Waiver of Jury Trial in an Illinois Armed Robbery Case

revolverIn a recent Illinois appellate case, the defendant appealed after being convicted of armed robbery, which is a Class X felony.  He was sentenced to 21 years in prison, which is the six-year minimum plus a 15-year enhancement for using firearms.  He was indicted based on a theory of accountability.  Prosecutors claimed he knowingly took money from the victim’s person by threatening the use of force while carrying a firearm.

The defendant was separately charged with attempted armed robbery, and he pled guilty to that charge. He was admonished of his right to a jury trial, and he agreed to waive his right. The case at hand was set for a jury trial, but a few months before the trial, the defense attorney told the court that sentencing in the attempted armed robbery case was supposed to occur on the same day. The defendant’s attorney also said at that point that the current case would be a bench trial, and they’d waived a jury trial. There was no written jury waiver.

Subsequently, the State filed a notice of intent to ask for a 15-year sentencing enhancement upon conviction under section 111-3(c) of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/111-3(c)).

At trial, the victim testified that he stopped his car at an ATM at around 1:00 a.m. in July 2011. He saw an SUV nearby. When he finished his transaction, somebody put a black revolver in the window of his vehicle. He saw a cylinder and thus knew that the gun was a revolver. He testified that the person who came up to the car had long hair and was a heavyset black male in a white T-shirt with another white T-shirt around his face. His money was taken.

When he left the lot, the victim saw that the same guy was pointing the gun in front of him while standing in front of the car. He asked for the victim’s cell phone. The defendant drove away, observing that there were two people sitting in the SUV.

At trial, the detective testified he’d gotten the facts from the victim and put out a critical reach flier. An investigator for a different police department interviewed the defendant, who admitted he’d driven to the ATM during the early morning hours and intended to take money from people inside a car that drove up using a gun he’d gotten in Chicago in the attempted robbery. He froze up when the women in the car started screaming. He denied knowing about the robbery in question. The detectives said they had a videotape and believed he didn’t approach the victim, even though they had a video that showed a heavyset gunman carrying his gun. He admitted someone else and he had robbed someone in that city on that day. Another officer testified about a subsequent armed robbery in a parking lot, also involving a silver SUV. Later, he searched the vehicle and found a .38 special revolver.

After the State’s case was presented, the defense attorney moved for a directed verdict, arguing that the State hadn’t proven he was armed. The request was denied. The defense didn’t present witnesses. During his closing argument, the defense attorney asked that the trial judge consider a different charge of robbery, since the firearm wasn’t proven. The defendant was convicted of armed robbery with a firearm.

On appeal, the defense argued he didn’t knowingly and understandingly waive his right to a jury trial. The State conceded. In Illinois, a defendant who wants to waive the right to a jury trial is required to do so in writing and in open court. The validity of a jury waiver depends on the circumstances, however.

The defendant also argued the evidence wasn’t sufficient for the armed robbery conviction. The court explained that the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly took property by using or threatening force while armed with a firearm. The presence of a firearm in an armed robbery prosecution is a factual question, and the State doesn’t have to show the gun is a firearm by physical evidence. A witness’ testimony that the defendant held a gun is enough to show the defendant is armed. The evidence was enough to convict the defendant for armed robbery. The court sent the case back for a new trial on the armed robbery charge.

Armed robbery is an extremely serious charge, due to sentencing enhancements. It is important to retain an experienced attorney. James Dimeas is an award-winning Chicago attorney and an author with more than 24 years of experience. If you are charged with armed robbery in Illinois, contact me in Cook (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096), or Lake (847-696-6458) County for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.

More Blog Posts:

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The Kane County Domestic Diversion Program, December 1, 2016