Appeal from Circuit Court of Douglas County No. 98CF34 Honorable Frank W. Lincoln, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann
Following a stipulated bench trial in July 1998, the trial court convicted defendant, Gerald L. Patton, of predatory criminal sexual assault (720 ILCS 5/12-14.1(a)(1) (West 1998)) and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Defendant did not file a direct appeal. In June 1999, defendant filed a pro se post-conviction petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-1 through 122-8 (West 1998)), and in July 1999, the court dismissed that petition as frivolous and patently without merit, pursuant to section 122-2.1 of the Act (725 ILCS 5/122-2.1 (West 1998)).
Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by dismissing his pro se post-conviction petition because it contains factual allegations sufficient to state the "gist" of valid constitutional claims. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
In April 1998, defendant, then 53 years old, was charged with two counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child for allegedly committing acts of digital-vaginal penetration on two girls under the age of 13.
As defendant's July 1998 trial was about to begin, defense counsel informed the trial court that defendant would be entering a negotiated guilty plea to the State's second count. The court then admonished defendant, along with all of the other defendants present in the courtroom on unrelated cases, regarding their right to a jury trial and the rights they waive by entering a guilty plea.
When the trial court turned its attention back to defendant's case, the State's Attorney again informed the court that defendant would be entering a negotiated guilty plea. The court asked the State's Attorney for the terms of the agreement, and she explained as follows:
"Your Honor, for a plea of guilty to [c]ount [II], a sentence of 20 years to the Department of Corrections. People will dismiss [c]ount [I], and there has been discovery in this case alleging other victims and we would not be pursuing any of those victims that were disclosed in discovery."
After the trial court and counsel addressed matters not relevant to this appeal, the State's Attorney briefly stated the factual basis for the guilty plea by summarizing the testimony that the State's witnesses would have provided at trial. The following colloquy then occurred:
"THE COURT: [Defendant], did you hear the State's Attorney's explanation of the factual basis to your plea?
THE COURT: And is what she said substantially true and correct?
MR. BROCH [(Defense counsel)]: Your Honor, we would agree that the State's witnesses would testify substantially, and indicate there would be a factual basis, and there would be an issue for the jury.
We would also agree, Your Honor---that I've had discussions with [defendant], and he feels it is in his best interest, due to the evidence that would be presented against him in this case, and also any evidence presented with regard to further allegations and further investigations, that he enter a plea of guilty.
THE COURT: Okay, but this is a guilty plea, and it's not a prudent plea? [Apparently, by a 'prudent plea,' the court meant a stipulated bench trial at which defendant would not be contesting the sufficiency of the State's evidence to convict him.]
MR. BROCH: This is a prudent plea, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Well, then we have to handle a prudent plea differently. You have to have the admonitions. Okay, I think I'm going to pass this for the moment. I'm not saying I'm rejecting your plea. I'm going to pass it and we will ...