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United States of America Ex Rel. v. Rich Pillow

April 19, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. MARCUS CRAWFORD, PETITIONER,
v.
RICH PILLOW, WARDEN, JACKSONVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Petitioner Marcus Crawford, an inmate currently incarcerated at the Jacksonville Correctional Center in Jacksonville, Illinois, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and has requested an evidentiary hearing. For the following reasons, the petition and request for an evidentiary hearing are denied.

BACKGROUND

Petitioner was charged by indictment in the Circuit Court of Cook County with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of armed violence, two counts of aggravated battery, and one count each of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, and aggravated discharge of a firearm. On April 28, 1998, petitioner and co-defendant Billy Williams entered negotiated guilty pleas*fn1 to the first-degree murder of one victim and the attempted first-degree murder of a second victim.

Before petitioner entered his plea, the judge admonished him that the sentences for the two offenses were required to be imposed consecutively. At that time, section 5-8-4(a) of the Illinois Unified Code of Corrections, 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/5-8-4(a) (West 1998), mandated the imposition of consecutive sentences for offenses committed in a single course of conduct when one of them was a Class X or Class 1 felony and the defendant inflicted severe bodily injury. Attempted murder was, and continues to be, a Class X felony; first-degree murder was (and is) not.*fn2 Illinois appellate courts were split on whether the statute required the severe bodily injury to be caused by the Class X or Class 1 felony (the First and Second Districts' interpretation), or whether severe bodily injury from one offense, and the existence of a separate offense that was a Class X or Class 1 felony, also mandated consecutive sentences (the Third District's conclusion). Compare People v. Syverson, 687 N.E.2d 528, 532 (Ill. App. Ct. 1997) ("So long as a Class X or Class 1 felony is committed and severe bodily injury is inflicted during a single course of conduct, consecutive sentences are required."), with People v. Medrano, 669 N.E.2d 114, 121 n.1 (1996) (holding that the severe bodily injury requirement must be proximately connected to the Class X or Class 1 felony to trigger mandatory consecutive sentences). A year and a half after petitioner entered his plea, the Illinois Supreme Court overruled Syverson in People v. Whitney, 720 N.E.2d 225 (1999), and held that the statute required consecutive sentencing where the defendant had committed a Class X or Class 1 felony and had inflicted severe bodily injury during the commission of that particular felony. Id. at 229.

In petitioner's case, there was only one Class X or Class 1 felony at issue: attempted murder. Thus, to impose consecutive sentences, the state trial court must have determined either that the murder victim sustained severe bodily injury (which would have violated Whitney, had that case been decided when petitioner entered his guilty plea), or that the attempted murder victim sustained such injury.

The trial judge also informed petitioner of the statutory minimum and maximum sentences for his offenses: twenty to sixty years for first-degree murder, and six to thirty years for attempted murder. Before accepting petitioner's plea, the court explained that "[d]uring the 402 conference,*fn3 the parties gave me an extensive factual basis to support the pleas of guilty." The court further noted that "a sufficient basis" for petitioner's guilty plea existed, based on the arrest reports and statements from petitioner and his co-defendant presented at the 402 conference, and on the facts presented at the hearing.

Petitioner then entered a plea of guilty, which the court determined was "voluntary and intelligent." The court asked for aggravation and mitigation evidence, but both the prosecution and defense rested on the factual basis presented at the 402 conference. Petitioner was sentenced to consecutive terms of twenty-six years' imprisonment for first-degree murder and six years' imprisonment for attempted first-degree murder.

First Motion to Vacate Guilty Plea

Acting pro se, petitioner moved to withdraw his guilty plea on June 3, 1998, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective because he failed to inform petitioner that he "may have been sentenced" under Illinois's truth-in-sentencing statute.*fn4 The court denied his motion as untimely. Petitioner appealed, arguing that the trial court had failed to comply with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 605(b), which requires trial courts to admonish defendants who plead guilty as to their trial rights. The prosecution acknowledged error on the Rule 605(b) claim, and the Illinois Appellate Court remanded to allow petitioner to file a new motion to vacate his guilty plea.

Second Motion to Vacate Guilty Plea

On remand, petitioner, through appointed counsel, moved to vacate his guilty plea, arguing, in pertinent part, that the sentencing court erred in imposing consecutive sentences. The trial court denied the motion. Petitioner appealed, presenting a number of arguments, including that his appointed counsel violated Illinois Supreme Court Rule 604(d) by failing to certify that he had "read the report of proceedings or reviewed the trial court file before presenting the motion[] to the court." Agreeing with petitioner's Rule 604(d) claim, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed and remanded to allow petitioner to file a third motion to vacate his guilty plea. Order, People v. Crawford, Nos. 1-01-2163 & 1-01-2625:C (Ill. App. Ct. June 6, 2003). The court did not address petitioner's other arguments, which included a claim that his consecutive sentences were void because the attempted murder victim had not sustained severe bodily injury, as required by 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/5-8-4(a).

Third Motion to Vacate Guilty Plea

Again on remand, petitioner (represented by the same counsel) filed an amended motion to vacate his guilty plea, arguing that his consecutive sentences were void. After a hearing, the court denied petitioner's motion. Petitioner appealed, and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed, finding that the trial court correctly imposed consecutive sentences. The appellate court explained that because petitioner agreed to these sentences before entering a plea, the court could not question whether the evidence presented at the ...


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