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May 10, 2005.

EDWIN R. BOWEN, Warden, Centralia Correctional Institution, Respondent.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: REBECCA PALLMEYER, District Judge


On May 7, 1999, Petitioner Stephen Jackson pleaded guilty to one count of armed robbery in case number 98 C4 41074 ("Case One") and one count of armed robbery, one count of unlawful vehicular manslaughter, and four counts of aggravated kidnapping in case number 98 C4 41075 ("Case Two"). The State voluntarily dismissed a number of remaining counts, and Judge Frank DeBoni of the Circuit Court of Cook County sentenced Petitioner to two 25-year terms of imprisonment, to be served concurrently. The Illinois Appellate Court upheld this sentence on direct appeal. (Order of the Illinois Appellate Court, People v. Jackson, No. 1-99-3270, June 4, 2001, Ex. D to Respondent's Brief, hereinafter Appellate Court Order.) The Illinois Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for leave to appeal. (Order of the Illinois Supreme Court, People v. Jackson, No. 92101, Oct. 3, 2001, App. to Petitioner's Brief, at 39.) Petitioner now seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his sentence on the grounds that: (1) his access to the state appellate process was obstructed in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights; (2) his sentence violates equal protection; and (3) his sentence violates Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). For the reasons discussed below, the petition is denied. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A federal court reviewing a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 presumes that the state court's factual findings are correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Kuhlmann v. Wilson, 477 U.S. 436, 441 (1986). The court therefore adopts the factual findings of the Illinois Appellate Court, as found in its unpublished June 4, 2001 opinion.

  On August 5, 1998, Petitioner Stephen Jackson robbed Virginia Ferber, an elderly woman, at knifepoint in Oak Park, Illinois. (Appellate Court Order, at 5-6.) Ms. Ferber was not physically injured. Petitioner was apprehended less than one hour later, whereupon he admitted responsibility and signed a full, written confession. As a result of this incident, Petitioner was charged in a five-count information with one count of armed robbery, three counts of aggravated battery, and one count of aggravated unlawful restraint. While in custody, Petitioner was also charged with the armed robbery of a senior citizen on July 31, 1998 in Forest Park, Illinois. Petitioner also confessed to this crime, admitting that he entered the victim's car and robbed her at knifepoint. In this instance, too, the victim was not injured. Petitioner was charged in a nine-count information with armed robbery, four separate violations of the aggravated kidnapping statute, vehicular invasion, two separate violations of the kidnapping statute, and aggravated unlawful restraint.

  After confessing to the crimes, Petitioner negotiated a plea. During a Rule 402 conference*fn1 held on December 15, 1998, the prosecutor offered, in exchange for a guilty plea to armed robbery in Case One, to recommend a sentence of 50 years imprisonment and to strike with leave to reinstate (SOL) the remaining counts. (Appellate Court Order, at 1-2.) In Case Two, the Assistant State's Attorney offered to strike the remaining counts in return for Petitioner's plea of guilty to armed robbery, vehicular invasion, and one count of aggravated kidnapping. (Id.) After Petitioner asked for a lesser sentence in light of mitigating circumstances,*fn2 the trial court indicated that if he pleaded guilty to both cases, it would sentence him to two concurrent 25-year terms of imprisonment, with the defendant serving "one-for-one time," i.e., serving one-half of the sentence imposed.

  On May 7, 1999, Petitioner entered a plea of guilty based upon the judge's indication that he would receive a 25-year sentence, but nevertheless requested that the court hold a sentencing hearing. The trial court initially balked at the idea of a sentencing hearing, questioning the purpose of such a hearing where an agreement to a negotiated guilty plea had already been reached. Defense counsel urged that the submission of mitigating and aggravating evidence could be relevant if his client filed a motion to reconsider his sentence, but Judge DeBoni observed that a defendant is not entitled to appeal a sentence imposed pursuant to a negotiated guilty plea. The judge cited People v. Evans, 174 Ill. 2d 320, 673 N.E.2d 244 (1996), and warned that "the Supreme Court says [that in order to appeal] from the finding of guilty, the sentence, or agreement, [a defendant pleading guilty pursuant to a negotiated plea] must do certain statutory things. And one of those things is filing a motion to reconsider, and a motion to withdraw the guilty plea." (Trial Transcript, May 7, 1999, at 9-11.) Defense counsel responded by alluding to a claimed statutory right to seek reconsideration of a criminal sentence, even where it was the product of a negotiated plea. Although counsel did not identify the statute at issue, this court presumes he was referring to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 605(b). In its then-existing form, that Rule provided that criminal defendants could preserve their appellate rights by filing either a motion to withdraw their guilty plea or a motion to reconsider their sentence within thirty days of sentencing: the Rule made no specific mention of any limits of appeal rights for defendants convicted pursuant to negotiated pleas. Supreme Court Rule 605(b), ILCS S. Ct. R. 605(b).

