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The People of the State of Illinois v. Luis A. Tejada-Soto

February 15, 2012

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
LUIS A. TEJADA-SOTO,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 07-CF-394 Honorable Theodore S. Potkonjak, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Burke

JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McLaren and Birkett concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Defendant, Luis A. Tejada-Soto, appeals from an order denying his motion to withdraw his negotiated plea of guilty to a single count of attempted first-degree murder and to vacate the judgment of conviction. The trial court had previously denied a motion by defendant to withdraw his guilty plea, but we vacated the trial court's order and remanded with directions that defendant be given the opportunity to file a new motion to withdraw his plea. People v. Tejada-Soto, No. 2-09-0715 (2010) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23) (Tejada-Soto I). Defendant argues that a further remand is necessary because he received only a "perfunctory" hearing on the new motion. We affirm.

¶ 2 On May 14, 2008, defendant's attorney, Martin Shaffer, conferred with the prosecutor and the trial court pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 402(d)(2) (eff. July 1, 1997) to discuss a possible plea agreement, but no agreement was reached on that date. Defendant's trial was ultimately set for June 27, 2008. The prosecutor advised the trial court that he had received an e-mail from Shaffer indicating that defendant was willing to enter into a plea agreement on terms offered by the State. Defendant, however, had decided to proceed with trial. Shaffer indicated that he was ready to proceed, but certain witnesses who had been subpoenaed for trial were not present. A recess was taken so that the trial court could attend to other cases. When the matter resumed, the parties indicated that an agreement had been reached, pursuant to which defendant would plead guilty pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970), in exchange for the State's promise that his sentence would not exceed 16 years' imprisonment. The trial court accepted defendant's plea, and on August 27, 2008, the trial court sentenced defendant to a 14-year prison term.

¶ 3 Defendant moved to reconsider his sentence. At a hearing held in connection with the motion, defendant advised the trial court that he had not been satisfied with Shaffer's performance as his attorney. The trial court appointed a different attorney, Michael Nerheim, to represent defendant in connection with his motion. Nerheim moved to withdraw defendant's guilty plea, and the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion. Defendant testified that, at some point following the Rule 402(d)(2) conference, Shaffer indicated that defendant had three options: "[t]o obtain what the State was offering, to go with the judge, or go to trial." Defendant advised Shaffer that he wanted to "declare" himself guilty. However, on the day of trial, defendant told Shaffer that he no longer wanted to plead guilty. Shaffer gave defendant a written trial waiver to review, but defendant indicated that he wanted to proceed with the trial. Shaffer got upset. Defendant testified, "[Shaffer] told me to do what was more convenient; and for him it would not be to go to trial. So we were one hour or more back and forth-arguing about the case because I told him I wanted a trial." Throughout the meeting, Shaffer pressured defendant to plead guilty. Shaffer said that it was "best" that defendant sign the trial waiver, but defendant did not want to "declare" himself guilty. According to defendant, Shaffer did not explain the trial waiver form to him. Ultimately he signed the form because Shaffer told him to do so. Defendant did not know what was going to happen after he signed the form. He signed it because he thought he had no other option. Shaffer told defendant that he anticipated that defendant would be sentenced to a 10-year prison term. Defendant testified that, prior to pleading guilty, he had been in custody since September 2007 and Shaffer had visited him three or four times. Those visits were brief.

¶ 4 Shaffer testified that he met with defendant 10 to 12 times, including video conferences on certain occasions when defendant was in a holding area at the courthouse. Shaffer discussed possible defenses with defendant and they concluded that the best possible defense was to persuade the trier of fact that there was reasonable doubt as to whether defendant acted with the specific intent to kill. Shaffer testified, however, that defendant was never averse to entering a guilty plea. According to Shaffer, "[t]he issue was always the length of the sentence with [defendant] *** and there was definitely 'push back,'-I'll call it that-from [defendant] about the sentence that was involved; but not about accepting responsibility." However, at some point after the Rule 402(d)(2) conference, defendant indicated that he wanted to proceed to trial, and Shaffer was prepared to try the case. Shaffer denied that he ever told defendant that he thought he would receive a 10-year prison term if he pleaded guilty. On the day of trial, Shaffer and Blanca Bedolla, a Spanish-language interpreter, engaged in a video conference with defendant. Shaffer never pressured defendant to enter a guilty plea. Although Shaffer never told defendant that it would be convenient if he pleaded guilty, Shaffer probably described an Alford plea as a plea of convenience. He explained to defendant that an Alford plea involves an acknowledgment of the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction, but not a personal acknowledgment of guilt.

¶ 5 After Shaffer completed his testimony, the parties entered into the following stipulation:

"Blanca Bedolla is a Spanish interpreter employed by the Office of the Public Defender. Ms. Bedolla would testify that she acted as an interpreter for meetings between the defendant and Martin Shaffer, the defendant's attorney. Ms. Bedolla would testify that she is unable to recall the specifics of the conversations between Mr. Shaffer and the defendant, but that at all times she attempted to accurately translate Spanish to English and English to Spanish to the best of her abilities."

¶ 6 The trial court denied the motion, but in Tejada-Soto I, we vacated the denial because Nerheim had failed to properly certify compliance with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 604(d) (eff. July 1, 2006) and because the trial court had failed to properly admonish defendant pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 605(c) (eff. Oct. 1, 2001). We remanded the cause to the trial court with the following directions:

"The trial court shall admonish defendant in strict compliance with Rule 605(c). If he so chooses, defendant shall file within 30 days thereafter a new, properly certified motion to withdraw his plea. If defendant files such a motion, the trial court shall promptly conduct a new hearing in accordance with Rule 604(d)." Tejada-Soto I, slip order at 2.

¶ 7 On remand, the trial court appointed attorney Deborah Menas to represent defendant. She filed a new motion to withdraw defendant's guilty plea and vacate the judgment. At the hearing on the motion, Menas asked the trial court to take judicial notice of the testimony at the hearing on the motion filed by Nerheim to withdraw defendant's plea. Menas then argued that defendant should be allowed to withdraw his plea because he had testified that Shaffer had only a few quick meetings with him and that Shaffer had pressured him to enter a guilty plea and told him he would be sentenced to only 10 years' imprisonment. Menas contended that, when Shaffer described an Alford plea as a "plea of convenience," defendant, who required the assistance of an interpreter, "understood this to mean that he needed to plead guilty for convenience sake." Menas also argued that defendant "did not think he had any other option at that point when he was speaking with Mr. Shaffer other than to sign a trial waiver and plead guilty."

ΒΆ 8 In denying the motion, the trial court noted that it "had the opportunity to review the file in its entirety, to review the transcripts." The court also noted that it had a "vivid recollection" of the case, particularly of certain photographs of the victim that the court felt would have been given significant weight at sentencing. The court concluded that Shaffer advised defendant to enter a negotiated plea because it was likely that, if the matter had proceeded to trial, ...


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