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People v. Johnson

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

December 5, 2019

DARREN JOHNSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Whiteside County, Illinois. Appeal No. 3-15-0352 Circuit No. 14-CF-254 Honorable John L. Hauptman, Judge, Presiding.

          SCHMIDT, PRESIDING JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Carter and Holdridge concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 On July 22, 2014, Rock Falls police arrested defendant, Darren Johnson, for shoplifting $76.91 worth of clothing from a local Wal-Mart. The State charged defendant with retail theft and burglary. After his first trial resulted in a hung jury, a second jury acquitted defendant of retail theft but convicted him of burglary. The Whiteside County circuit court sentenced defendant to eight years in prison. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The State charged defendant by information with burglary and retail theft on July 23, 2014. Defendant waived his right to counsel on August 26. His first trial resulted in a hung jury on October 22. His second trial began on November 18. Before opening statements, the trial court prohibited the jury from taking notes. The judge told the jury: "I do not allow note taking ***. I am a firm believer *** in the collective memory of the jury. *** [A]nd I do not want you to be distracted by note taking."

         ¶ 4 During the State's case, Amanda Peppers testified that she saw defendant and another man inside the Rock Falls Wal-Mart on July 22, 2014, while she was shopping with her nephew. The two men "were kind of walking around with a bunch of stuff in their hands," and "they would kind of veer off in other directions" when Peppers approached them. As she left the store and walked to her car, Peppers saw the two men retrieve backpacks from behind vending machines outside the store's entrance. The men removed stolen items that they concealed in their clothes and placed them in the backpacks. Peppers called the police.

         ¶ 5 Before police arrived, Peppers saw the men walk toward a Coinstar machine in the store's vestibule. After the men briefly reentered the store without their backpacks, Peppers saw defendant exit the store, retrieve his backpack, and walk toward the parking lot.

         ¶ 6 Officer James Hollaway of the Rock Falls Police Department testified that he responded to Peppers's call with Sergeant John Worcester and Officer Jarrett Ludwig at 7:16 p.m. While Worcester and Ludwig walked toward the store's entrance, Hollaway sat in the parking lot and observed defendant retrieve his backpack from atop the Coinstar machine before he walked toward the parking lot. Hollaway stopped defendant to ask him if he took items from the store without paying for them; defendant lowered his head and answered "yes."

         ¶ 7 Ludwig testified that he escorted defendant to the manager's office inside the store. He read defendant his Miranda rights with Worcester and Donna Courtney, the Wal-Mart manager, present. Ludwig searched defendant and found 14 items of girls' clothing in his backpack and on his person.

         ¶ 8 Courtney testified that defendant told her he took the clothes because his ex-girlfriend prohibited him from seeing their daughter unless he bought her school clothes. Courtney described defendant as "very distraught." He offered to clean the windows, clean the floor, or provide whatever labor necessary to repay the store for the stolen clothes. Courtney processed a receipt showing the stolen items' retail value totaled $76.91.

         ¶ 9 She also copied footage from six surveillance cameras onto a digital versatile disc (DVD). None of the cameras covered the girls' clothing section. The State played portions of the DVD that contained footage from four of the six cameras. In relevant part, the video showed defendant entering the vestibule area, placing a backpack on the Coinstar machine, and retrieving his backpack when he left the store. Defendant elected not to testify on his own behalf.

         ¶ 10 During the first day of deliberations, the jury sent the court four notes. The first note requested to see Peppers's written police statement (which the State did not admit into evidence) and to review Courtney's DVD. With the parties' consent, the court declined the jury's requests. The second note requested Ludwig's police report. The court declined the jury's request without objection. The third note reported that the jury reached a verdict on one charge but remained split on the other.

         ¶ 11 The jury's final note reported that the jury reached an impasse; the jury again requested to review Courtney's DVD to help resolve the deadlock. Without objection, the court again declined the jury's request to review the DVD. The court also issued a Prim instruction (see People v. ...

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