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The People of the State of Illinois v. Nicholas T. Sheley

January 5, 2012


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Circuit, Knox County, Illinois, Circuit No. 09-CF-225 Honorable Stephen C. Mathers, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Lytton

Unpublished opinion

JUSTICE LYTTON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Carter and Holdridge concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 Defendant Nicholas Sheley was convicted of aggravated battery (720 ILCS 5/12-4(b)(18) (West 2008)), aggravated assault (720 ILCS 5/12-2(a)(6) (West 2008)) and criminal damage to government supported property (720 ILCS 5/21-4(1)(a) (West 2008)). On appeal, defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying his request to proceed pro se because the court failed to find, pursuant to Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008), that he suffer from a "severe mental illness" to the point that he could not conduct his own defense. We reverse and remand.

¶ 2 While in custody on multiple murder charges, defendant was charged with aggravated battery, aggravated assault and criminal damage to property for allegedly dismantling a chair belonging to the Knox County jail and throwing its legs at a group of correctional officers.

¶ 3 Defense counsel was appointed to represent defendant and subsequently filed a motion entitled "Response to Defendant's Oral Motion to Represent Himself." In the motion, counsel indicated that defendant had made an earlier oral motion to represent himself. Counsel further noted that defendant was awaiting trial for first degree murder and faced the death penalty in Knox County case No. 08-CF-338.

¶ 4 Attached to the motion was a report by neurologist Dr. Robert Hanlon. Dr. Hanlon was asked to examine defendant in case No. 08-CF-338 and provide an objective assessment of defendant's cognitive abilities, including his mental capacity to stand trial, waive trial counsel and represent himself at trial. Dr. Hanlon interviewed defendant on October 31, 2008, and December 6, 2008. His report stated that during the interviews, defendant was "consistently alert, responsive, and oriented to person, place, time, and reason for the evaluation." He also noted that defendant had a history of poor anger management and an explosive personality and that defendant had engaged in "high-volume crack cocaine binges" when he was not in jail. He stated that defendant's frustration tolerance was variable but that he showed normal persistence and "termination of responses."

¶ 5 Defendant tested in the normal Intelligence Quotient (IQ) range and his overall executive function was found to be normal. In addition, defendant was able to explain the charges against him; he understood the roles of the courtroom personnel and the witnesses; and he understood the difference between a jury trial and a bench trial.

¶ 6 Dr. Hanlon diagnosed defendant with cognitive disorder not otherwise specified, cocaine and alcohol abuse, and personality disorder not otherwise specified. He believed defendant possessed the basic mental ability to render him fit to stand trial and that defendant had the capacity to knowingly and intelligently appreciate his right to counsel. However, he concluded that defendant could not "realistically appreciate the consequences and potential pitfalls of waiving his right to counsel." He specifically noted that defendant could organize and prepare for trial and could understand courtroom developments but could not consistently think coherently and objectively or maintain his temper. Thus, overall, Dr. Hanlon opined that defendant lacked the cognitive capacity to effectively represent himself in a courtroom.

¶ 7 At the hearing on the motion to proceed pro se, the trial court addressed defendant and read several admonishments to him. Defendant indicated that he understood the trial proceedings. Specifically, defendant stated that he understood that he would have to follow certain rules and procedures; that the prosecutor and defender were experienced attorneys who understood those rules; that if he missed an objection, he might waive his right to challenge inadmissible evidence on appeal; that he would have to prepare his own jury instructions and make his own trial decisions; that the judge would not be able to help him, that he would not be able to change his mind regarding self-representation midtrial; and that a conviction could be used against him in a capital sentencing hearing. The defendant stated that he understood the implications of self-representation and still wished to proceed pro se.

¶ 8 Ten days later, the defendant was arraigned on the charges in this case. While before the court, defendant stated that he had decided to accept the public defender as his counsel.

ΒΆ 9 Four months later, defense counsel and defendant appeared in court on defendant's motion to extend discovery dates. Defense counsel indicated to the court that he needed more time to file the motions he wanted to file. The court expressed its displeasure at this. In response to the trial court's reaction, defendant asked to address the court and stated, "I see where this is heading at this time." He asked the court not to hold his counsel's failures against him and indicated that he was unhappy with the way in which his attorney was handling the case. He then stated that he no longer wanted to be represented by counsel and that he wished to proceed ...

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