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People v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

October 25, 2019

WILLIE J. BROWN III, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 15-CF-155 Honorable Robert B. Haida, Judge, presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant James E. Chadd, State Appellate Defender, Ellen J. Curry, Deputy Defender, Daniel R. Janowski, Assistant Appellate Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Fifth Judicial District,

          Attorneys for Appellee Hon. James A. Gomric, State's Attorney, St. Clair County Courthouse, Patrick Delfino, Director, Patrick D. Daly, Deputy Director, Sharon Shanahan, Staff Attorney, Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor

          JUSTICE MOORE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Welch and Cates concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 The defendant, Willie J. Brown III, appeals his conviction and sentence for first degree murder, alleging one reversible error during the voir dire portion of his trial and a second at his subsequent sentencing hearing. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The facts necessary to our disposition of this direct appeal follow. On March 6, 2015, the defendant was charged, by criminal indictment in the circuit court of St. Clair County, with one count of first degree murder. The indictment alleged that on or about February 4, 2015, the defendant, "without lawful justification and with the intent to kill or do great bodily harm to" the victim, Tyree Smith, shot Smith "in the head and chest with a firearm, thereby causing" Smith's death. On March 4, 2016, as the case proceeded toward trial, the State filed a notice of intent to seek enhanced sentencing, noting that under Illinois law,

"when a defendant commits the offense of first degree murder while armed with a firearm, and the person personally discharged the firearm which proximately caused *** death to another person, 25 years or up to natural life imprisonment shall be added to the term of imprisonment imposed by the [c]ourt."

         On May 6, 2016, the defendant filed a notice of affirmative defenses in which he announced "his intention to present a self-defense claim at trial."

         ¶ 4 On May 23, 2016, the defendant's jury trial began. During voir dire, the trial judge questioned the potential jurors as a group, proceeding row by row. With regard to the four principles of law set forth in Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431(b) (eff July 1, 2012), commonly known as the "Zehr principles, "[1] he began by stating the following to the entire group of potential jurors:

"There are four basic principles that guide all of us in a criminal trial here in Illinois. And I want to go through all of those to make sure that there are [sic] some level of understanding about these and an agreement that each of you as potential jurors can understand and follow these principles."

         The trial judge subsesquently stated each of the four principles, asking for feedback about each principle from the jurors in each row. Specifically, the trial judge inquired of the potential jurors in each row as to whether the potential jurors understood each of the Zehr principles and noted for the record that no potential jurors indicated that they did not understand the principles. He did not ask the potential jurors if they "accepted" the principles, instead asking, using the following various phrases with the various rows, whether the potential jurors "can": (1) "follow and apply," (2) "follow or apply," (3) "apply and follow," (4) "follow," or (5) "apply" the principles in the case at hand. Again going row by row, he asked the potential jurors to raise their hands "[i]f not," if they "can't," or if they "have a question about that." As he proceeded row by row, he noted for the record that no potential jurors raised their hands.

         ¶ 5 Thereafter, a jury was seated, and the presentation of evidence began. Because the issues raised by the defendant on appeal do not pertain to the evidence presented at trial or to the conduct of the parties at trial-and because an understanding of that evidence and conduct is not necessary, for the reasons discussed below, to our disposition of the issues raised by the defendant-we need not discuss the trial in detail. It is sufficient to note that the State presented evidence in support of its theory that the defendant was guilty of first degree murder, and counsel for the defendant presented evidence, including the testimony of the defendant, in support of the defendant's theory of self-defense. Thereafter, the jury retired to deliberate. Following its deliberations, the jury found the defendant guilty of first degree murder and also found that the State had proven "that during the commission of the offense of first degree murder[, ] the defendant *** personally discharged a firearm that proximately caused death to another person." On June 24, 2016, the defendant filed a posttrial motion in ...

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