People v. Chavez

Annotate this Case
NO. 4-96-0317




Plaintiff-Appellee, ) Circuit Court of
v. ) Livingston County
JOSEPH A. CHAVEZ, ) No. 95TR6313
Defendant-Appellant. )
) Honorable
) Charles L. Frank,
) Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE GREEN delivered the opinion of the court:
On November 28, 1995, the State charged defendant Joseph
A. Chavez by written complaint in the circuit court of Livingston
County with the offense of driving under the influence of alcohol
(DUI) in violation of section 11-501(a)(2) of the Illinois Vehicle
Code (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(2) (West 1994)). After a bench trial,
the court entered judgment on April 5, 1996, finding defendant
guilty. On April 24, 1996, the court sentenced defendant to two
years' conditional discharge, 60 days of county jail work release,
a fine and costs totalling $500 and fees for the conditional
discharge and work release. The court also ordered defendant to
participate in an alcohol-treatment program and to submit to drug
testing as a condition of the conditional discharge.
Defendant has appealed contending the evidence did not
permit the court to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He
maintains this was so even if the court properly considered
admissions made by him to a law enforcement officer. He further
contends that those admissions should not have been considered
because the State failed to present sufficient corroborative
evidence of the corpus delicti to permit consideration of those
admissions. The State does not dispute that the proof of guilt was
insufficient without the admissions but asserts that sufficient
corroboration of the corpus delicti was presented to permit
consideration of the admissions, and with them before the court,
the proof of guilt supported the conviction. We agree with the
State and affirm.
The only evidence presented by the State was the
testimony of the arresting officer, Deputy Tony Childress of the
Livingston County sheriff's office. He testified that (1) on
November 3, 1995, about 8:13 p.m., he was dispatched to the
location in Livingston County of a vehicle that had rolled over;
(2) upon arrival, he observed that vehicle lying on its passenger
side in a field; (3) skid marks led from the road to the spot where
the vehicle lay; (4) no one was seen in or around the vehicle and
he found no alcohol or alcohol containers in or around the vehicle;
(5) he had no direct knowledge of when the vehicle had left the
road; (6) he then went to the Livingston County jail, where he met
and talked with defendant at approximately 11 p.m. on that date.
Childress explained that in his conversation with
defendant, the latter admitted (1) he had that day been driving the
vehicle which Childress had seen lying on its side; and (2) before
he started to drive the vehicle, he had "two drinks" and four or
five beers before he went off the road. Childress testified
defendant stated he had gone to sleep. The context of these
admissions indicated that the vehicle overturned late that day as
defendant was headed home. Childress described defendant as then
having glassy, bloodshot eyes and having a strong breath odor of
alcohol. Childress described defendant's speech as slurred.
Childress admitted that he did not require defendant to perform any
physical tests for sobriety but asked defendant to recite the
alphabet and defendant was unable to do so. Childress also stated
that defendant refused to take a breathalyzer test but in his
opinion, defendant was intoxicated.
We consider first the question of whether, if all the
evidence including defendant's admissions could be considered by
the court, the evidence supports the judgment of guilt. The
universally accepted rule in that regard is, of course, whether a
reasonable trier of fact could find that every element of the
charged offense was proved beyond a reasonable doubt. People v.
Campbell, 146 Ill. 2d 363, 374, 586 N.E.2d 1261, 1266 (1992). The
elements to be proved here were that defendant drove or was in
physical control of the automobile within the State while under the
influence of alcohol. 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(2) (West 1994).
The evidence was undisputed that defendant admitted to
Childress that he drove the automobile when it rolled on its side.
Defendant's leg injury would tend to corroborate this. The court
could also have believed the testimony of Childress that when he
and defendant met at the police station, defendant looked and acted
as if he was then intoxicated. Moreover, defendant's unrefuted
admission was that he had two drinks and four or five beers shortly
before the vehicle turned over.
Defendant maintains that the proof of guilt fails because
of the lack of tying the time of the driving of the vehicle to the
time when defendant appeared intoxicated. Defendant cites People
v. Flores, 41 Ill. App. 3d 96, 353 N.E.2d 131 (1976), where the
first district overturned a DUI conviction where unrefuted
testimony indicated that although that defendant appeared
intoxicated at time of arrest, he had been drinking tequila at a
party after the collision and before his arrest. Without passing
upon whether we agree with Flores, we note that no evidence was
introduced here that defendant had done any drinking after the
vehicle had turned on its side and defendant's drinking was
reasonably tied to the time when Childress saw him. If the
admissions were properly before the court, the evidence supported
the conviction.
