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People v. Williams





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County, the Hon. John S. Teschner, Judge, presiding.


Scott Williams, the defendant, was convicted following a jury trial in the circuit court of Du Page County of delivering less than 30 grams of a substance containing cocaine (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 56 1/2, par. 1401(b)). The defendant conducted his defense pro se. Before the trial began, but after a jury had been selected, the defendant requested a continuance in order to obtain counsel. The trial court noted the long history of continuances already obtained by the defendant and denied the motion. The appellate court reversed the conviction (96 Ill. App.3d 519), holding that the denial of the motion for a continuance violated the defendant's constitutional right to the assistance of counsel at trial (U.S. Const., amends. VI, XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, sec. 8). We granted the People's petition for leave to appeal under Rule 315 (73 Ill.2d R. 315).

It required over a year and a half for this case to proceed from the complaint stage to trial. During that period, the defendant was free on bail. A year at least of that delay was directly attributable to the defendant, and most of the numerous continuances obtained by the defendant related to his obtaining and being represented by counsel.

The complaint against the defendant was filed on August 15, 1978. The attorneys first representing the defendant in this matter, John M. Cutrone and Santo J. Volpe, filed their appearances on the day after the complaint was filed. They obtained leave to withdraw on October 17, 1978, but it appears that Mr. Volpe was retained as counsel for the defendant on a Federal charge. On November 15, 1978, an information superseding the complaint was filed.

The defendant retained another attorney, Albert A. Klest. Mr. Klest filed his appearance on December 18, 1978, on which date the defendant pleaded not guilty. The court set January 30, 1979, for trial. On the day before trial, however, Mr. Klest appeared before the trial judge requesting leave to withdraw. The defendant, who was also in court, informed the court that he had employed a different lawyer, Marvin Glass. On the ground that Mr. Glass was out of State and was unable to be in court on January 30, the defendant requested a continuance. The People did not object to a continuance, but did declare that they were ready for trial. The court granted a continuance to March 5 and gave Mr. Klest leave to withdraw. An appearance was filed for Mr. Glass's firm on March 5.

The case was then continued by the defense to May 17, 1979, because of defense counsel's heavy court commitments in March and April. On May 17, the defendant requested and obtained a further continuance, saying that the Federal charge against him would soon be disposed of, and that the disposition of it might affect plea negotiations with the People.

On August 13, 1979, after the defendant had pleaded guilty in the U.S. district court, the People informed the circuit court that no plea bargain had been reached and requested that the case be set for trial. Trial was set for September 24, two weeks after the date on which the defendant was scheduled to be sentenced in the Federal court.

Trial in this case appeared to be made unnecessary when the defendant pleaded guilty on September 25, pursuant to a plea agreement. On October 23, however, acting pro se, he filed a motion to have the plea of guilty withdrawn and set aside. In the motion he alleged that his counsel "forced" him to accept a plea bargain. The trial court allowed the motion on November 16. At that time, Mr. Glass's firm requested leave to withdraw, stating that the defendant's charges that he was coerced by the attorney to plead guilty made it impossible for the attorneys to defend him properly and effectively. The defendant made no objection to the motion to withdraw, and advised the court that in preparing his motion to withdraw the plea he had consulted another lawyer, though that attorney was unable to be in court at that time. The court allowed counsel's motion to withdraw and set the matter for trial on December 3, 1979.

On December 3, the defendant requested another continuance. He said that his Federal case had not been disposed of and that the attorney representing him in Federal court was ill. He claimed also that he did not have sufficient time to secure another attorney and prepare for the December 3 trial date. The court remonstrated with the defendant, saying that he intentionally delayed prosecution, and the court held the case on its call for trial on a day-to-day basis, pending the completion of a pending trial. On December 17, 1979, in response to a motion by the People to set a specific trial date, the court set a status hearing for January 2, 1980, and trial to begin on January 7, 1980. On December 17, the court asked the defendant his attorney's name, as no attorney had filed an appearance for him. The defendant replied he had not yet retained a lawyer, though he had discussed the case with an attorney, whom he did not name. He had spoken, he said, with several attorneys. The court instructed him to secure a lawyer by January 2.

On January 2, the defendant advised the court that he had retained an attorney, James Marcus, but that Mr. Marcus was on trial out of State. The court reminded the defendant, "[T]he matter is set for trial January 7th, 1:30. You are going to trial that day."

On January 7, the defendant arrived in court late, claiming that his car had broken down and that a car that had come to pick him up ran out of gasoline. The defendant moved for another continuance on the ground that Mr. Marcus, who had not filed an appearance, was on trial out of State. The People objected vigorously, stating that the prosecution's witnesses were present and the People were ready for trial. Too, the People pointed out to the trial court that the defendant was to surrender in the Federal court and begin serving his Federal sentence on January 17. The defendant asked the court to continue the matter again for no more than one week. The court set the cause for trial on January 16. The court admonished the defendant:

"THE COURT: We'll start on the 16th at 9:00 a.m., sharp.

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