People v. Shafer

Decision Date04 November 2020
Docket NumberNO. 4-18-0343,4-18-0343
Citation172 N.E.3d 575,2020 IL App (4th) 180343,447 Ill.Dec. 52
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. James T. SHAFER, Defendant-Appellant.

James E. Chadd, Catherine K. Hart, and Ryan R. Wilson, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Springfield, for appellant.

Jesse Danley, State's Attorney, of Charleston (Patrick Delfino, David J. Robinson, and Timothy J. Londrigan, of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

JUSTICE CAVANAGH delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

¶ 1 A jury found defendant, James T. Shafer, guilty of felony murder ( 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3) (West 2016)), second degree murder (id. § 9-2(a)(2)), unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon (id. § 24-1.1(a)), and aggravated discharge of a firearm (id. § 24-1.2(a)(2)). The circuit court of Coles County sentenced him to 53 years' imprisonment for felony murder and a concurrent term of 14 years' imprisonment for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.

¶ 2 Shafer appeals on three grounds. First, he contends that the conviction of felony murder must be reversed for lack of a predicate offense. Second, he contends that the circuit court violated his right to due process by failing to follow Illinois Supreme Court Rule 430 (eff. July 1, 2010) before requiring him to wear an electric stun cuff during the jury trial. Third, he alleges sentencing errors. We agree with the first and second of those contentions, but we find the due-process violation in the noncompliance with Rule 430 to be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Because the reversal of the felony-murder conviction necessitates resentencing, we do not reach the sentencing issues in the third contention. Therefore, we reverse the felony-murder conviction, affirm the remaining convictions, and remand this case for resentencing.

¶ 4 A. The Charges

¶ 5 The State charged Shafer with five offenses: count I, intentional murder ( 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 2016)); count II, strong-probability murder (id. § 9-1(a)(2) ); count III, felony murder (id. § 9-1(a)(3) ) premised on the aggravated discharge of a firearm (id. § 24-1.2(a)(2)); count IV, unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon (id. § 24-1.1(a)); and count V, aggravated discharge of a firearm (id. § 24-1.2(a)(2)).

¶ 6 B. The Pretrial Ruling on the Stun Cuff

¶ 7 Immediately before jury selection, the circuit court addressed the question of whether an electric stun cuff that was on Shafer's right ankle, under his clothing, should be removed before the trial. The court asked:

"And Deputy Kastl, is it on his leg right now?
THE COURT: All right. I am going to go ahead and come down there, Mr. Shafer, and just take a look to see what observations I can make about it. It is on your right leg?
THE COURT: All right. Okay. I don't want to be intrusive here, Mr. Shafer, but I am just going to take a look at it.
DEPUTY KASTL: Your Honor, may I? If I can make an adjustment, sir?
THE COURT: Yes, sir. Okay. If you'd just sit with your leg, how you would normally sit. I don't know how you are comfortable, Mr. Shafer. Do you typically—I assume you are not going to sit with your leg crossed.
DEFENDANT SHAFER: Should be fine.
THE COURT: Okay. It doesn't appear to me that it would protrude from the pant leg, as long as Mr. Shafer doesn't cross his legs or anything like that. So, Mr. Ortega, I will let you further address the issue if you'd like to.
MR. ORTEGA: My biggest concern is just when we are entering into the courtroom; but just show our continuing objection, Judge.
THE COURT: Okay. Well, after getting a look at it, I think I am going to—or I am deciding that the stun cuff will be worn during the trial. I don't think it would be visible to the prospective jurors.
MR. ORTEGA: Judge, could my client be unshackled then?
THE COURT: Yes. Yes, he can."
¶ 8 C. The Evidence in the Jury Trial

¶ 9 The evidence in the jury trial tended to show the following. Shafer became aware that three men who were acquaintances of his were out looking for him. He feared they intended to do him harm. To get away from this perceived threat, Shafer and his girlfriend, Ciara Faires, planned to take a bus to Texas. They were at a friend's house, making preparations for the trip, when Shafer and Faires got into a dispute. Shafer pushed Faires outside the residence and locked the door. Soon, there was a knock at the door. Shafer looked out a window and saw one of the men whom he feared. The man was standing next to a car, with Faires close by. Another man popped up just outside a window, and Shafer heard a gunshot. Shafer picked up a pistol and fired twice through the wooden front door of the apartment. He testified he had intended to shoot the man who was outside menacing him with a gun. Instead, one of the rounds, going through the door near the lock, struck Faires, fatally wounding her. Shafer told the police and his mother that he had shot at the front door in an attempt to frighten away the men who were outside the apartment.

