Is It a Harmless Error If a Court Fails to Inform and Question Jurors Regarding All Four Zehr Principles ?
In People v. Stump, 385 Ill. App. 3d 515, 521, 896 N.E.2d 904, 909, 324 Ill. Dec. 828 (2008), vacated, 233 Ill. 2d 592, 914 N.E.2d 490, 333 Ill. Dec. 71 (2009) (nonprecedential supervisory order on denial of petition for leave to appeal), the trial court addressed all four Zehr principles but only questioned jurors on two of the principles.
This court held that any error caused by the court's failure to fully comply with Rule 431(b) was harmless error because:
(1) the jurors were at least informed of all four principles during voir dire;
(2) the evidence was overwhelming. Stump, 385 Ill. App. 3d at 522, 896 N.E.2d at 909.
Similar to Stump, in People v. Owens, 394 Ill. App. 3d 147, 152, 914 N.E.2d 1280, 1284, 333 Ill. Dec. 468 (2009), the trial court addressed all four Rule 431(b) principles when addressing the entire venire.
However, in Owens, the court failed to ask any questions of prospective jurors relating to any Rule 431(b) principles.
This court distinguished Owens from Stump, finding the trial court committed plain error by failing to question prospective jurors on any of the principles. Owens, 394 Ill. App. 3d at 153-54, 914 N.E.2d at 1285.
In People v. Blanton, 396 Ill. App. 3d 230, 235, N.E.2d, 925 N.E.2d 703, 2009 Ill. (2009) the trial court questioned the prospective jurors on three of the Rule 431(b) principles and allowed prospective jurors to respond.
The court failed to inform and question jurors regarding the fourth principle that the defendant's decision not to testify cannot be held against him. Blanton, 396 Ill. App. 3d at 235,N.E.2d at, 2009 Ill.
The defendant did not present evidence or testify in that case. Blanton, 396 Ill. App. 3d at 233, N.E.2d at, 2009 Ill.
Blanton held the trial court committed plain error when it failed to question each prospective juror on the fourth Rule 431(b) principle, substantially affecting the fundamental fairness of the proceeding. Blanton, 396 Ill. App. 3d at 236, N.E.2d at, 2009.