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People v. West

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

December 31, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOEL WEST, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 15 CR 23038 Honorable Dennis J. Porter, Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellants: James E. Chadd, Patricia Mysza, and Joshua M. Bernstein, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Kimberly M. Foxx, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg and Miles J. Keleher, Assistant State's Attorneys, of Chicago, for the People.

          JUSTICE WALKER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Hyman concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          WALKER JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The trial court found defendant Joel West guilty of aggravated kidnapping, armed robbery, aggravated battery, and armed violence. West contends on appeal that the prosecution did not prove the asportation element of kidnapping, and the court improperly relied on its own investigation to reach the finding of guilt on the charge of armed violence. We hold that pushing the victims a few feet in the course of an attempted armed robbery did not meet the asportation element for the kidnapping charges. The evidence also did not prove the charge that West committed armed violence with a knife with a blade at least three inches in length. We reverse the convictions for aggravated kidnapping and armed violence. Because we cannot determine the effect of the improper convictions on sentencing, we remand for resentencing for aggravated battery and armed robbery.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On November 9, 2013, Gloria Cruz brought her son X.M. to her workplace, a currency exchange in Chicago. After they entered the currency exchange, a man came through the ceiling, wearing a black hoodie, black pants, black shoes, black gloves, and a black ski mask over a Mardi Gras mask. The man grabbed Cruz and pulled her to the rear where the currency exchange kept its cash. The man held a knife to Cruz's chin. When Cruz refused to open the door to the back, the man grabbed her keys, opened the door himself, and pushed X.M. into the back. The man struggled with Cruz, but when he finally pushed her through the door to the rear, she quickly closed a gate that barred the man from getting through to the area with the cash. The man opened the currency exchange exit door, threw the keys on the floor, and left the currency exchange.

         ¶ 4 An alarm that alerts police when the currency exchange does not open on time brought police to the scene a few minutes later. About 25 minutes after the initial alarm, Officer Ryan Sheahan of the Chicago Police Department found West in back of a building on the same block. Sheahan asked West to come to him, but instead, West ran down an alley where police arrested him. Prosecutors charged West with the aggravated kidnappings of Cruz and X.M., armed robbery, aggravated battery, and armed violence "in that [West], WHILE ARMED WITH *** A KNIFE WITH A BLADE OF AT LEAST 3 INCHES IN LENGTH, COMMITTED A *** BURGLARY *** IN THAT HE *** ENTERED A *** CURRENCY EXCHANGE *** WITH THE INTENT TO COMMIT THEREIN A THEFT." (Emphasis in original).

         ¶ 5 At the bench trial Officer Sheahan testified that as he looked around the area near the currency exchange, he saw West in a stairwell. Sheahan went to the stairwell and asked to see West's hands, and he saw in the stairwell a black hoodie, black pants, black gloves, masks, a knife, another tool, and identification papers for West.

         ¶ 6 At trial, Cruz identified the hoodie and the masks Sheahan found as the same hoodie and masks the robber wore. She identified the knife Sheahan found as the knife the robber used, and she described the knife as about four inches in length. She did not testify as to the length of the knife's blade. She identified a photograph of her face as an accurate depiction of the injury the robber inflicted when he pressed the knife to her face, leaving a small cut to her chin.

         ¶ 7 West testified that he was waiting in back of the building to make a drug deal when he heard police coming. He tried to hide the drugs, dropping his identification papers from his pocket in the process. When he ran from Sheahan, he tossed the drugs into a nearby yard before police arrested him. He first saw Sheahan when he was in the middle of the back yard; he had not gone near the stairwell at all.

         ¶ 8 In closing argument defense counsel pointed out that the prosecutor presented no evidence of the length of the knife's blade. The trial judge stated, "The blade of this knife is exactly three inches long." The court found Officer Sheahan credible and West not credible, found West guilty on all charges, and denied West's motion for a new trial. The court sentenced West to 10 years in prison for the aggravated kidnapping of Cruz, 10 years for the aggravated kidnapping of X.M., 11 years for armed violence, 11 years for armed robbery, and 5 years for aggravated battery, with the sentences to run concurrently. The court also imposed a wide variety of fees, fines, and costs as part of the sentence. West now appeals.

         ¶ 9 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 10 On appeal, West does not contest the convictions for armed robbery and aggravated battery. He argues that the prosecution did not prove kidnapping of either Cruz or X.M., and the court improperly relied on its own investigation into the length of the blade. He also argues that this court should remand for resentencing on the remaining counts, or at least correct the mistakes in the assessment of fees, fines, and costs.

         ¶ 11 A. Kidnapping

         ¶ 12 West contests the sufficiency of the evidence of kidnapping. "When considering a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, a reviewing court must determine whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, a rational trier of fact could have found the required elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." People v. Bradford, 2016 IL 118674, ¶ 12.

         ¶ 13 The trial court found that West kidnapped Cruz and X.M. when he pushed them through the door to the rear part of the currency exchange, where the currency exchange kept its cash. Section 10-1 of the Criminal Code provides, "A person commits the offense of kidnapping when he or she knowingly *** by force or threat of imminent force carries another from one place to another with intent secretly to confine that other person against his or her will." 720 ILCS 5/10- 1(a)(2) (West 2012).

         ¶ 14 The court in People v. Smith, 91 Ill.App.3d 523, 529 (1980), adopted from New York and federal cases a test for whether the "carr[ying of] another from one place to another" qualified for a separate charge of kidnapping. The Illinois Supreme Court later approved the Smith test:

"Our appellate court has articulated factors to consider when determining whether an asportation or detention is merely ancillary to another offense, or whether it rises to the level of an independent crime of kidnapping. These factors include: (1) the duration of the asportation or detention; (2) whether the asportation or detention occurred during the commission of a separate offense; (3) whether the asportation or detention is inherent in the separate offense; and (4) whether the asportation or detention created a significant danger to the victim independent of that posed by the separate offense." People v. Siguenza-Brito, 235 Ill.2d 213, 225-26 (2009); see People v. Casiano, 212 Ill.App.3d 680, 687 (1991).

         ¶ 15 A Georgia court applied the same factors in circumstances similar to the ...


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