People v. Slim

Decision Date22 March 1989
Docket NumberNo. 66703,66703
Citation127 Ill.2d 302,537 N.E.2d 317,130 Ill. Dec. 250
Parties, 130 Ill.Dec. 250 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellant, v. Willie SLIM, Appellee.
CourtIllinois Supreme Court

Neil F. Hartigan, Atty. Gen., Springfield, and Richard M. Daley, State's Atty., Chicago (Terence M. Madsen, Asst. Atty. Gen., Chicago, and Kenneth T. McCurry and Inge Fryklund, Asst. State's Attys., and Paula Carstensen, Sp. Asst. State's Atty., of counsel), for the People.

Randolph N. Stone, Public Defender, Chicago (James N. Perlman, Asst. Public Defender, of counsel), for appellee.

Justice WARD delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a bench trial, the defendant, Willie Slim, was convicted of armed robbery in the circuit court of Cook County and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. The appellate court reversed the conviction on the grounds that the victim's identification testimony was vague and uncertain. (164 Ill.App.3d 519, 529, 115 Ill.Dec. 629, 518 N.E.2d 154.) We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal (107 Ill.2d R. 315).

At 1:45 a.m. on August 3, 1985, the victim, Porter Sledge, who was the only occurrence witness, parked his car on South Indiana Avenue in Chicago. After leaving the car, and as he was walking south, a man, who Sledge testified was the defendant and whom he later described to police as being 28 years old, 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 135 pounds, approached him. As the two came together, the man pointed a gun at Sledge, demanding his money, wallet and car keys. Sledge gave them to the robber and then watched the man back away, open the door to Sledge's car and drive away. Sledge called the police and gave the above description of the robber.

The defendant was arrested 10 days later in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At the time, the defendant was riding as a passenger in Sledge's car. The next day, Sledge viewed a six-man lineup and positively identified the defendant as the robber. At trial, the defendant stipulated to the lineup identification and at no time has contested the propriety of the identification procedures. Sledge also made a positive identification of the defendant in court. The in-court identification was also unchallenged.

At trial, Sledge testified that the street lights were on and that during the robbery the defendant stood face-to-face with him at a distance of one to two feet. On cross-examination, Sledge stated that he did not notice anything unusual about the defendant's teeth or mouth and that he was not paying particular attention to those features.

The defendant's father, as an alibi witness, testified that on the night of the robbery his son was at home in Milwaukee. He also stated that his son had several distinctive features, those being teeth braces and unusually thick lips. The father said that in August of 1985 the defendant was 22 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 165 pounds. A woman identified as the father's girlfriend was called as a defense witness and testified that the defendant wore braces during August of 1985 and that she would estimate his height to be 5 feet 2 inches. No measurement of the defendant appears to have been made. The defendant did not testify. The trial court found him guilty of armed robbery and imposed a sentence of six years.

The appellate court reversed the defendant's conviction, judging that the identification of the defendant was doubtful because of the discrepancy between the victim's preliminary description of the robber and the defense's description of Slim and because the victim did not notice what the court called "unique" facial features. The court also observed that the defense had given an unimpeached alibi. 164 Ill.App.3d at 529, 115 Ill.Dec. 629, 518 N.E.2d 154. The defendant contends that no objective evidence supports the victim's identification of him as the robber. The question is whether the identification of the defendant as the robber was proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The prosecution has the burden of proving beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the person who committed the crime. (Ill.Rev.Stat.1987, ch. 38, par. 3-1.) An identification will not be deemed sufficient to support a conviction if it is vague or doubtful. (People v. Ash (1984), 102 Ill.2d 485, 494, 82 Ill.Dec. 373, 468 N.E.2d 1153; People v. Cullotta (1965), 32 Ill.2d 502, 504, 207 N.E.2d 444.) A single witness' identification of the accused is sufficient to sustain a conviction if the witness viewed the accused under circumstances permitting a positive identification. (People v. Johnson (1986), 114 Ill.2d 170, 189, 102 Ill.Dec. 342, 499 N.E.2d 1355; People v. Vriner (1978), 74 Ill.2d 329, 343, 24 Ill.Dec. 530, 385 N.E.2d 671.) This is true even in the presence of contradicting alibi testimony, provided that the witness had an adequate opportunity to view the accused and that the in-court identification is positive and credible. People v. Yates (1983), 98 Ill.2d 502, 525, 75 Ill.Dec. 188, 456 N.E.2d 1369; People v. Winston (1987), 160 Ill.App.3d 623, 629, 112 Ill.Dec. 512, 513 N.E.2d 1121; People v. Fairbanks (1986), 141 Ill.App.3d 909, 913, 96 Ill.Dec. 260, 491 N.E.2d 74.

