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People v. Stevens

June 12, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
LADIUS STEVENS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Zwick delivered the opinion of the court:

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.

95 CR 19777-01

Honorable Loretta Hall Morgan, Judge Presiding.

The State alleged by way of indictment that defendant, Ladius Stevens, collided with and killed a motorist on May 4, 1994, while he was driving a stolen motor vehicle on the Dan Ryan Expressway. At the time, defendant was attempting to evade police who were chasing him as he drove at a high rate of speed. Defendant was charged with multiple counts of murder, burglary and aggravated possession of a stolen motor vehicle.

Following plea Discussions with prosecutors during which he was offered but rejected a 20-year sentence (see 134 Ill. 2d R. 402(d)), defendant elected to be tried without a jury. On January 8, 1997, before the trial commenced, the court informed defendant that the State's 20-year offer would not be binding upon the court if the defendant elected to proceed to trial and was convicted, and if the evidence in aggravation and mitigation indicated that a longer sentence was warranted. Defendant stated that he understood that he was at risk of being sentenced to longer than a 20-year term if he were convicted.

After trial commenced on two counts of murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1-A(2), 9-1-A(3)(West 1992)) and one count of aggravated possession of a stolen motor vehicle (625 ILCS 5/4-103.2-7(A)(West 1992)), and after two witnesses testified, defendant's counsel informed the court that defendant wished to withdraw his plea of not guilty. The circuit court again informed defendant that the 20-year plea offer the State had made had been withdrawn and that he could face as long as 60 years on a murder charge. Defendant persisted in his decision to enter a blind plea. The circuit court then determined that there was a factual basis sufficient to support defendant's guilty plea and entered judgment on the charges. The court ordered a pre-sentencing investigation.

As part of the pre-sentencing investigation, defendant met with two psychiatrists to consider whether he was fit to be sentenced. Defendant told each of them that he had been "railroaded" by his lawyer and that he wished to withdraw his blind plea. The second psychiatrist noted this in his pre-sentencing report dated March 26, 1997. The report indicated that defendant was fit to be sentenced.

During a hearing on April 1, 1997, to consider the results of the pre-sentencing investigation, defendant stated to the court that he wished to withdraw his guilty plea. The court denied the request and set a sentencing date for April 7, 1997.

On April 7, 1997, after hearing evidence in aggravation and mitigation, the circuit court merged defendant's murder convictions and then sentenced defendant to a 27-year term on the murder conviction and a 10-year concurrent term on the conviction for aggravated possession of a stolen motor vehicle. The possession charge was aggravated based upon defendant's flight from police.

Immediately after sentencing, the circuit court informed defendant that he could, if he elected to do so, file a written motion asking to withdraw his plea and vacate his sentence; that if that motion had legal merit it would be granted and the case would be set for trial; that if defendant could not afford an attorney to prepare the motion the court would appoint one; that if the motion were denied he would have a right to appeal the ruling by filing a notice of appeal within 30 days from its denial; and that if he could not afford an attorney to handle the appeal the court would appoint one for that purpose. The circuit court did not explain, as required by Supreme Court Rule 605(b)(6), that if defendant failed to include an issue in his post-sentencing motion he would waive the claim for purposes of any appeal. See 145 Ill. 2d R. 605(b)(6).

The transcript of the April 7, 1997 hearing does not indicate any response by the defendant regarding the circuit court's admonishments to him. Instead, defendant's attorney immediately tendered a typed generic motion seeking reconsideration of "the sentence." The motion alleged that the sentence was excessive and had been imposed without consideration of defendant's rehabilitative potential. The motion did not seek reconsideration of the circuit court's refusal to allow defendant to withdraw his blind plea even though defendant had clearly indicated a desire in open court to withdraw it. Counsel also filed a certificate under Supreme Court Rule 604(d) indicating that defendant had been personally presented with the official transcript of the guilty plea and that the motion to reduce his sentence "adequately present[ed] the defects in the proceedings." The court addressed the merits of the motion and denied it.

The following day, on April 8, 1997, defendant's attorney filed a notice of appeal.

Subsequently, on April 16, 1997, within 30 days of sentencing, defendant filed a written pro se motion seeking reconsideration of the court's decision denying his request to withdraw his guilty plea. Defendant also filed a written pro se motion seeking to have his sentence reduced from 27 years to 20 years. In an affidavit attached to the motion, defendant claimed that he did not understand at the time he agreed to plead guilty that he could be sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.

On June 4, 1997, the circuit court dismissed both motions. The court specifically found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the pro se motions in light of the defendant's filing of a notice of appeal on April 8. Defendant did not file a subsequent notice of appeal so as to include the ...


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