Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County, Illinois No. 00-CF-218 Honorable James T. Teros, Judge, Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Holdridge
The defendant, Timothy Church, was charged by information with three counts of reckless homicide stemming from a fatal truck/automobile accident. Defendant entered into a negotiated "Alford" plea to Count II (class 2 felony) with a sentencing cap of 12 years. The other two counts were dismissed. Following a sentencing hearing, defendant was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to extend the 30-day period in which to file his post-plea motion under Supreme Court Rule 604(d). That motion was granted by the trial court.
The defendant then filed a motion to withdraw his "guilty plea" and vacate the sentence. Later, an amended motion to withdraw his "guilty plea" was filed. Following an evidentiary hearing on the motion, the motion was denied and the defendant filed this appeal.
On appeal, the defendant raises three issues: (1) his "Alford plea" is void and must be vacated where such a plea is not recognized in the Illinois Code of Criminal Procedure for causes other than those involving a violation of the Illinois Income Tax Act; (2) the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to withdraw his plea where trial counsel was ineffective and the "Alford plea" was the result of incompetent advice by trial counsel; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to withdraw his plea as defense counsel labored under a conflict of interest while representing the defendant where the victim of the alleged offense had been an employee of defense counsel's law firm. In addition, the State raises a question of the appellate court's jurisdiction. For the following reasons, we find that an "Alford plea," as that term is understood in federal practice, is not available to an Illinois criminal defendant; however, the plea was properly accepted as a guilty plea. We also find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's rulings, and thus we affirm.
On March 14, 2000, the defendant was charged by information with three counts of reckless homicide. Each count involved the same alleged victim, Ellen Dunham. Count I (class 3 felony) charged that the defendant, acting in a reckless manner, performed acts likely to cause death or great bodily harm in that he drove his Dodge Ram pickup truck at a high rate of speed and struck a Toyota Camry, thereby causing the death of a passenger in the Camry, Ellen Dunham. Count II (class 2 felony) charged that the defendant committed the act while his blood alcohol content was greater than .08. Count III (Class 2 felony) charged that the defendant was acting in a reckless manner and was under the influence of alcohol to a degree that rendered him incapable of safely driving when he committed the act.
On June 1, 2000, the defendant, with his attorney, David Cunningham, entered into a negotiated plea of guilty to count II of the information in exchange for a sentencing cap of 12 years imprisonment and the State's dismissal of the remaining two counts. The court advised the defendant of the nature of the charge, the minimum and maximum terms of imprisonment, and the rights waived by pleading guilty. The record indicates that the parties and the trial court agreed in the characterization of the plea as an "Alford plea."
The following factual basis for the plea was then presented to the trial court: On the evening of March 13, 2000, the defendant drove his Dodge Ram pickup into the rear of a Toyota Camry being driven by Robert Dunham and in which Ellen Dunham was a passenger. Accident reconstruction evidence revealed that the defendant was traveling approximately 83 miles per hour at the time of impact. At the time of impact, the Camry was at a stop in a left turn lane waiting for an arrow. The defendant was straddling the turn lane and the through lane at the point of impact. The responding officer would testify that he noticed the strong smell of alcohol emanating from the defendant's truck. Evidence would also be presented that a blood test at the hospital revealed the defendant had a .29 blood alcohol content. Finally, evidence would also be presented that Ellen Dunham was a passenger in the Camry and suffered fatal injuries as a result of the collision.
Following the recitation of the basis for the plea, the defendant acknowledged that the recited evidence would be presented to the court at trial. A further discussion ensued over the characterization of the plea as an "Alford plea" as follows:
"[The Court]: Mr. Cunningham, do you agree the statement of facts I've heard are substantially correct, what the State would present?
[Defense counsel]: Yes, Your honor, I believe that is what the State would present to the Court.
[The Court]: And I take it you're entering this plea with your client under the Alford plea to limit his criminal liability although you're not limiting it very much ...