Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed January 22, 2016


People v. Thompson, 2016 IL 118667


Appellate citation: 2014 IL App (5th) 120079


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

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


            A Hamilton County jury convicted this defendant of two counts of violating the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act. The charges were procurement of anhydrous ammonia with intent to use it in the manufacture of methamphetamine and tampering with anhydrous ammonia equipment. The scene of these offenses was a farm supply company in Dahlgren where there had been thefts before. On the morning of July 21, 2011, three tanks were discovered to have had their caps removed. Surveillance camera footage of the area showed a man walking around the tanks and climbing on them. He was carrying a bucket, hose and bottle. Both a video and still images were produced from this surveillance footage, and they were distributed among various law enforcement agencies in the area in an effort to apprehend the perpetrator. After Thompson’s arrest and receipt of Miranda warnings, the chief deputy of the Hamilton County sheriff’s department confronted Thompson with the still image and he said (according to the deputy’s testimony) “I wish I could say this wasn’t me, but it is.” According to the deputy, the defendant then admitted that he had been manufacturing methamphetamine and that he had stolen from the same location before. At trial, counsel for both sides and the judge all told the jurors that the determination of guilt was theirs alone to make. The jury viewed the visual materials and convicted in less than one hour. Thompson was convicted as an habitual criminal and received an 18-year term.

            Identification was the issue on appeal. The appellate court found evidentiary error in that the jury had been allowed to hear opinion testimony from laypersons (nonexperts) that the person shown in the visual materials was this defendant. Concluding that the function of the jury had been encroached upon, the appellate court reversed. In this decision, the supreme court found that some of the challenged testimony was admissible and some was not. Some of the opinion testimony was given by members of law enforcement, and this type of opinion testimony carries the potential for unduly influencing the jury if certain precautionary procedures are not followed. Rules have been established for attempting to avoid this prejudicial impact, but they were not utilized here. The supreme court said that this was error, but, under the circumstances, it was harmless. The appellate court was reversed and the convictions were reinstated.