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People v. Woodruff





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of McLean County; the Hon. WILLIAM T. CAISLEY, Judge, presiding.


Must a trial judge advise a defendant of his right to defend pro se?


We affirm.

Woodruff was charged with four counts of aggravated battery and three counts of battery. A jury convicted him of one count of aggravated battery and three counts of battery. He was then sentenced to 10 years for the aggravated battery and three terms of 364 days each for the battery convictions. All the sentences are to be served concurrent to each other but consecutive to the sentences that defendant was serving at the time of the offense.

On appeal, the only issue presented is whether defendant was denied his sixth amendment right to self-representation because the trial court failed to advise him of this right.

The offenses of which defendant was convicted stemmed from an incident involving the defendant and three correctional officers at the Pontiac Correctional Center on January 23, 1979. When defendant learned that the indictments had been returned against him, he sent a letter to Circuit Judge William Caisley requesting information about the charges so that he could prepare a defense. On March 9, 1979, a "letter of deposition" — signed by the defendant — was filed in the circuit court. In this "deposition" the defendant described his poor physical condition, alleged that certain correctional officers had beaten him, and requested the court to "swear out countercharges" against the correctional officers. He also requested counsel to visit him at the correctional facility and help him "obtain adequate medical attention, et al."

The public defender was then appointed to represent the defendant. But in a letter filed March 20, 1979, defendant requested that this attorney be dismissed and that counsel who was fair, impartial, and would properly represent him be appointed. The judge responded to this letter by informing the defendant that if a problem existed concerning counsel, defendant should bring it to the attention of the court at his next appearance.

On March 21, 1979, the defendant appeared, with appointed counsel, for a hearing before Judge Caisley. The defendant indicated that he desired to consult with the State's Attorney, apparently concerning defendant's allegations of mistreatment by certain correctional officers. Defense counsel stated that he had no objection to such a conversation and a brief recess was held.

After the defendant consulted with the State's Attorney, the court informed him that he had the right to a bench or a jury trial and the right to have a lawyer represent him. Defendant was informed that he had the right to compel witnesses to testify in his behalf and to cross-examine the State's witnesses. He was also informed of the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof, including the fact that he must be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The court then asked defendant if he had discussed the pleas that he wished to enter with defense counsel. Defendant responded that he had not told counsel how he wished to plead because he was not accepting him as counsel. Defendant then stated that he wished to plead not guilty and would also like to have his right to "fair and impartial counsel." The court accepted defendant's plea and his request for a trial by jury.

Defendant then asked when he was going to be furnished with counsel and the court inquired into the reasons for defendant's dissatisfaction with appointed counsel. Defendant responded that counsel had made statements showing that he was not fair and impartial "as provided by law." According to defendant, counsel told him that whatever happened, four or five years would make no difference and that counsel did not want fellow gang members as witnesses. Defendant felt this was a direct reference to his membership in a gang.

When asked to respond, defense counsel stated that he had not inferred, directly or indirectly, that defendant was a gang member. He explained his reference to gang members as a statement stressing the importance of having credible, reliable witnesses, if possible, as opposed to witnesses whose credibility could be attacked by the State. Explaining the comment about the four or five years, counsel stated that he was not completely sure why the charges were brought against the defendant from a prosecution standpoint because any sentence that might eventually be obtained would, in counsel's opinion, not affect defendant's ultimate release date due to the length of the term that he was presently serving. Counsel stated that he did not mean to convey to defendant the idea that counsel did not think the disposition of this case was important. Counsel repeatedly tried to assure defendant that he would do all he could to make sure that defendant received a fair trial and that he was not prejudiced in any way against the defendant.

Defendant again expressed his opposition to appointed counsel, but the court, over this objection, denied the motion to discharge counsel. Defendant was informed that if he desired to obtain counsel of his own choice, he could do so but at his own expense.

Defendant then stated that he had a constitutional right to fair and impartial counsel and that the court had already violated his constitutional rights by allowing the State's Attorney to appear at the grand jury proceeding when defendant was absent. Defendant felt that he had a right to be present at ...

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