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People v. Dixon

September 5, 2006

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CHARLES DIXON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable James D. Egan, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice South

Modified opinion, originally filed on 05/30/2006

MODIFIED UPON DENIAL OF REHEARING

This appeal arises from defendant Charles Dixon's convictions for first-degree murder and armed robbery following a jury trial. He was sentenced to natural life imprisonment for murder and a consecutive 30- year term for armed robbery.

On August 10, 1998, defendant entered the shoe repair shop of 67- year-old Ionya Feldman in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, armed with a piece of wood that was 2" feet long by approximately 4 to 5 inches wide. Defendant beat Feldman with the stick and stole his wallet. Feldman died from his injuries in November of 1998, and defendant had not yet been apprehended. Defendant was extradited from Minnesota in early 1999 and subsequently charged with first-degree murder, including several counts of felony murder, armed robbery and several counts of aggravated battery. On June 15, 2001, the State filed a notice of its intent to seek the death penalty based upon felony murder, the victim was over 60 years old, and the death resulted from exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty. The State, however, withdrew its intent to seek the death penalty prior to trial. The jury subsequently returned a verdict of guilty for first-degree murder and armed robbery.

Shortly thereafter, defendant filed a pro se motion alleging ineffective assistance of counsel by his attorney on several grounds, including his failure to call alibi witnesses, failure to subpoena medical specialists, failure to investigate crime scenes, deliberately and maliciously failing to introduce evidence and subpoena witnesses at a hearing for a motion to suppress statements, failure to develop evidence in support of assertions made during opening statements, failure to impeach detectives, forcing defendant to change his testimony, and failure to challenge the constitutionality of a meritorious issue during the motion to suppress statements. Defendant was represented at trial by the office of the public defender of Cook County. The trial court conducted a factual inquiry into defendant's claims, allowing him to present his allegations to the court and inquiring of trial counsel regarding the claims, although trial counsel declined to comment. The trial court denied defendant's request for new counsel.

Defendant then informed the trial court that he did not want the continued representation of his trial counsel and refused to let trial counsel represent him, arguing he had sabotaged his case. The trial court then asked defendant if he wanted to proceed pro se, to which he replied he did. The court then allowed the public defender to withdraw, and defendant proceeded pro se, requesting a continuance in order to research the legal issues.

Defendant subsequently filed a motion for a new trial, which was heard on August 22, 2003. The trial court asked defendant whether he wished to present any evidence, and defendant declined. The State then called the assistant public defender who represented defendant as its witness. Defendant began cross-examining his former defense counsel, and in the middle of his cross-examination, requested a continuance to bring in family members as witnesses. The trial court denied the request and subsequently denied defendant's motion for a new trial.

After consideration of the evidence presented in aggravation and mitigation, the trial court sentenced defendant to natural life imprisonment for first-degree murder and a consecutive 30-year sentence for armed robbery.

Defendant has raised six issues for our review: (1) whether he was deprived of his right to counsel where the trial court granted defense counsel's motion to withdraw but refused to appoint alternate counsel, forcing defendant to complete his posttrial proceedings pro se; alternately, defendant contends that he did not validly waive his right to counsel for posttrial proceedings where he pleaded with the court for an attorney to represent him and the trial court failed to admonish him in accordance with the sixth amendment and Rule 401 (134 Ill. 2d R. 401); (2) whether he was entitled to the appointment of counsel during his posttrial allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel, where his claims were supported by the record and showed possible neglect of his case; alternatively, he contends that remand is necessary to determine if new counsel is required, where the court used the wrong legal standard, failed to consider many of defendant's claims, and failed to conduct an interchange with defense counsel; (3) whether he was denied his due process right to fair adjudication of his motion for a new trial where the trial court permitted the State to present evidence but refused to allow defendant to present relevant, competent, responsive evidence because the State's witness had already denied the allegations in the motion; (4) whether his natural life sentence is void and must be reduced to 60 years where the trial court expressly based the sentence on a factor not authorized by statute - defendant's prior armed robbery convictions; in the alternative, whether this matter should be remanded for resentencing; (5) whether the plain language and purpose of the consecutive-sentencing statute prohibit imposition of a sentence consecutive to a sentence of natural life; and (6) whether this court should remand for proper Rule 605(a)(3) (188 Ill. 2d R. 605(a)(3)) admonishments and give defendant a chance to file a motion to reconsider his sentence where the trial court failed to admonish him.

Defendant's first three issues center around his posttrial proceedings. He first contends he was deprived of his right to counsel during posttrial proceedings where the trial court granted his trial counsel's motion to withdraw but refused to appoint alternate counsel. Next, he maintains that he was entitled to the appointment of counsel during his posttrial allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel. Third, defendant argues he was denied his due process right to the fair adjudication of his motion for new trial where the trial court refused to allow him to present relevant, competent, responsive evidence but allowed the State to present evidence.

As stated earlier, defendant was represented at trial by the office of the Cook County public defender. After the jury's verdict, defendant made a comment that his trial counsel was a "saboteur of [his] case." Defendant subsequently filed a pro se posttrial motion for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court allowed defense counsel to withdraw after defendant presented factual allegations, and new counsel was not appointed for the remainder of defendant's posttrial proceedings.

"A defendant is entitled to counsel pursuant to the sixth amendment of the United States Constitution. U.S. Const., amends. VI, XIV. An indigent defendant has the right to have counsel appointed for him." People v. Hughes, 315 Ill. App. 3d 86, 91 (2000), citing Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 9 L.Ed. 2d 799, 83 S.Ct. 792 (1963). The Illinois Supreme Court has noted that "it is now well established that a defendant has a constitutional right to be represented by counsel 'at every stage of a criminal proceeding where substantial rights of a criminal accused may be affected' [citation] and that sentencing is one such stage." People v. Baker, 92 Ill. 2d 85, 90 (1982), quoting Mempa v. Rhay, 389 U.S. 128, 134, 19 L.Ed. 2d 336, 340, 88 S.Ct. 254, 257 (1967). A defendant may waive this right and proceed without counsel but only if the defendant "voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so." Baker, 92 Ill. 2d at 90; 134 Ill. 2d R. 401(a). "However, even if defendant does not elect to waive his right to counsel, defendant may not use this right as a weapon to undermine the trial court's responsibility to administer justice." Hughes, 315 Ill. App. 3d at 91. "We review the trial court's finding that defendant waived his right to counsel under an abuse of discretion standard." Hughes, 315 Ill. App. 3d at 91.

"Under the appropriate circumstances, a pro se motion for a new trial based on allegations of ineffective assistance of trial counsel will mandate appointment of new counsel to assist in the motion." People v. Bell, 197 Ill. App. 3d 613, 617 (1990). "If a defendant presents a pro se motion for a new trial alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, the trial court should examine the factual matters underlying the claim, and, if the claim lacks merit or pertains to matters of trial strategy, then no new counsel need be appointed." Bell, 197 Ill. App. 3d at 617. "Only if the allegations show possible neglect of the case, for which counsel ...


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