People v. Hernandez, 2017 IL App (2d) 150731 (January). Episode 306 (Duration 9:04)
Defendant is accountable for this 7 kilogram heroin deal (he did the heat run).
Defendant was tried on the theory that he was accountable for the actions of his father and brother who had conducted a 7 kilogram heroin drug deal in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Defendant drove a seperate car to the parking lot and parked it in a way that allowed him to act as a “look out.”
The trial court found defendant guilty.
The court noted that it was undisputed that a drug transaction occurred, the only question being whether defendant knowingly participated in it or was merely present.
The court then extensively recounted the evidence and concluded that defendant was a knowing participant.
Drive To The House
Had the evidence of the drug delivery itself been the only evidence, the court stated, it might well have been insufficient to prove that defendant knowingly participated.
However, the State presented extensive evidence of the events preceding it. The court referred to evidence of the heat run, noting that there was:
“…inexplicable stopping, pulling over, pulling forward, turning around, coming back, going north of the home, going south of the home, crossing the river in Elgin on the one side only to then turn around and come back, and then to park the vehicle with no apparent reason other than to somehow disconnect the vehicle from the address by parking down the street and around the corner. *** All of which leads to the conclusion that the defendant knew that he needed to know if he was under surveillance or [if] that vehicle was under surveillance. It’s the only viable explanation, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from that. Rather this is not like you drove around the corner and re parked [sic] the car. He drove a considerable distance over a considerable period of time looking for any law enforcement surveillance.”
Drive Away From The House
The court then recounted the evidence that defendant drove to a condominium complex in Elgin and that his car emerged in tandem with another car containing defendant’s father and brother.
The court found it significant that the other two men were defendant’s close relatives, rather than “two individuals who may or may not have some connection to him.”
“So the question is, does all of that evidence show that defendant was merely present and in some sort of coincidental fashion with his father and his brother doing the seven kilogram transaction, and that he did not know, and did not attempt to aid or abet them in the commission of this offense, and that he was merely as was suggested on his way to join them for a meal and this was done along the way. *** There is no innocent explanation for why the three would be traveling from Elgin to the restaurant in two separate cars. There’s no innocent explanation why he would position his car[ ] the way he did in relation to the transaction, the reasonable inferences and positions of his vehicle so as to act as the lookout, to lookout for any potential problems. The evidence was that each of the three individuals, the father, the brother and the defendant all had two cell phones and likely could communicate in regard to the use of any of those cell phones.”
A defendant’s intent may be inferred from the nature of his or her actions and the circumstances surrounding the criminal conduct.
Words of agreement are not necessary to establish a common purpose to commit a crime, and accountability may be established through a defendant’s knowledge of and participation in the criminal scheme, even though there is no evidence that he or she directly participated in the criminal act itself.
However, mere presence at the scene of a crime, even when joined with flight from the scene or knowledge of the crime, is insufficient to establish accountability.
“Accountability focuses on the degree of culpability of the offender and seeks to deter persons from intentionally aiding or encouraging the commission of offenses.”
Here, the evidence sufficiently proved that defendant served as a lookout while his father and brother conducted a drug transaction.
The police drug expert described how defendant conducted a heat run, driving a circuitous route around Elgin with no apparent destination in mind.
Participating in a heat run has been recognized as an important piece of evidence that a defendant was knowingly involved in a drug transaction.
Additional evidence showed that, when defendant returned from the heat run, he parked more than a block away from the house, although parking was available closer to the house.
Several hours later, he left the house with another man and drove to a condominium complex in Elgin.
Three men left the complex in two cars and drove in tandem, in a circuitous route, to a Wal-Mart parking lot.
The cars parked several spaces from each other, with defendant parking in a spot where he could see anyone approaching.
The men in the other car were met by another man.
They gave him a black bag that later proved to contain heroin.
Afterward, the three men again drove in tandem to a restaurant.
No Innocent Explanations
As the trial court observed, it is difficult to imagine any legitimate purpose for such activity.
Had they merely been running an innocent errand, there was no need to drive in two separate cars from Elgin to a Wal-Mart in Addison, park in the parking lot without ever entering the store, and then drive back toward Elgin to a restaurant in Hanover Park.
Additional evidence showed that defendant possessed two cell phones.
Moreover, the car he was driving contained a hidden compartment that could have been used for hiding drugs. All of these factors point to defendant’s knowing participation in the drug delivery and render extremely unlikely any innocent explanation for his conduct.
The trier of fact is not required to disregard inferences that flow from the evidence, nor is it required to search out all possible explanations consistent with innocence and raise them to a level of reasonable doubt.
Indeed, it is highly unlikely that two of defendant’s close relatives engaged in a transaction involving drugs worth more than $1 million while defendant, who was in close proximity to them the entire time, was completely uninvolved.
The fact that no physical evidence directly tied defendant to the drug transaction is not fatal. The detective's’ testimony regarding defendant’s actions was sufficient to establish his knowledge of, and participation in, the transaction.