Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 08CF994 Honorable Charles G. Reynard, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann
JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the opinion of the court.
Justices Appleton and McCullough concurred in the judgment and in the opinion.
In August 2008, the State charged defendant, Sylvester Quinton Woodson, with
(1) unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver (more than 15 grams but less than 100 grams of a substance containing cocaine) (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(2)(A) (West 2008)) and (2) criminal drug conspiracy (720 ILCS 570/405.1(a), 401(c)(2) (West 2008)). Shortly thereafter, the trial court appointed counsel to represent him.
Prior to defendant's July 2009 trial, defendant expressed his desire to proceed pro se. The trial court repeatedly denied defendant's requests, noting that defendant did not "have the legal knowledge and ability" to represent himself. Following trial, the jury deadlocked on all counts, and the court declared a mistrial.
The State retried defendant in September 2009. This time, the jury convicted defendant of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver (more than 15 grams but less than 100 grams of a substance containing cocaine) (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(2)(A) (West 2008)).
Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by denying his request to proceed pro se. We agree and reverse and remand for further proceedings.
In August 2008, the State charged defendant with (1) unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver (more than 15 grams but less than 100 grams of a substance containing cocaine) (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(2)(A) (West 2008)) and (2) criminal drug conspiracy (720 ILCS 570/405.1(a), 401(c)(2) (West 2008)). Shortly thereafter, the trial court appointed the public defender to represent defendant.
On October 1, 2008, the assistant public defender filed a motion to withdraw, stating that "[d]efendant has failed to cooperate and communicate with legal counsel." At a hearing on the public defender's motion held two days later, defendant demanded a speedy trial. The trial court rejected defendant's demand and granted the public defender's request for a continuance on her motion. That same day, defendant wrote a letter to the trial court, indicating his displeasure with the court's decision to continue the hearing on the public defender's motion to withdraw and claiming that his appointed counsel had frequent contact with felons and "may [have been] using illegal drugs."
On October 17, 2008, defendant appeared at a hearing on his speedy-trial request with a new public defender. Defendant reiterated his demand for a speedy trial, at which point the trial court set a final pretrial-hearing date.
On November 5, 2008, appointed counsel filed a motion for an examination of defendant to determine fitness to stand trial. At a hearing held shortly thereafter, defendant objected to such an evaluation, stating, "I do not need an evaluation, Your Honor. I'm fully aware of everything that's goin[g] on." Despite defendant's objection, the court ordered the fitness evaluation per counsel's request.
On November 24, 2008, defendant sent another letter to the trial court indicating that he wanted to (1) fire his appointed counsel and (2) represent himself. As part of his letter, defendant listed several items he wanted as part of discovery, including access to any audio and video that the State could use against him at trial. (Defendant's case involved a controlled buy of drugs.) That same day, defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him, claiming that he was illegally searched and that he had been entrapped.
At a February 2009 status hearing on defendant's fitness to stand trial, defendant's appointed counsel reported that defendant was fit to stand trial, noting that the forensic-psychiatric-evaluation report showed that defendant "clearly underst[ood] the courtroom dynamic and the roles of the parties." Counsel then withdrew his motion regarding defendant's fitness to stand trial, which the trial court accepted. Defendant then reiterated his desire to proceed pro se. The court rejected defendant's request, as follows:
"THE COURT: That motion is denied. At this point, *** by reference to his written communications, [defendant] has demonstrated to [the court] an insufficient ability to represent himself; and, accordingly, [the court is] not going to allow him to proceed on a pro se basis.
In terms of reassignment of counsel, that's going to be entirely up to the Public Defender. At this point, the case is assigned to [the attorney you have], and [the court ...