  After this exchange, the court admonished Petitioner of the possible sentences for his crimes, and advised him that, by pleading guilty, he was giving up certain rights. Petitioner acknowledged that he was aware of his rights, and that he was pleading guilty of his own free will, absent any promises or threats.

  The State Attorney's then presented a stipulated factual basis for the plea. Regarding Case One, the parties stipulated that Virginia Ferber would testify, if called to do so, that after returning from the grocery store on August 5, 1998, she parked her car in her garage, whereupon Petitioner grabbed her and demanded money. (Appellate Court Order, at 5-6.) When Ferber saw his face, Petitioner donned a nylon mask and pulled out a wooden-handled knife with a 5½ inch blade. (Id. at 6.) Petitioner held the knife to the victim's throat, and in response to his demands, Ferber gave Petitioner her coin purse. Within fifteen minutes, Petitioner had been apprehended by the police and identified by Ferber at a "showup." (Id. at 6.) Ferber was 82 years old at the time of the incident. The parties also stipulated that, if called, Detective Paladines would testify that in response to a robbery call, he and his partner went to a parking lot and saw Petitioner, who matched the suspect description, sitting in a car. (Id.) With Petitioner's consent, the officers searched the car, recovering a wooden-handled knife with a 5½ inch blade and a dark nylon stocking cap. After being read his Miranda rights, Petitioner gave a statement admitting his involvement in the robbery. (Id.)

  Regarding Case Two, the parties stipulated that, if called, Kathleen Russell would testify that on July 31, 1998, Petitioner jumped into her car as she was parking. (Id. at 6-7.) After she started screaming, Petitioner produced a knife with a 5½ inch blade and ordered her to drive. While she drove, Petitioner rifled through her purse and placed the knife to her throat "a couple of times." (Id.) Petitioner located Russell's ATM card and, with the knife at her throat, demanded the PIN number. After taking her cash, credit cards, and driver's license, Petitioner directed Russell to pull over, got out of the car, and fled. Russell was not physically injured during the encounter. Five days later, Russell identified Petitioner in a lineup. (Id.) Russell was 81 years old at the time of the incident. (Id. at 6.)

  Finding a factual basis for the guilty pleas, the court accepted the pleas and found defendant guilty of armed robbery in Case One, and of armed robbery, vehicular invasion, and one count of aggravated kidnapping in Case Two. (Id. at 8-9.) The State then dismissed the remaining counts.

  Later that morning, the prosecutor and defense counsel again appeared before the trial court to discuss the impact of a recently enacted sentencing legislation.*fn3 From the transcript of this hearing, it appears that at the time of the conference at which the 25-year sentence was first proposed, the parties were under the impression that Petitioner would receive day-for-day good time credit, and thus would ultimately serve 50% of the 25-year sentence. In the interim, however, the passage of the Illinois Truth-in-Sentencing Act required that a defendant convicted of kidnapping serve 85% of his sentence. The prosecutor and defense counsel agreed that in order to ensure that Petitioner served only the term to which he had agreed, the State would drop the aggravated kidnapping charge so that the new law would not apply.*fn4 (App. to Petitioner's Brief, at 71-74.)