Accordingly, we turn to the issue of the sufficiency of
the corroboration of the corpus delicti. A noted authority on
criminal law has stated that the significance of the phrase corpus
delicti has often been misunderstood but that it means "'the body
of the crime'" and that it refers to (1) "the occurrence of the
specific kind of injury or loss"; and (2) "somebody's criminality
*** as the source of the loss." (Emphasis in original.) 1 W.
LaFave & A. Scott, Substantive Criminal Law 1.4(b), at 24 (1986)
(hereinafter Substantive Criminal Law). That text states the
principal use of the concept of corpus delicti is the rule that in
a criminal case an admission or confession by the accused can be
considered only if corroborative evidence of the corpus delicti is
Clearly, collaborative proof of the corpus delicti need
not be beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, the standard has been
described as "some independent evidence." People v. Willingham, 89 Ill. 2d 352, 360, 432 N.E.2d 861, 865 (1982).
Some indication of the strength of corroborating evidence
necessary to permit consideration of admissions or confessions of
an accused can be obtained from the reasons stated for the rule
requiring corroboration. The Willingham opinion stated:
"The corroboration requirement stems from an
attempt to assure the truthfulness of the
confession and recognizes that the reliability
of a confession 'may be suspect if it is
extracted from one who is under the pressure
of a police investigation--whose words may
reflect the strain and confusion attending his
predicament rather than a clear reflection of
his past.' Smith v. United States (1954), 348 U.S. 147, 153, 99 L. Ed. 192, 199, 75 S. Ct. 194, 197. Accord, People v. O'Neil (1960), 18 Ill. 2d 461, 464[, 165 N.E.2d 319, 321]."
Willingham, 89 Ill. 2d at 359, 432 N.E.2d at
In People v. Dalton, 91 Ill. 2d 22, 434 N.E.2d 1127
(1982), the supreme court recognized that both a noted authority on
evidence (7 Wigmore on Evidence 2070, at 510 (Chadbourn rev. ed.
1978)) and an opinion by the distinguished Judge Learned Hand in
Daeche v. United States, 250 F. 566, 571 (2d Cir. 1918), had
criticized and urged elimination of the rule requiring
corroboration of extrajudicial admissions or confessions.
Nevertheless, the court refused to abolish the rule in its entirety
but refused to follow it in upholding a conviction for indecent
liberties with a child when the sole proof of the defendant's age
was his extrajudicial admission that he was barely of the required
age. The court also explained that the rule requiring
corroboration is based not only on the pressure upon a defendant
while being interrogated by police but also because persons with
psychological problems might incriminate themselves for offenses
which had not occurred or which they did not commit. Dalton, 91 Ill. 2d at 29, 434 N.E.2d at 1131.
A situation somewhat similar to that here, although more
favorable to the prosecution, was before this court in People v.
Call, 176 Ill. App. 3d 571, 531 N.E.2d 451 (1988). There, a
vehicle was seen in a position similar to that here but a witness
saw a person leave it and evidence was introduced that the vehicle
belonged to the defendant. Other evidence indicated that the
defendant flagged down a police officer for a ride at a point about
two miles from the place where the vehicle was left and the officer
gave the defendant sobriety tests and obtained a .15 reading on a
breathalyzer test given to the defendant. This court held that
this evidence was sufficient to corroborate admissions made by the
defendant to the officer that he was the driver of the vehicle.
The evidence here was undisputed that defendant admitted
he had consumed a considerable number of intoxicating beverages and
that he drove the overturned vehicle. The testimony of Childress
that defendant appeared intoxicated at the station is strong
corroboration of defendant's admitted drinking. The testimony that
defendant appeared at the station with a leg injury likely to have
resulted from an episode such as the turning over of the vehicle is
some corroboration of defendant's stated admission to Childress
that he had been driving that vehicle. Moreover, as the
overturning of a vehicle is something likely to happen when its
driver is intoxicated, the evidence that defendant was intoxicated
at the time he appeared with the leg injury is some further
corroboration that he was likely driving the vehicle.
We recognize the corroborating evidence here in regard to
tying the defendant to the driving of the vehicle which was a
subject of the offense is not as strong as was that testimony in
Call. Nevertheless, any concern here that because of the presence
of the circumstances or some psychological quirk of defendant, he
made admissions causing his conviction of an offense which never
occurred or which he did not commit is well negated by the
corroborating evidence of the corpus delicti presented.
Accordingly, we deem the corroborating evidence of the corpus
delicti justified consideration of defendant's admissions.
As the admissions were properly considered and the proof,
including those admissions, supported the judgment of guilt, we
affirm that conviction and sentence.
STEIGMANN, P.J., and GARMAN, J., concur.