Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fifth District; heard
in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Christian
County, the Hon. Daniel H. Dailey, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE MORAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Following a plea of guilty to six counts of forgery, the defendant, William Waud, was convicted by the circuit court of Christian County and sentenced to concurrent terms of 1 to 10 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary. On appeal, the appellate court, in a two-to-one decision, affirmed the conviction but modified the sentence by reducing the maximum term from 10 to 3 years. (43 Ill. App.3d 85.) We granted the defendant leave to appeal.
The sole issue raised is whether the trial court acted arbitrarily in refusing to grant probation.
While serving as a high school principal, the defendant acted as a part-time general contractor. During 1973, while engaged in the construction of two homes, the defendant forged certain mechanic's lien waivers, either by signing the names of the materialmen or subcontractors or by altering the stated amounts. The six lien waivers were forged over a 5 1/2-month period. At the time of the sentencing hearing, the defendant had been placed in involuntary bankruptcy, his home and real estate holdings had been or were being foreclosed, and there were numerous civil suits pending as the result of his business failure. Because of the instant charges, defendant was dismissed from his position at the high school. He subsequently secured employment as a foreman at a nearby steel company.
Defendant filed a motion for probation indicating he had a teacher's pension fund which was not subject to the claims of his creditors and which would be made available to the two defrauded homeowners if he was granted probation. Aside from one criminal charge apparently outstanding at the time of the sentencing hearing one involving a forgery count similar to those of which defendant was convicted defendant's only other criminal conviction consisted of a traffic violation in 1972. Defendant was married and had five children, all of them minors and living at home.
At the hearing in aggravation and mitigation, 14 witnesses who were friends, relatives, or associates of the defendant attested to his good character and reputation as a father, a teacher, a principal, and as a leader in the community. All of the witnesses suggested that defendant be granted probation, and several specifically indicated that, in their estimation, the granting of probation would not deprecate the seriousness of his offenses. In addition to these witnesses, 30 other individuals appeared on defendant's behalf and placed their names in the record in support of defendant's request.
Following the defendant's evidence in mitigation, the State introduced the testimony of the two defrauded homeowners. Esther Klaus testified that, at the time she contracted with the defendant to build her home, she was a widow living with her minor son. In order to finance the new home, the witness borrowed $16,000 and paid the balance from the proceeds of her late husband's insurance. After paying the entire contract price of $23,000, Mrs. Klaus was informed of the forged lien waivers. At the date of the hearing, approximately $14,000 in unpaid liens were outstanding against her home, and she was unemployed. The witness further testified that she was offered one half of the defendant's $9,000 teacher pension fund if she would come into court and request that defendant be placed on probation.
Billie Lahue, the other homeowner, testified that he had contracted with the defendant to build a new home at the contract price of $34,000 and had obtained a construction loan from a local savings and loan company in order to finance the construction. To Lahue's knowledge the defendant had received the entire contract price from the loan proceeds but, as of the date of the hearing, there were approximately $17,000 in unpaid liens outstanding against his home. Lahue's lawyer had informed him of defendant's pension fund and of defendant's willingness to share it with Lahue and Mrs. Klaus if they would support defendant's request for probation. Lahue refused the offer.
During argument, defendant's counsel reiterated defendant's good reputation and prior standing in the community. He emphasized defendant's financial losses and the suffering of his family due to these charges. He indicated that the forgeries were the result of defendant's financial mismanagement. Counsel stated that the offers made to the two victims were made by him through the victims' mutual attorney, and that conditions were attached to insure that the defendant's family would have adequate resources in the event that defendant did not receive probation. Defense counsel urged that no purpose would be served by sentencing defendant to imprisonment, that defendant was presently employed, and that the seriousness of the offenses would not be deprecated if probation was granted.
The State did not oppose probation. It admitted that incarceration was not required in order to protect the public from further criminal activity, and that defendant was not in need of correctional treatment. The State did, however, express its reservation about whether probation might not deprecate the seriousness of the offenses in light of the number of forgeries, the length of time over which they had occurred, and their premeditated nature.
Following defendant's statement to the court in which he expressed his sorrow and his desire to make amends to the extent possible, the court sentenced defendant to imprisonment, finding that, pursuant to section 5-6-1(a)(3) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 38, par. 1005-6-1(a)(3)), probation would deprecate the seriousness of the defendant's conduct.
Relying on People v. Bolyard (1975), 61 Ill.2d 583, and People v. McAndrew (1968), 96 Ill. App.2d 441, the defendant contends that certain remarks evinced at the hearing indicated that the trial court arbitrarily refused to consider probation as a sentencing alternative solely because defendant was a "prominent citizen" in the community. He further asserts that there is no evidence in the record to justify the court's conclusion that probation would deprecate the seriousness of the crimes.
This court has consistently held that a refusal to grant probation will not be disturbed by a reviewing court unless the defendant affirmatively establishes that the trial court acted arbitrarily. People v. Rege (1976), 64 Ill.2d 473, 482-83; People v. Bolyard (1975), 61 Ill.2d 583, 586; People ex rel. Ward v. ...