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The People of the State v. James E. Edmonson

March 14, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES E. EDMONSON, A/K/A MARTIN L. EDMONSON,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court OF ILLINOIS, of Winnebago County. Honorable Joseph G. McGraw, Judge, Presiding. No. 06-CF-1216

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hutchinson

JUSTICE HUTCHINSON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McLaren and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Defendant, James E. Edmonson, appeals the trial court's denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea to burglary (720 ILCS 5/19-1(a) (West 2006)) and possession of a stolen motor vehicle (625 ILCS 5/4-103(a) (West 2006)). As part of the plea agreement, the parties agreed to cap the sentence at 20 years, resulting in a negotiated plea and a sentence that could not be challenged through a motion to reconsider the sentence and an appeal from a denial of such a motion. See Ill.

S. Ct. R. 604(d) (eff. July 1, 2006); People v. Linder, 186 Ill. 2d 67, 74 (1999). Defendant contends that he should be allowed to withdraw his plea because his counsel misinformed him that he would be able to challenge his sentence and because he would not have pleaded guilty had he been correctly informed. Because defendant's decision to plead guilty was based on affirmative misrepresentations of counsel, we determine that the plea was not voluntary, and we reverse and remand with directions to allow him to withdraw his plea.

Defendant was charged in July 2006 with burglary, aggravated possession of a stolen motor vehicle, and unlawful possession of stolen property (720 ILCS 5/16-1 (West 2006)), and he was arrested in February 2007. He initially was released on bond with the conditions that he report to pretrial services at least once per week and that he submit to weekly drug testing. In September 2007, a hearing was held because defendant had not properly reported to pretrial services. Defendant presented evidence that he had obtained a full-time job and had relocated. He said that he forgot about the requirement that he notify pretrial services of any change in residence. Defendant's wife, Bernice Jones, testified that the couple supported six children, two of whom were fathered by defendant, and that she relied on defendant's income to help support the family. After the hearing, defendant's bond was increased, and he was taken into custody.

In October 2007, defendant was offered a plea agreement, and he asked for the opportunity to consult with Jones before making a decision about it. The case was continued until November 2007, when the parties presented the agreement to the court. Defendant's attorney, Chrissie Lee, told the court that, in exchange for defendant's "open" guilty plea to the charges, the State would agree to concurrent sentencing with a sentencing cap of 20 years of incarceration. The State would also amend the charge of aggravated possession of a stolen motor vehicle to simple possession of a stolen motor vehicle, to more closely fit the facts of the case, and it would dismiss the possession-of-stolen-property charge. There was no agreement on whether the dismissed charge could be used against defendant in sentencing, and Lee said that she had explained to defendant that the court was not bound by the State's sentencing recommendation.

The court admonished defendant, including telling him that he would be sentenced as a Class X offender subject to a sentencing range of 12 to 60 years' incarceration. Defendant stated that he understood. A factual basis was given, which included defendant's confession to the offenses. When the court asked defendant whether any threats or promises had been made to get him to plead guilty, defendant stated, "[e]xcept for the open plea, no." The court accepted the plea and ordered a presentence investigation.

The presentence investigation report showed that defendant was 32 years of age, married, and helping to support six children. While defendant was released on bond, he worked full time, earning approximately $350 per week. He had seven previous felony convictions of burglary, theft, and escape. Defendant earned a GED in 1997. He attended some college classes while incarcerated and was eight credit hours short of a degree in culinary arts. Defendant had been a gang member between the ages of 14 and 22, but he participated in a renunciation program while incarcerated. Defendant reported that he was raised in a dysfunctional home with an alcoholic father who physically abused his mother. Defendant began snorting heroin when he was 17 and used it intravenously after he was 21. He also had problems with alcohol.

At the sentencing hearing, the State presented witnesses who spoke about damages caused by defendant's crimes, including $1,500 to the vehicle that defendant took. The State then sought restitution. The State also asked that the court impose 20 years of incarceration.

Defendant asked for leniency with "a sentence lower than 20 years" and presented evidence in mitigation from Jones. Jones testified that she discovered defendant's drug problem shortly before they were married in 2005. She was eight months pregnant at that time. She said that, while defendant was out on bond, he was not using drugs. Jones stated that two of her six children were fathered by defendant but that all looked to him as a father figure. Defendant had never been abusive to her or the children, he was involved in the children's education, he participated in their discipline, and he helped to support the family financially. Jones testified that she was employed but unable to support the family on her income alone.

Defendant provided a statement in allocution. He apologized to the victims of the offenses and to his family and said that he committed the crimes to try to get money to support his drug habit. He said that, while he was incarcerated, he learned about the Narcotics Anonymous program and took it seriously. After he was released on bond, he had been drug-free and able to hold a job for the first time.

The court sentenced defendant to 15 years' incarceration and ordered restitution. The court also told defendant of his appeal rights, including misadvising him that, before he could appeal, he had to file within 30 days a written motion to reconsider the sentence or to withdraw the guilty plea.

Defendant moved to reconsider the sentence. After a hearing, the trial court denied defendant's motion, and defendant tendered a notice of appeal. There was then some discussion of whether a Rule 604(d) certificate was required, with the parties concluding that ...


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