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In re E.V.

August 24, 1998

IN RE E.V., A MINOR (E.V., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT,
v.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE).



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

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County

Honorable Gerald T. Winiecki, judge Presiding.

On August 26, 1997, respondent entered an admission to a delinquency petition for unlawful use of a weapon under the instant case, as well as unlawful possession of a firearm under another case. The trial court accepted respondent's admissions, found him delinquent, released him on home confinement to the custody of his grandmother and scheduled sentencing for October 7, 1997. On September 3, 1997, eight days after entering an admission to unlawful use of a weapon, respondent was arrested and charged with the August 9, 1997, murder of Joseph Shadden.

The weapon for which respondent had been arrested in the unlawful use of a weapon case was a .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun. The gun that was used to kill Shadden was also a .25 caliber. A report from the Illinois State Police Crime Laboratory dated September 2, 1997, indicated that the weapon respondent possessed was the same weapon used to kill Shadden. After receiving this report, and upon further investigation, police arrested respondent for the murder of Shadden.

Subsequently, respondent sought to withdraw his plea of guilty in the unlawful use of a weapon case, contending that the admission was unknowing and involuntary based upon the State's failure to disclose evidence that would have shown that, at the time he pled guilty, he was a suspect in the Shadden murder. His requests were denied and he now appeals.

On August 12, 1997, respondent was arrested for the unlawful use of a weapon. He was placed in custody by Officer Rochowicz. Later that day, Officer Rochowicz contacted Detective Murray, who was one of several detectives investigating the Shadden murder, and informed him that he had arrested respondent for unlawful use of a weapon. He further informed him that the weapon which was retrieved from respondent was a .25-caliber Beretta semi-automatic which had been inventoried under No. 1857818. On the same day, detectives assigned to the Shadden murder investigation sent a memorandum to the state police forensic science command requesting that, as part of the Shadden murder investigation, a firearms comparison be made between the handgun recovered from respondent, a bullet recovered from Shadden's body, and six .25-caliber cartridge cases recovered at the scene of the shooting of Shadden. Additionally, the detectives investigating the Shadden murder wrote a general office memorandum to "all watches" in reference to the Shadden murder informing them of the request for the firearms comparison. Detective Murray, another of the detectives investigating the Shadden murder, testified that the police considered respondent a suspect in the Shadden murder on August 12, 1997. Respondent's admission of guilt on the unlawful use of a weapon was entered on August 26, 1997. At that time, respondent was considered a suspect in the Shadden murder, but the firearms comparison had not yet been reported. Seven days later, on September 2, 1997, the state police forensic science division supplied the results of the firearms comparison test, which showed that the gun retrieved from respondent was the same as that used in the Shadden murder, to the Chicago police. Respondent was arrested for the murder on September 3, 1997.

On October 7, 1997, the Disposition on the unlawful use of a weapon case was continued. On January 22, 1998, new counsel for respondent filed a motion to withdraw the plea of guilty. That motion was denied on January 27, 1998. On February 27, 1998, final Disposition was entered on the unlawful use of a weapon case and respondent was placed on 18 months of probation, with a 60 day stay of mittimus. On March 4, 1998, counsel for respondent filed a second motion to withdraw the plea of guilty and to vacate judgment, which was denied. A timely notice of appeal was subsequently filed.

Respondent requests on appeal that this court either allow him to withdraw his admission or vacate the adjudication of wardship. "[A]s a matter of public policy, Illinois courts are under a duty to carefully guard the rights of a minor and take note of legitimate and substantial errors in proceedings involving minors." In re D.L.B., 140 Ill. App. 3d 52, 55, 488 N.E.2d 313, 315 (1986). Our standard of review of an order denying withdrawal of a guilty plea is an abuse of discretion standard. See, e.g., People v. Gibson, 11 Ill. App. 3d 875, 880, 297 N.E.2d 31, 35 (1973). This court outlined the well-established general principles governing the withdrawal of guilty pleas in People v. Kokoraleis, 193 Ill. App. 3d 684, 549 N.E.2d 1354 (1990). The court stated:

"It is axiomatic that a defendant has no absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea. [Citation.] The decision whether to allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea is within the sound discretion of the trial court; generally, such a motion is allowed if it appears that the plea resulted from a misapprehension of law or fact or as a result of a misrepresentation by counsel, the State's Attorney, or someone else in authority. [Citation.] Misapprehension of fact or law goes to the question of whether the plea was voluntarily and intelligently made. [Citation.] A motion to withdraw a guilty plea may also be allowed where the defendant has a defense worthy of consideration, or where there is doubt of the guilt of the accused, and Justice would be better served by submitting the cause to a trial. [Citation.] The defendant bears the burden of demonstrating sufficient grounds to allow withdrawal of the plea. [Citation.] Unless the circumstances of the defendant's plea fall into one of these categories, a trial court's denial of a motion to withdraw a guilty plea ordinarily will not be disturbed. [Citation.]" Kokoraleis, 193 Ill. App. 3d at 691-92, 549 N.E.2d at 1360.

The circumstances of respondent's plea in the instant case do not fall into any of these categories.

Respondent contends, however, that his plea resulted from a misapprehension of fact which rendered his plea unknowing and involuntary because the State did not provide him with the memoranda that would have alerted him to the fact that he was a possible suspect in the separate investigation of the Shadden murder. In denying respondent's motion to withdraw his guilty plea or vacate judgment, the trial court opined that the State "cannot be charged with being aware of every case the police are pursuing." While we agree with that general comment, we disagree that it compelled the denial of respondent's motion in this case. Here, the State failed to turn over documents that related to the specific handgun at issue. The State also failed to disclose that its witness, Officer Rochowicz, had personally alerted the homicide division of respondent's arrest in order that the detectives could determine whether the handgun recovered from respondent matched that used in the Shadden murder.

As our supreme court has noted:

"Rule 412 is silent as to those persons whose possession and control of material and information must be imputed to the State. [Citation.] Illinois courts have held that the officers and personnel of the Chicago Police Department Crime Laboratory are investigative personnel within the meaning of Rule 412(f). [Citation.] The State's failure to disclose to the defense [pertinent materials] cannot be excused by the argument that the assistant State's Attorneys were unaware of the [material's] existence, since both they and the police are required to cooperate and ensure that all relevant information will be provided and that discovery will be accomplished." People v. Thompkins, 121 Ill. 2d 401, 425-26, 521 N.E.2d 38, 48 (1988).

We think that the same principle holds true in the instant case, where both Officer Rochowicz and all who received the "all watches" memorandum from the detectives investigating the Shadden murder were aware of the firearms comparison being performed by the state police forensic science command. Nevertheless, applying the guidelines outlined above, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ...


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