Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed January 20, 2012




People v. Washington, 2012 IL 110283

Appellate citation: 399 Ill. App. 3d 664.


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

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


      In March of 2004, a minor traffic accident occurred near West 43rd Street and South Lamon Avenue in Chicago. A crowd gathered, arguments ensued, and shots were fired. The uncle of one of the drivers received gunshot wounds but survived. He had been arguing with this defendant, Malvin Washington, who had come to the scene because the other vehicle involved, which had been damaged, belonged to his girlfriend. A bystander who was a relative of the first victim received fatal wounds. The recovered bullets all came from the same gun, and there was trial testimony as to the defendant’s use of a gun.

      Washington was tried before a Cook County jury. Although an instruction on justifiable use of force in self-defense was requested and given, he was convicted of first degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, for which he received consecutive 55- and 10-year sentences. On appeal, he complained of the trial court’s refusal to give an additional instruction that would have found him guilty only of second degree murder for having had a subjective belief that the use of force was necessary under circumstances in which that belief was unreasonable. The appellate court agreed with this contention, reversed, and remanded for a new trial. The State appealed.

      Case law has held that evidence which supports a self-defense instruction will also support an instruction for second degree murder. The appellate court in this case followed this precedent in ruling as it did. In this decision, the Illinois Supreme Court found no reason to reach a different result. It held that the requirement stated in that earlier decision (People v. Lockett, 82 Ill. 2d 546 (1980)) is mandatory.

      The supreme court said that it is the role of a trial court to determine if there is any evidence in the record to support the giving of a self-defense instruction. However, it is the function of the jury to determine whether a defendant actually had a subjective belief that the use of force was necessary and, if he did, whether that belief was reasonable or unreasonable. This latter factual determination should not be taken away from the jury.

      This error was not a structural one which would automatically call for reversal. But, because the testimony was conflicting, neither was it harmless in the sense that the trial result would not have been different if the jury had been properly instructed.

      The appellate court was affirmed in its reversal and its remand for a new trial.