People v. McLaurin

Citation922 N.E.2d 344,337 Ill. Dec. 221,235 Ill.2d 478
Decision Date17 December 2009
Docket NumberNo. 106736.,106736.
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellant, v. Willie McLAURIN, Appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of Illinois

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, Springfield, and Richard A. Devine, Anita Alvarez, State's Attorneys, Chicago (James E. Fitzgerald, Ashley Romito, Michelle Katz, Allison A. Brunell Sise, Annette Collins and Alan J. Spellberg, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

Michael J. Pelletier, State Appellate Defender, Patricia Unsinn, Deputy Defender and Manuel S. Serritos, Assistant Appellate Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Chicago, for appellee.


Justice GARMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant was convicted of aggravated unlawful use of weapon and unlawful use of weapon by a felon and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. The appellate court reversed defendant's conviction and remanded for a new trial, finding that plain error occurred when: (1) defendant was not personally present during jury deliberations when several notes from the jury were discussed; and (2) the trial court sent a bailiff into the jury room to direct the jury to continue their deliberations. We reverse the appellate court's judgment and affirm defendant's conviction.


Chicago police officers John O'Carroll and Edward Langle were patrolling in the early morning of August 17, 2004, when they observed a Chevrolet Caprice driving east on 15th Street. Neither the driver nor the front seat passenger was wearing a seat belt, so the officers pulled the vehicle over. According to the officers' testimony at trial, the backseat passenger, later identified as Willie McLaurin, the defendant, was moving around furtively while the officers ran the license plate of the stopped car. Becoming suspicious, Officers O'Carroll and Langle got out of the squad car and approached the Caprice with their weapons drawn. As they approached, defendant jumped out of the backseat and began to run away. Officer O'Carroll called for assistance and chased after defendant, while Officer Langle stayed with the driver and front seat passenger.

According to Officer O'Carroll, as defendant was running east along 15th Street, defendant pulled a gun from somewhere in front of him and threw it under a nearby parked van. Officer O'Carroll continued to chase defendant, catching up with him a short distance later as defendant neared a second patrol car. Officer Demarko Daily had responded to Officer O'Carroll's call for assistance, and Officers Daily and O'Carroll handcuffed defendant and placed him in Officer Daily's squad car. Officer O'Carroll then walked back along the route that defendant had run, and he retrieved a handgun from underneath the parked van.

At defendant's trial, the State presented the testimony of Officer O'Carroll, as well as that of Officers Langle and Daily. Although only Officer O'Carroll saw defendant holding or throwing away the handgun, Officers Langle and Daily testified that they saw Officer O'Carroll chasing defendant, and Officer Daily heard Officer O'Carroll yell "gun" as he retrieved the weapon from under the parked van. In addition to the testimony of the three officers, the State provided the handgun itself as evidence at trial. Defendant also stipulated, outside the presence of the jury, that he had been previously convicted of a felony.

In his defense, defendant presented the testimony of Arlena Jones, the front seat passenger of the Caprice. According to Jones, defendant never ran from the stopped car. Instead, the officers approached the car and, upon finding that defendant was the only person in the car with a driver's license, ordered everyone out of the car. Jones testified that the officers then searched the car and found the handgun, which she claimed belonged to the driver of the car, Jackine Austin. Outside the presence of the jury, Austin testified that if he were called as a witness, he would invoke his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. The defense also offered a stipulation by the State that Officers O'Carroll and Langle first "indicated to dispatch" that they were stopping the Caprice at 2:27 a.m., and the officers first made reference to a gun at 2:58 a.m. Defendant did not testify.

After the case was submitted to the jury, the jury sent out five notes. The trial court held discussions about these notes in chambers with trial counsel, but no court reporter was present. At the request of defendant's appellate counsel, the assistant State's Attorney and defendant's trial counsel prepared an "Agreed Statement of Facts" pertaining to those proceedings. In relevant part, the "Agreed Statement of Facts" provides:

"1. The following persons were present for the discussions held before the Honorable James M. Schreier: Assistant Public Defender Kathryn Maloney (Vahey), Assistant State's Attorneys James V. Murphy and Michael Yoon. Defendant was not present for any of the discussions. Furthermore, discussions of jury notes were not held in open court, they were held in chambers. [Also present was Assistant Public Defender Brian Barrido.]

