that the contents were consistent with what was written on the inventory sheet. She weighed the items, which weighed 1.09 grams. Her testing confirmed the presence of heroin. After testing the items, she resealed the evidence into new plastic bags and placed the new bags into a plastic bag, which was then resealed. She labeled the bag with a case number, the date, her initials, and placed it in the original evidence bag, which was then heat-sealed. She initialed the bag, dated it, and returned it to the drug chemistry vault. She testified that People's Exhibit no. 1 appeared to be in the same or substantially the same condition as it was she completed her analysis.

         ¶ 8 The State then moved to admit the heroin into evidence. Defendant renewed his pretrial motion to exclude the heroin, which the circuit court denied. The State rested its case-in-chief. Defendant made an oral motion for a directed finding, arguing that the discrepancy between the estimated weight on the initial narcotics investigation report drafted by the police and Neal's testimony suggested that the heroin she tested was not what was recovered by the police. Defendant further argued that the State failed to show a sufficient chain of custody for the heroin because the State did not present any testimony from the evidence technician from whom Neal received the evidence. The circuit court denied the motion for a directed finding.

         ¶ 9 Defendant called his mother Gwenda Scott as witness. She testified that defendant arrived at her home around 1:00 p.m. on February 21, 2016. He was talking with his brothers and watching TV. She did not see or hear him leave until after 6:30 p.m., after they ate dinner together.

         ¶ 10 After hearing closing arguments from counsel, the circuit court took the matter under advisement. On August 8, 2016, the circuit court found defendant guilty of delivery of more than 1 but less than 15 grams of heroin. The circuit court found that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the transaction took place within 1000 feet of a school. At sentencing, there was no dispute that, due to his background, defendant was Class X mandatory. He was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. Defendant filed a posttrial motion raising several issues, ...


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