¶ 10 D. The Verdicts

¶ 11 The jury returned verdicts finding Shafer guilty of felony murder, two counts of second degree murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. The jury reduced counts I and II, which charged Shafer with first degree murder, to second degree murder, finding the mitigating factor of unreasonable self-defense (see id. § 9-2(a)(2)).

¶ 12 E. The Sentences

¶ 13 The circuit court sentenced Shafer to 53 years' imprisonment for count III, felony murder, and a concurrent term of 14 years' imprisonment for count IV, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.

¶ 14 This appeal followed.

¶ 16 A. Felony Murder Without a Genuine Predicate Felony

¶ 17 Under section 9-1(a) of the Criminal Code of 2012 (Code) (id. § 9-1(a) ), there are three kinds of first degree murder: intentional murder (id. § 9-1(a)(1) ), strong-probability murder (id. § 9-1(a)(2) ), and felony murder (id. § 9-1(a)(3) ). Section 9-1(a) provides as follows:

"(a) A person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits first degree murder if, in performing the acts which cause the death:
(1) he either intends to kill or do great bodily harm to that individual or another, or knows that such acts will cause death to that individual or another; or
(2) he knows that such acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another; or
(3) he is attempting or committing a forcible felony other than second degree murder." Id. § 9-1(a).

¶ 18 Second degree murder is intentional first degree murder (id. § 9-1(a)(1) ) or strong-probability first degree murder (id. § 9-1(a)(2) ) that is attended by either of two mitigating factors:

"(a) A person commits the offense of second degree murder when he or she commits the offense of first degree murder * * * and either of the following mitigating factors are [sic ] present:
(1) at the time of the killing he or she is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by the individual killed or another whom the offender intends to kill, but he or she negligently or accidentally causes the death of the individual killed; or (2) at the time of the killing he or she believes the circumstances to be such that, if they existed, would justify or exonerate the killing under the principles stated in Article 7 of this Code [(720 ILCS 5/art. VII (West 2016))], but his or her belief is unreasonable." Id . § 9-2(a) (West 2016).

¶ 19 Second degree murder—and, therefore, intentional or strong-probability murder (which, being mitigated, is what second degree murder is (id. )—cannot serve as a predicate for felony murder. See id. § 9-1(a)(3). That is, it is impossible to commit felony murder by committing second degree murder. Accordingly, second degree murder should not be dressed up as felony murder.

¶ 20 On appeal, Shafer objects that the felony murder charge, count III, was nothing but a device to nullify a second degree murder conviction. Felony murder entails the commission of a predicate offense—which, again, must be a violent felony other than second degree murder. Id. The perpetrator of a forcible felony, or predicate offense, is criminally liable for felony murder if the forcible felony foreseeably causes someone's death. People v. Nash , 2012 IL App (1st) 093233, ¶ 27, 361 Ill.Dec. 739, 972 N.E.2d 224. It is true that the aggravated discharge in this case—firing the pistol through the door of the apartment—foreseeably caused Faires's death, meaning it was reasonably foreseeable that such an act could result in someone's getting killed. Nevertheless, Shafer contends that, under the facts of his case, his aggravated discharge of a firearm ( 720 ILCS 5/24-1.2(a)(2) (West 2016))which was nothing but the means by which he committed second degree murder —cannot serve as a predicate offense for felony murder (id. § 9-1(a)(3) ) and, therefore, the State failed to prove him guilty of felony murder.

¶ 21 Shafer does not go so far as to suggest that aggravated discharge of a firearm can never serve as a predicate offense of felony murder. He notes that it did so in People v. Boyd , 356 Ill. App. 3d 254, 261, 292 Ill.Dec. 108, 825 N.E.2d 364 (2005), for instance. But he contends that, under the facts of his own case, aggravated discharge of a firearm was not a valid predicate offense. The reason, he explains, is that instead of setting in motion a series of events that later caused Faires's death (see People v. O'Neal , 2016 IL App (1st) 132284, ¶ 43, 408 Ill.Dec. 598, 66 N.E.3d 390 ), his aggravated discharge of a firearm was an act "inherent in the act of murder itself," lacking "an independent felonious purpose" (internal quotation marks omitted) ( People v. Davison , 236 Ill. 2d 232, 240, 337 Ill.Dec. 930, 923 N.E.2d 781 (2010) ). His...

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