Criminal Law FLASHPOINTS November 2022

Matthew R. Leisten, Ogle County State’s Attorney’s Office, Oregon
815-732-1170 | E-mail Matthew R. Leisten

Appellate Court Upholds Murder Conviction When Proof of Other-Acts Evidence Was Presented To Rebut Self-Defense

In People v. Mujkovic, 2022 IL App (1st) 200717, the First District Appellate Court upheld a defendant’s murder conviction when the state presented evidence that the defendant had been involved in two other shootings on the day of the murder, which rebutted his self-defense claim.

In Mujkovic, the defendant and his codefendant entered a gas station in Chicago to purchase drinks and cigarettes. The victim and his friend entered the gas station a short time later. The codefendant asked the victim’s friend for money and cigarettes, but the victim’s friend declined. The codefendant gestured toward the defendant, who was holding his pistol’s handle in his waistband. The codefendant continued to badger the victim’s friend for money and cigarettes and point toward the defendant, who was brandishing his pistol. 2022 IL App (1st) 200717 at ¶¶3 – 4.

The victim’s friend said that he did not have anything to give. The codefendant then frisked the victim’s friend, which caused the victim’s friend to slap his hand and threaten to beat up the codefendant. The codefendant then punched the victim’s friend. The codefendant then punched the victim. The victim lunged at the codefendant, causing the defendant to pull out his pistol and shoot the victim. The victim died from the gunshot. 2022 IL App (1st) 200717 at ¶4.

The defendant was charged with attempted armed robbery and first-degree murder. The defendant claimed self-defense. The state filed a notice to admit evidence of two other shootings involving the defendant that night under Illinois Rule of Evidence 404(c). 2022 IL App (1st) 200717 at ¶7.

The trial court granted the other-acts motion and found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. 2022 IL App (1st) 200717 at ¶¶7 – 8.

The appellate court held that the other-acts evidence was admissible to negate the defendant’s self-defense claim because the other-acts evidence showed his intent. 2022 IL App (1st) 200717 at ¶18.

The appellate court stated that the state cannot just “mechanically invoke a litany of the permissible ‘other purposes’ ” to admit evidence under Rule 404(b). 2022 IL App (1st) 200717 at ¶13. It stated that the permissible other purpose must be a material issue in the case and that the other-acts evidence must be relative to establish that purpose without relying on a propensity inference. Id.

In the first shooting, the defendant fired his gun from his car at a group of people earlier that night. In the second shooting, he fired his gun out of a car window as a passenger in a vehicle. The appellate court cautioned that the forbidden propensity evidence from those shootings would be that the defendant was a bad character and conformed to his bad character during those shootings. 2022 IL App (1st) 200717 at ¶14. However, the appellate court found that the earlier shootings were admissible to prove the defendant’s intent when he testified that he killed the victim out of self-defense. 2022 IL App (1st) 200717 at ¶15.

The appellate court noted that a self-defense claim puts a defendant’s intent directly at issue. Intent is one of the permissible purposes for admitting other-acts evidence because it negates inadvertence, accident, self-defense, or other forms of innocent intent. The appellate court concluded that evidence of two earlier unlawful shootings by the same person makes another instance of innocent intent through self-defense less likely. 2022 IL App (1st) 200717 at ¶¶16 – 17.

Therefore, the other-acts evidence was properly admitted to rebut the self-defense claim. 2022 IL App (1st) 200717 at ¶18.

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