  On June 11, 1999, the court convened a sentencing hearing. After the parties reminded the trial court that the State had agreed to dismiss the aggravated kidnapping charge, the court expressed puzzlement over Defendant's continued insistence on an evidentiary hearing. In particular, the court challenged defense counsel's contention that, after such a hearing, the court would be free to impose his sentence below the previously-agreed 25 years, but would not have the power to impose a longer sentence. The court characterized this as an attempt "to get two bites [at the apple]." (App. to Petitioner's Brief, at 14-15.) Nevertheless, after obtaining defense counsel's agreement that Defendant was entering into a negotiated guilty plea, the court agreed to hold a sentencing hearing. (Id. at 16-18.)

  In that hearing, the police presented evidence of a number of prior incidents not appearing on Petitioner's criminal record, including an arrest for disorderly conduct in 1993, a 1995 fight in which defendant and four to six other men chanted gang slogans and kicked two men at a restaurant, and a 1995 arrest for battery and mob action. (Appellate Court Order, at 18-19.) The State also submitted a record of Petitioner's January 27, 1998 theft conviction. (Id. at 19.) In addition, the State presented a pre-sentencing report, which revealed that Petitioner had begun smoking marijuana at age 16, and in the previous five years had smoked approximately half an ounce of marijuana per day. (App. to Petitioner's Brief, at 300.) The report also revealed that Petitioner had been sexually abused by his older brother from the age of six to ten. (Id.)

  In mitigation, Petitioner's father, a minister, asked the court to reconsider the sentence in light of his son's background and potential for rehabilitation. (Id.) Petitioner's father also introduced his family, including his wife, who had worked for ten years with Circle Urban Ministries, a religious social services organization, and his five children, who include a teacher at Oak Park High School, an office worker, and an employee of a group home. (Trial transcript, June 11, 1999, at 41-47.) Georgia Fallis, Petitioner's neighbor, testified as a character witness, recounting Petitioner's politeness and willingness to help her father with yardwork. (Id. at 48-50.) Similarly, Sandra Chetham, whose niece dated Petitioner, testified that he was a "very mannerly young man," who was always polite and helpful, in addition to being "caring" and "spiritual." (Id. at 50-53.)

  The defense also called a clinical psychologist who had conducted a forensic evaluation of Petitioner. The psychologist testified that Petitioner suffered from severe depression, poor self-esteem, and guilt, but had no antisocial personality disorder. (Id. at 59-61.) Testing showed that Petitioner was "needy" and had paranoid personality features, but no aggressiveness. (Id. at 60.) The psychologist also testified that Petitioner's drug use was likely a reaction to his depression, which stemmed from regular incidents of the molestation by his older brother. (Id. at 59.) The court declined to admit additional evidence, including the psychologist's written report and her opinion concerning the effect that incarceration would have on Petitioner's mental state. (Id. at 61-65.)

  The defense attempted to introduce statistical evidence about sentences for persons convicted of armed robbery in the Fourth District during 1997-1999. (Appellate Court Order, at 20-21.) According to the Illinois Department of Corrections report offered by defense counsel, the average sentence for armed robbery in the Maybrook Courthouse*fn5 (where Petitioner was convicted) during that three-year period was 10.66 years, and the 25-year sentence proposed for Petitioner was the longest. (Petitioner's Brief, at 6.) The trial court refused to admit these documents, finding them irrelevant and "totally improper." (Id. at 21.)

  Finally, Petitioner himself took the stand, apologizing to his victims, admitting responsibility, and testifying that since his incarceration he had found and accepted God into his life. (Appellate Court Order, at 21.)

  At the end of the sentencing hearing, the prosecution and defense made summations. During its summation, the Assistant State's Attorney reviewed the facts of the case, emphasizing the age of the victims and the defendant's criminal history, and noted that Petitioner was eligible for a sentence of up to 60 years in prison. (Id.) The defense began by citing case law allowing the admission of the Illinois Department of Corrections' sentencing report in determining the proper sentence, but was interrupted by Judge DeBoni with the words: "I'll tell you what. You agreed to the twenty-five. Your client agreed to twenty-five. If you want to go to trial, you didn't have to plead guilty. You would have the trial, and I would sentence him to what I think is appropriate after the trial." (Trial Transcript, June 11, 1999, at 100.) Defense counsel reiterated that Petitioner understood that he was pleading guilty, but asked the court to reconsider whether the 25-year sentence was appropriate in light of the mitigating circumstances. To this, the court asked again why Petitioner was pleading ...

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