2. Jury Note # 1: On February 4, 2005, at or about 1:55 p.m., the jury * * * requested the exact wording of a stipulation and `Officer Daley's [sic] testimony as to why he was on Longdale headed north.' * * *

Response to Jury Note # 1: 2:15 p.m., a copy of the stipulation and transcript of Officer Daley's [sic] * * * testimony was sent back to jury.

3. Jury Note #2: On February 4, 2005, at or about 3:00 p.m., the jury * * * stated `We are deadlocked 8-4 and it appears that no one is willing to change their mind.' * * *

Response to Jury Note #2: After Judge Schreier gave parties an opportunity for suggestions, Judge Schreier responded in writing `Keep on deliberating with an open mind.[']* * *

4. Jury Note #3: * * * [A]t or about 3:50 p.m., the jury * * * stated `We are deadlocked 7-5, based on the evidence presented, this jury feels it cannot a [sic] decision in this case.' * * *

Prior to any response to Jury Note #3 being returned to the jury, Jury Note #4 was received by the Court.

Jury Note #4: * * * [A]t or about 4:35 p.m., the jury in the above named case stated `We are deadlocked still at 7-5, based on the evidence presented, this jury does not feel it can reach a decision.' * * *

Response to Jury Notes # 3 and # 4. There was no written response. Judge Schreier requested his bailiff to inform the jury to keep on deliberating.

4. Jury Note #5: * * * [A]t or about 4:35 p.m., the jury * * * requested the testimony of Officer O'Carroll[.] * * *

Response to Jury Note # 5. The jury was provided with a copy of Officer O'Carroll's testimony.

6. On February 4, 2005, at or about 5:25 p.m., the McLaurin jury returned with its [guilty] verdict."

The jury found defendant guilty of aggravated unlawful use of weapon and unlawful use of weapon by a felon. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict on the charge of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and sentenced defendant to six years of imprisonment. Defendant filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the State failed to prove defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, his due process and equal protection rights were violated, and the court erred in denying his motions for directed verdict. The court denied the motion.

A divided appellate court reversed. 382 Ill.App.3d 644, 657, 323 Ill.Dec. 579, 894 N.E.2d 138. The majority found that defendant's constitutional rights were violated when: (1) the trial court held in camera discussions with counsel for the defense and the prosecution but without defendant personally present; and (2) the trial court instructed the bailiff to speak directly with the jury following the third and fourth notes. Although the court noted that defendant had forfeited review of these issues, it granted defendant's request to review the alleged errors under a plain-error analysis. The dissent argued that the forfeiture rule should not apply where the basis for the alleged error was the trial judge's conduct, but regardless of whether the issues were considered forfeited, defendant was not entitled to a new trial. 382 Ill.App.3d at 658, 323 Ill.Dec. 579, 894 N.E.2d 138 (Murphy, J., dissenting).


Initially, we note that to preserve a claim of error for review, counsel must object to the error at trial and raise the error in a motion for a new trial before the trial court. People v. Enoch, 122 Ill.2d 176, 186, 119 Ill.Dec. 265, 522 N.E.2d 1124 (1988). Defense counsel in this case did neither, and therefore defendant has forfeited appellate review of these claims. See Enoch, 122 Ill.2d at 185-86, 119 Ill.Dec. 265, 522 N.E.2d 1124. Defendant concedes the procedural default, but urges us to relax the forfeiture rule and nonetheless grant review of his claims. In the alternative, defendant argues that the errors he alleges warrant a new trial under the plain-error rule. Our review of the legal issues in this case is de novo. See People v. Bracey, 213 Ill.2d 265, 270, 290 Ill.Dec. 202, 821 N.E.2d 253 (2004).

Relaxation of the Forfeiture Rule

Defendant first argues that we should relax the forfeiture rule in this case and consider his claims as though they had been properly preserved. Defendant relies on People v. Kliner, 185 Ill.2d 81, 161, 235 Ill.Dec. 667, 705 N.E.2d 850 (1998), in which this court observed that although "[i]t is well settled that both an objection at trial and a written post-trial motion raising the issue are necessary to preserve an alleged error for review[,] * * * we have determined that application of the waiver rule is less rigid where the basis for the objection is the trial judge's conduct." Kliner, 185 Ill.2d at 161, 235 Ill.Dec. 667, 705 N.E.2d 850. However, we find the narrow principle relied on in Kliner...

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