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People v. Black





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Jackson County; the Hon. RICHARD E. RICHMAN, Judge, presiding.


After a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, defendant Muriel D. Black was found guilty of armed robbery and sentenced to a term of 30 to 100 years imprisonment. On appeal, defendant challenges his conviction and sentence, contending that he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to counsel; that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to order sua sponte a mental examination of defendant to determine his fitness to stand trial; that his motion for a continuance of the sentencing hearing was improperly denied; and that he did not receive a fair sentencing hearing when the trial court refused counsel's request for a psychological examination and time to gather defendant's hospital records from another State.

On May 9, 1977, the date defendant was charged by information with the commission of the alleged offense, defendant was advised that armed robbery was a felony punishable by imprisonment; that he had a right to an attorney; and that if he were indigent, the court would appoint counsel. Upon defendant's request for an attorney, a public defender was assigned. At defendant's arraignment on May 24, defendant was further advised that armed robbery was a Class 1 felony.

Approximately two weeks later, defendant moved for the removal of the public defender and appointment of other counsel, alleging that the public defender failed to keep a scheduled interview. The motion was found to be without merit and denied.

On June 29, the public defender filed a motion for a medical examination of defendant, stating that defendant was engaged in a "hunger strike" and had refused to speak with counsel. After the trial court granted the motion, Dr. Donald W. Porter was appointed to examine defendant. Dr. Porter reported that the patient was alert, well oriented and needed no hospitalization. Throughout the examination, defendant refused to speak and otherwise remained uncooperative.

On July 12, defendant filed two motions which, in essence, requested the dismissal of the public defender and permission to appear as his own counsel. At the hearing on these motions, the court asked defendant if he were capable of representing himself. Defendant replied, "I stand on the face of the motions, yes." The court then admonished defendant that granting the motion would absolve the public defender's office of any liability for the consequences of self-representation and subject defendant to the same requirements as if he were a member of the bar. In order to determine whether defendant was capable of representing himself or needed some legal assistance to prepare a defense, the trial court asked him to reveal the extent of his education. Defendant refused to answer but indicated his willingness to be assigned co-counsel. The court granted defendant's motion and stated:

"The Public Defender is hereby relieved of his responsibilities and liabilities with regard to the defense of this case. However, the Court is appointing the Public Defender's Office to sit at the counsel table, without any responsibility or any liability, but merely for the purpose of advising Mr. Black when such advice is requested by Mr. Black during the proceedings herein."

On October 12, the date of the trial, the court permitted defendant, immediately prior to the voir dire examination, to make a lengthy statement in the presence of the jurors. In his statement, defendant alleged, among other things, that the pretrial conference, which was held on October 6 denied his constitutional right to a fair hearing in open court; that the Jackson County jail staff in conjunction with the court and the sheriff's office conspired to bring about his death; that he was denied access to law books; and that he refused to be a "participant to this crude parody of American justice." Defendant later repeated this tirade in lieu of an opening statement.

The testimony at trial revealed that James H. Johnson, a bus ticket agent, was forced at gun point to hand over $125 in $5 and $1 bills to a middle-aged black male just as the bus station was being closed for the evening. Shortly after the assailant fled, the police apprehended defendant as a suspect and brought him to the station for identification. At the time of his apprehension, defendant had a loaded gun; a bus ticket to Mt. Pulaski which the ticket agent had apparently sold to him immediately prior to the incident; and a number of $5 and $1 bills, which defendant later admitted belonged to the bus station. Both James H. Johnson and the bus express handler, Harvey Lee Condor, identified defendant as the person who had committed the robbery.

Defendant was offered, but declined, the opportunity to cross-examine the State's witnesses, and, in addition, chose not to present witnesses or testify in his own behalf. Likewise, at the instruction conference, defendant indicated that he did not want to participate and stood silently while the State tendered its instructions.

Thereafter, the jury found defendant guilty of armed robbery.

On November 4, Dennis Waks, the public defender who had assisted defendant at trial, was formally appointed as counsel. Six days later, he filed a motion for a continuance of the sentencing hearing which was scheduled for November 14. At this hearing, defense counsel argued that on the date of his appointment he first became aware that defendant might have psychological problems. He therefore asked for a continuance until he received defendant's psychiatric records from a State hospital in Wisconsin and defendant was examined by a psychologist. The trial court in denying the motion stated that it had numerous occasions to observe defendant throughout these proceedings and found no indication of defendant's incompetency. It also noted that although defendant had spent some time in a mental institution, this fact, standing alone, was insufficient, to raise a bona fide doubt of defendant's capacity or fitness.

After the presentence report revealed that defendant had spent most of his adult life in prison for numerous armed robbery convictions, the trial court sentenced defendant to a term of 30 to 100 years imprisonment.

Defendant first argues that he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to counsel when the trial court failed to admonish him of the possible penalties upon conviction pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 401(a) (Ill. ...

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