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People v. Henderson

March 18, 2004

[5] THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
MELVIN HENDERSON, APPELLEE.



[6] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rarick

[7]  Docket No. 95043-September 2003-Agenda 14.

[8]  In this appeal, we are asked to address an issue of first impression, ostensibly ripe for review. The issue, as framed by the parties, is whether the circuit court abused its discretion in refusing to consider the merits of a "negotiated plea agreement" the parties purportedly presented after the expiration of the court's plea cutoff deadline. However, having carefully reviewed the record on appeal, we find nothing therein which would indicate that the parties before the circuit court had actually reached an agreement or that they ever attempted to present such an agreement to the circuit court. Therefore, whether or not we believe that a court abuses, or abdicates, its discretion when it refuses to consider a negotiated plea agreement presented by the parties beyond a deadline set by the court, we have no occasion in this case to address the issue. Consequently, without reaching the issue the parties would have us address, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court (334 Ill. App. 3d 290) and affirm that of the circuit court of Rock Island County.

[9]  BACKGROUND

[10]   On November 26, 1999, defendant, Melvin Henderson, was charged by information with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver, in violation of section 401(c)(2) of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act (720 ILCS 570/401(c)(2) (West 2000)). Specifically, the information stated that "defendant knowingly possessed, with the intent to deliver to another, one or more grams but less than fifteen grams of a substance containing cocaine, a controlled substance." A violation of section 401(c)(2) is a Class 1 felony.

[11]   On January 18, 2000, defendant appeared in court and pled not guilty to this charge. In a written order entered on January 18, the circuit court set March 3, 2000, as the date for a pretrial conference, and March 20, 2000, as the date for defendant's trial. In this order, the court also set March 16, 2000, as the "final day for presenting a negotiated plea."

[12]   During the March 3 pretrial conference, defendant informed the court that he wished to discharge his attorney and retain new defense counsel. Defendant's new counsel appeared on defendant's behalf during this hearing. He reported that he had just been retained by defendant and had reviewed some of the discovery in the case. Defense counsel informed the court that, during his examination of the case file, he had come across an "offer letter" from the prosecutor, wherein the terms of a negotiated plea of guilty were set forth. Defense counsel stated he was "not prepared to accept the offer" because he was still investigating the case. The circuit court then ruled that it would retain March 16 as the "final" plea date, but would entertain a motion for continuance if defense counsel was not ready for trial. On March 7, 2000, defendant's original attorney formally withdrew from this case, and defendant's new counsel was substituted.

[13]   The parties returned to court on March 16, 2000. The record reflects that the circuit court stated, "this matter comes on today for a plea." In open court, defendant stated that he did not wish to enter a plea and demanded a trial by jury. During this hearing, defense counsel also presented a motion for continuance, to which the State had no objection. The circuit court granted the continuance, and set defendant's trial date for April 17, 2000. The circuit court also set March 31, 2000, for a pretrial hearing, and April 13, 2000, as the "final" date for consideration of a negotiated plea.

[14]   On April 13, the case was called for pretrial hearing; however, defendant failed to appear. Defense counsel informed the court that the parties had engaged in further plea negotiations and the prosecutor had made a "viable" offer which defense counsel wanted to discuss with defendant. The court adjourned the hearing until the afternoon.

[15]   The hearing resumed in the afternoon with defendant present. Defendant informed the court that he was dissatisfied with his attorney and wanted to replace him with yet another attorney. Despite defendant's continuing suggestions that he might retain a different attorney, he ultimately proceeded through trial and sentencing without a change of counsel.

[16]   During the pretrial hearing, defense counsel informed the court that he had been told by the prosecutor that the State intended to file an amended information, reducing the charge against defendant from a Class 1 felony to a Class 4 felony. Counsel further informed the court that negotiations were ongoing between the parties:

[17]   "DEFENSE COUNSEL: Mr. Cooley [the prosecutor] and I have done some talking, and we're working on negotiations, also. The State at this time was going to file an amended charge on this particular matter from a Class 1 to a Class 4.

[18]   As far as the negotiations go, Mr. Cooley and I have discussed relationship to the Class 4, be allowed a-Mr. Henderson was mentioning was of the negotiation, that Mr. Henderson has not accepted such negotiation. Gave me a counteroffer I which [sic] presented to Mr. Cooley. Mr. Cooley's offer that we talked about this morning-

[19]   THE COURT: Mr. Henderson's not accepting that offer?

[20]   DEFENSE COUNSEL: As of-Before we walked in the courtroom, no."

[21]   The court then advised defendant that he had until the next day to think about the State's offer. Apparently under the impression that the reduction of the charge was part of the negotiations, the court told defendant, "They're offering to reduce this to a Class 4 felony instead of a Class 1." When defendant inquired whether he had to plead guilty in order for the State to reduce the charge, the prosecutor intervened and clarified the State's position: "I think regardless of what happens, him getting another lawyer, whether he pleads or not, State intends [to] file this motion to amend ***." When defendant stated that he had thought the charge reduction was part of a negotiated plea, defense counsel stated, "No, it wasn't." The court reset the matter for the following day, April 14.

[22]   The next day, the parties again appeared and the State was granted leave to formally amend the charge against defendant to simple possession. The court advised defendant of the charge and the possible penalties upon conviction. The court then asked if there was a negotiated plea. Defense counsel responded, "There is an offer on the table, but it is not-has not been accepted by Mr. Henderson." The court inquired as to the nature of the offer. The prosecutor in attendance advised the court, "Mr. Cooley offered a cap of four or two years DOC." The court asked defendant, "And you don't want to consider that?" Defendant responded, "No sir. No sir. Huh-uh." Defense counsel explained, "The counteroffer was made, but Mr. Cooley did not accept that." The court then stated, "Well, it's set for jury trial Monday. Will the State be ready next week?" The prosecutor responded affirmatively.

[23]   On April 19, defendant's jury trial commenced. Voir dire was conducted and a jury was selected. Prior to the delivery of opening statements, defendant expressed confusion with respect to his eligibility for an extended-term sentence and asked the circuit judge in open court (but outside the presence of the jury) to explain why he could be sentenced up to six years. Immediately thereafter, the following colloquy occurred:

[24]   "THE COURT: Well, you know, probably wasting our time talking because I'm not going to accept any negotiated pleas. So, even if you wanted to plead guilty I'm not going to accept it, because we picked the jury, and you had until last Friday to enter a negotiated plea. So, if you plead guilty you have to do it, and its an open plea, and I can give you up to six years. I'm not saying I'm going to do it. But, you have a right to plead guilty, but I'm not going to negotiate it. It's not going to be for two or three years. All right.

[25]   DEFENSE COUNSEL: You understand what's the Judge's telling you?

[26]   THE DEFENDANT: You want me to take an open plea of six. If you do decide to plead it have to be an open plea of six.

[27]   THE COURT: Right, and it's an open plea.

[28]   THE PROSECUTOR: Not to six years.

[29]   THE COURT: Then I could give you, if you plead guilty right now I would order a pre-sentence report *** [a]nd then we would set it for sentencing.

[30]   THE DEFENDANT: And that's the only way you would be willing to accept anything if I take an ...


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