Appeal from Circuit Court of Livingston County No. 00CF83 Honorable Harold J. Frobish, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook
Defendant, Larry Young, appeals his jury conviction for aggravated battery (720 ILCS 5/12-4(b)(6) (West 1998)) and the trial court's denial of his posttrial motion for appointment of new counsel. We affirm.
The indictment stated that on December 14, 1999, in Livingston County, Young committed aggravated battery by "knowingly [making] physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with Kara Cumberland, in that he spit upon [her], knowing [her] to be a correctional institution employee engaged in the execution of her official duties."
At the first appearance on April 28, 2000, the trial court asked Young how old he was. Young answered he was 44. After reading the charge to him, the trial court explained to him that aggravated battery was a Class 3 felony, for which he could be sentenced to imprisonment for 2 to 3 years or, depending on his criminal history, 5 to 10 years, and, if convicted, he would serve the sentence consecutively to whatever term he was presently serving. The court further told him: "You are entitled to a lawyer. You can hire your own. Or, if you can't afford one, I would appoint the public defender to represent you." At Young's request, the trial court appointed the public defender, David Ahlemeyer, to represent him. Ahlemeyer entered a plea of not guilty on Young's behalf.
On June 22, 2000, a jury found Young guilty of aggravated battery. Correctional officer Cumberland had testified that Young spit on her. This testimony was corroborated by another correctional officer who heard a spitting noise come from Young's cell followed by Cumberland wiping off her face and rushing away. Young denied spitting on anyone. On July 26, 2000, the trial court sentenced Young to three years in prison to run consecutively to the sentence he was already serving.
On August 4, 2000, the circuit clerk filed a notice of appeal on Young's behalf. On August 21, 2000, Young filed a motion to reduce his sentence. On June 21, 2001, pursuant to Rule 606(b) (188 Ill. 2d R. 606(b)), we dismissed the appeal as premature and remanded the case for proceedings on the posttrial motion (the motion to reduce the sentence). People v. Young, No. 4-00-0691 (June 21, 2001) (dismissed on appellant's motion as premature).
On July 3 and 5, 2001, Young filed, pro se, two motions for the appointment of new counsel. In these motions, he alleged that Ahlemeyer had been ineffective.
On July 16, 2001, the trial court held a hearing on Young's posttrial motions. Young appeared without counsel. The court concluded that the allegations in Young's motions for the appointment of new counsel did not entitle him to different counsel. The court therefore declined to appoint new counsel, giving Young a choice between the continued services of the public defender or self-representation. Young chose the latter. Finding the sentence of three years' imprisonment to be "an appropriate sentence for what *** [Young] did," the court denied his motion to reduce the sentence.
Young appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court failed to make an adequate inquiry into his allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel before denying his request for new counsel, (2) the public defender rendered ineffective assistance at trial, (3) the trial court failed to admonish him pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 401(a) (134 Ill. 2d R. 401(a)) before holding that he had waived his right to counsel, and (4) improper comments by the prosecutor during closing arguments deprived Young of a fair trial. We address each issue in turn.
When a defendant presents a pro se posttrial claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the operative concern for the reviewing court is whether the trial court conducted an adequate inquiry into the pro se defendant's allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel. People v. Haynes, 331 Ill. App. 3d 482, 484, 771 N.E.2d 643, 645 (2002). A trial court's finding that it is unnecessary to appoint new counsel will not be disturbed on appeal unless it is manifestly erroneous. Haynes, 331 Ill. App. 3d at 484, 771 N.E.2d at 645.
In this case, Young's claims of ineffective assistance all related to matters that happened at trial. The judge hearing Young's posttrial motion, having been the judge presiding over the trial, already knew all the facts he needed to rule on Young's motion. Further inquiry into the factual basis for Young's claims was therefore unnecessary. The judge did examine Young's motion, and he decided that the arguments were without merit. Under the circumstances, the trial court conducted an adequate inquiry into Young's allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Having conducted an adequate inquiry, the question still arises whether the trial court's decision that Young's arguments were without merit was manifestly erroneous. To answer that question, we next address ...