Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County, Illinois No. 99-CF-985 Honorable Larry S. Vandersnick, Judge Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McDADE
Defendant, Melvin Henderson, was convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance on April 20, 2000, and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. He filed a pro se post-conviction petition, which was summarily dismissed on January 11, 2001. Defendant appeals from his final judgment of conviction and the dismissal of his post-conviction petition. We reverse and remand.
On November 26, 1999, defendant was charged by information with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Subsequently, the charge was amended to unlawful possession of a controlled substance, a Class IV felony. The indictment specifically alleged that defendant was in possession of less than 15 grams of cocaine.
The evidence at trial showed that crack cocaine was found in the defendant's apartment, to which he had sole access. The defendant had indicated to the police officer that there were crumbs of cocaine on a table and had directed the officer to the exact location where the crack cocaine was found.
Defendant appeared on January 18, 2000, and he pled not guilty. The judge set March 16, 2000, as the date for defendant to enter a guilty plea. On that date, however, defendant persisted in his not guilty plea and demanded a jury trial. The judge then set a guilty plea deadline of April 13, 2000.
On April 13, defendant appeared with counsel. He indicated that he had not accepted the plea offer from the State because he hoped to negotiate a lesser sentence. The trial judge gave the defendant until the next day to think about the latest plea offer, which had been on the table since March. On April 14, defendant again indicated that he did not wish to accept the State's plea offer.
The jury trial commenced on April 19, 2000. Prior to jury selection, the judge had a hearing on defendant's motion in limine with regard to his prior convictions and reserved ruling on the request for a "mere fact" presentation of the prior convictions. At the end of the hearing, the jury was selected.
Before opening statements, defendant asked the judge why he was eligible for an extended-term sentence. Defendant attempted to plead guilty but the judge responded that although he would accept an open plea, he was not going to accept any negotiated pleas at that point because the jury had been selected, and he was ready to proceed. The judge reminded defendant that he had had until April 14 to enter a negotiated plea and, in fact, suggested that defendant could have accepted the plea even a day or two before trial commenced. It does not appear from the record that the State had ever withdrawn the plea offer and no objection was made to defendant's attempt to plead following jury selection.
The trial proceeded before the jury. At the end of the State's case, the judge ruled, with regard to the motion in limine, that one of defendant's prior convictions for possession of drugs with intent to deliver could be used for impeachment if defendant testified. Defendant then decided not to testify.
Defendant was found guilty of possession of the cocaine and on May 24, 2000, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. The sentencing order was entered on June 6, 2000, and defendant filed a motion for reconsideration on July 5, 2000, which was denied. His subsequent pro se post-conviction petition was dismissed on January 11, 2001. Defendant appeals the conviction and the dismissal of his post-conviction petition.
Defendant raises three issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial court abused its discretion by refusing to consider a guilty plea solely because it was tendered after the deadline and after jury selection on the morning of trial, (2) whether this matter should be remanded for a new trial where the trial court's denial of defendant's request for the use of "mere fact" method of impeachment by prior conviction was in error, and (3) whether the trial court's first-stage dismissal of defendant's post-conviction petition should be reversed because the ...