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People v. Heral

FEBRUARY 7, 1975.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. WILLIAM R. NASH, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE DIXON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant was indicted on August 29, 1972, for murder by suffocation of a 14-month-old child. Pursuant to motion, a hearing on defendant's competency to stand trial was held on September 7, 1972, at which hearing defendant was found competent to stand trial. Pursuant to plea negotiations, defendant plead guilty to murder on December 7, 1972, and was sentenced by the Circuit Court of Winnebago County to 14 to 20 years in prison, said sentence having been agreed upon in the plea negotiations. Defendant now appeals on the grounds that the trial court improperly accepted her guilty plea.

On August 2, 1972, the defendant, Carrie Jean Heral, age 19, went to see Chaplain Frank Mayer at the Rockford Memorial Hospital and told him that she was involved in the death of 14-month-old Rodney Collison. The chaplain got Miss Heral's permission to call the Rockford Police Department. Subsequently, two policewomen came to the hospital, informed Miss Heral of her constitutional rights, and took her to the police station where she gave a statement indicating that she had suffocated the Collison child in his bed at approximately 1:30 A.M. on August 2, 1972.

Defendant had a prior history of mental problems, involving, among other things, several attempted suicides. While in the county jail subsequent to her arrest in the matter at hand, defendant twice attempted suicide.

Psychiatric testimony adduced at the competency hearing on September 7, 1972, indicated that Miss Heral did have a background of psychological problems, but that she was competent to stand trial. Subsequently, Miss Heral plead guilty to murder.

The issues on appeal are:

I. Did the trial court commit reversible error in accepting defendant's guilty plea without first determining that she was competent to plead guilty?

II. Did the trial court adequately inform the defendant of the nature of the charge against her in accepting her guilty plea?

III. Did the trial court commit reversible error in not informing the defendant of the affirmative defense of insanity and determining that she understood it, and voluntarily and knowingly waived it, before accepting her guilty plea?


• 1, 2 On appeal, defendant argues that the fact that she was found competent to stand trial does not mean that she was also competent to plead guilty. A finding of fitness to stand trial indicates that the defendant is able to understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings against him and to assist in his defense. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 38, par. 1005-2-1.) Defendant argues that fitness to enter a guilty plea requires a higher standard of competence because "pleading guilty is a higher form of activity than standing understandingly mute." Defendant is mistaken in interpreting competence to stand trial to mean simply that defendant is capable of being "understandingly mute." Competence to stand trial also involves a defendant's being capable of assisting in his defense, an active role rather than simply a passive one.

In Westbrook v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 150, 16 L.Ed.2d 429 86 S.Ct. 1320, which defendant cites as authority for her argument here, the United States Supreme Court held that a determination that the accused was fit to stand trial was not also a determination that he was capable of waiving his right to counsel and conducting his own defense. That case did not involve a defendant who plead guilty, but one who plead not guilty and conducted his own defense. In the instant case, the defendant was represented by counsel throughout the proceedings against her. The constitutional right Westbrook was concerned with, the right to counsel, was taken full advantage of in the present case. In addition, there is no indication in the record that defense counsel here did not give his client full and complete representation.

In Withers v. People, 23 Ill.2d 131, the defendant argued that he was not found competent at the time he entered his guilty pleas. Holding against the defendant, the supreme court applied the test for fitness to stand trial, holding at page 135 that "[i]f the defendant does understand the nature and object of the charges against him and can, in co-operation with his counsel, conduct his defense in a rational and reasonable manner, then he is mentally competent to stand trial although upon other subjects his mind may be unsound." Defendant here does not contend that there was error in finding her competent to stand trial. Thus, defendant's competence to plead guilty was established.

People v. McElroy, 125 Ill. App.2d 237, 243, states: "While a defendant may possess a sociopathic personality and suffer from psychological and social disturbances, these circumstances without more are not sufficient to raise a bona fide doubt as to his competence." McElroy also treated the test for ...

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