Supreme Court Summaries
Opinions filed October 21, 2010
No. 108253 People v. Johnson
Appellate citation: 388 Ill. App. 3d 199.
JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Chief Justice Fitzgerald and Justices Thomas, Garman, and Karmeier concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Justice Burke dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Freeman.
Events in Lockport in 2005 resulted in the charging of this defendant with the criminal sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl at a time when the defendant was 17 years old. At the Will County jury trial, the girl testified that the sex was consensual, and a detective testified that the defendant had admitted that the activity in question took place. Johnson did not testify, and the defense did not present any evidence or witnesses.
The jury eventually returned a guilty verdict. After dismissing the jurors, the circuit court judge told the parties that, at an earlier point in the trial, the jurors had sent a note saying that they were deadlocked 11 to 1, and the judge had responded with a note telling them to continue deliberating. Neither the defendant nor any of the attorneys had been present at this interchange between judge and jury--it was ex parte. However, when the judge revealed what had happened, defense counsel did not object, and no claim of error was made by posttrial motion. Johnson was sentenced to one year of conditional discharge and ordered to register as a sex offender. The appellate court reversed after the defendant complained about the ex parte communication. There is no dispute as to the impropriety of communicating ex parte.
In this decision, the supreme court upheld the circuit court’s judgment of conviction. Because the defendant had not properly preserved this issue for review, he could only succeed on appeal pursuant to plain-error analysis, as to which he bore the burden of persuasion. The supreme court, finding the evidence not to be closely balanced, looked to the “second prong” of plain-error analysis, which asks whether the error was so serious that it affected the fairness of the trial