In a bench trial it is for the trial judge to determine the credibility of witnesses, to weigh evidence and draw reasonable inferences therefrom, and to resolve any conflicts in the evidence. (People v. Berland (1978), 74 Ill.2d 286, 305-06, 24 Ill.Dec. 508, 385 N.E.2d 649; People v. Mendoza (1978), 62 Ill.App.3d 609, 615, 19 Ill.Dec. 443, 378 N.E.2d 1318.) On review the trial court's judgment will not be set aside unless the proof is so unsatisfactory, improbable or implausible as to justify a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt. People v. Johnson (1986), 114 Ill.2d 170, 190, 102 Ill.Dec. 342, 499 N.E.2d 1355; People v. Collins (1985), 106 Ill.2d 237, 261, 87 Ill.Dec. 910, 478 N.E.2d 267; People v. Sakalas (1980), 85 Ill.App.3d 59, 68, 40 Ill.Dec. 29, 405 N.E.2d 1121.

In assessing identification testimony, our courts have generally been using steps set out by the Supreme Court in Neil v. Biggers (1972), 409 U.S. 188, 93 S.Ct. 375, 34 L.Ed.2d 401. There the Court held that circumstances to be considered in evaluating an identification include: (1) the opportunity the victim had to view the criminal at the time of the crime; (2) the witness' degree of attention; (3) the accuracy of the witness' prior description of the criminal; (4) the level of certainty demonstrated by the victim at the identification confrontation; and (5) the length of time between the crime and the identification confrontation. People v. Cohoon (1984), 104 Ill.2d 295, 300, 84 Ill.Dec. 443, 472 N.E.2d 403; People v. Bryant (1983), 94 Ill.2d 514, 521, 69 Ill.Dec. 84, 447 N.E.2d 301; People v. Dean (1987), 156 Ill.App.3d 344, 351, 108 Ill.Dec. 922, 509 N.E.2d 618; People v. Taylor (1986), 143 Ill.App.3d 252, 255, 97 Ill.Dec. 352, 492 N.E.2d 1011; People v. Brown (1982), 110 Ill.App.3d 1125, 1128, 66 Ill.Dec. 739, 443 N.E.2d 665.

The defendant argues that three of these factors weigh in his favor. First, he says that although Sledge may have had the opportunity to observe the robber, he did not use that opportunity because he was unable to describe several features of the robber, viz., his hair, the color or type of clothes he was wearing, the presence of braces or the prominence of his lips. Second, the defendant argues that the description that Sledge did give simply did not match that of the defendant. And third, the lineup identification took place 11 days after the robbery when the victim's memory was less than fresh.

As a general proposition, it can be said that discrepancies and omissions as to facial and other physical characteristics are not fatal, but simply affect the weight to be given the identification testimony. Variances between a witness' trial testimony and pretrial statements raise questions of credibility which the trier of fact must assess in making a determination of guilt. People v. Miller (1964), 30 Ill.2d 110, 113 195 N.E.2d 694; People v. Fairbanks (1986), 141 Ill.App.3d 909, 913-14, 96 Ill.Dec. 260, 491 N.E.2d 74; People v. Reyes (1982), 108 Ill.App.3d 911, 918, 64 Ill.Dec. 424, 439 N.E.2d 1089; People v. Brown (1977), 50 Ill.App.3d 348, 354, 8 Ill.Dec. 521, 365 N.E.2d 907; People v. Mays (1976), 38 Ill.App.3d 182, 185, 347 N.E.2d 235; People v. Chatman (1975), 32 Ill.App.3d 506, 510, 336 N.E.2d 153.

It has consistently been held that a witness is not expected or required to distinguish individual and separate features of a suspect in making an identification. Instead, a witness' positive identification can be sufficient even though the witness gives only a general description based on the total impression the accused's appearance made. (People v. Winston (1987), 160 Ill.App.3d 623, 628, 112 Ill.Dec. 512, 513 N.E.2d 1121; People v. Dean (1987), 156 Ill.App.3d 344, 351, 108 Ill.Dec. 922, 509 N.E.2d 618; People v. Brown (1982), 110 Ill.App.3d 1125, 1129, 66 Ill.Dec. 739, 443 N.E.2d 665; People v. Mendoza (1978), 62 Ill.App.3d 609, 616, 19 Ill.Dec. 443, 378 N.E.2d 1318; People v. Smith (1977), 52 Ill.App.3d 583, 587, 10 Ill.Dec. 303, 367 N.E.2d 756; People v. Moore (1977), 50 Ill.App.3d 952, 957, 8 Ill.Dec. 894, 365 N.E.2d 1356.) This is consistent with the nature of human observation. As the court in People v. Ervine noted,

"[I]t is contrary to human experience to make an identification by noticing first the separate features * * * and then, somehow, running off a total to determine recognition or non-recognition. Ordinarily all features are viewed at once and the recognition made instantaneously or not at all." (People v. Ervine (1965), 64 Ill.App.2d 82, 87, 212 N.E.2d 346.)

The presence of discrepancies or omissions in a witness' description of the accused do not in and of themselves generate a reasonable doubt as long as a positive identification has been made. People v. Harrison (1978), 57 Ill.App.3d 9, 15, 14 Ill.Dec. 636, 372...

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