Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed January 20, 2012

 

 

People v. Adams, 2012 IL 111168

Appellate citation: 403 Ill. App. 3d 995.

 

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

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

 

      This Will County defendant appealed after he was sentenced to five years in prison on his jury conviction for unlawful possession of 0.8 grams of cocaine. On October 15, 2008, he had been stopped in Joliet Township for driving on a suspended license. He was asked to get out of his car and was searched, and different versions were presented at trial as to what happened next. A sergeant for the Will County Sheriff’s Police testified that he found a small plastic sandwich bag containing a white powdery substance in the defendant’s left front pocket. A deputy with the Will County Forest Preserve Police who was also at the scene testified that the sergeant pulled the bag out of defendant’s pocket and never dropped or retrieved anything from the ground. The substance later tested positive for cocaine. The defendant took the stand and testified that the drug was planted. He said the sergeant, while searching him, pointed to the ground with his foot. There, lying on the ground, was a piece of plastic with a white substance on it that the defendant had never seen before.

      The issue in this appeal arises from the fact that the prosecutor argued to the jury that the testimony of a police officer should be believed because he would not risk “his credibility, his job, and his freedom” by lying. However, no evidence was presented at trial that such consequences would occur. Defendant had not objected to this prosecutorial argument at trial, but, on appeal, asserted that it was plain error. The appellate court agreed that the statements were improper, found the evidence closely balanced, and reversed under the plain-error rule. The State appealed.

      In this decision, the supreme court resolved a conflict that had developed within the appellate court. The supreme court held that the comments were improper under circumstances in which no evidence had been presented that officers risked their careers by testifying falsely. That said, the supreme court did not agree with the appellate court’s finding of plain error because the defendant’s version of events was highly improbable and the jury was instructed that arguments are not evidence. Thus, it could not be said that the evidence was closely balanced. In addition, as a prerequisite to plain-error review, neither could it be said that the error was so serious as to affect the fairness of the trial and challenge the integrity of the judicial process. However, such improper comments cannot be condoned and should be avoided in the future.

      The conviction was affirmed and the appellate court was reversed.