APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Jersey County; the Hon.
HOWARD LEE WHITE, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Can a trial judge issue a "Certificate of Importance" in a criminal case?
Can he sua sponte order an appeal following a negotiated plea of guilty?
On March 24, 1980, Champion was charged by information with aggravated battery in which it was alleged that on March 23 he had intentionally caused great bodily harm to Donald Estes by striking Estes in the face several times.
Some 14 months later — on May 22, 1981, Champion filed a motion for discharge based on an alleged violation of his right to a speedy trial. A hearing was held on this motion on June 2, 1981, and the motion was denied on June 4.
After a recess following the denial of the speedy trial motion, the court was informed that the defendant had decided to enter a negotiated plea. The court then carefully advised Champion of the nature of the charge, the possible penalties, his right to a jury or bench trial, the terms of the plea agreement, and the agreed sentence of 2 years. After finding a factual basis, the court then accepted Champion's plea and sentenced him to a term of 2 years.
The trial judge then advised Champion that before he could appeal he would have to file a motion asking that the plea of guilty be set aside and that if that motion was allowed, and he went to trial, the misdemeanor case that had been dismissed by the State could be reinstated. The judge stated that any errors not set forth in the motion would be waived for purposes of appeal.
Then — Judge White made these comments:
"Gentlemen, I feel that this petition for discharge was of such importance, and that the law is sort of in a hazy condition, on my own motion I'm going to appoint the Appellate Defender to represent him on the ruling on the motion for discharge, and I'm going to let him appeal that on my own motion, whether he wants to or not. * * *.
So, on my own motion, * * * I'm going to issue a Certificate of Importance out of the trial court to the Appellate Court of the Fourth District, and let those folks determine whether or not I was right in my ruling under the circumstances of this case.
Not going to hurt anything. If I'm right, then he's got his negotiated plea; if I'm wrong, then he shouldn't be penalized. If I'm reversed on that finding, then this whole ...