Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 09 CR 9820 Honorable Arthur F. Hill, Jr., Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Murphy
JUSTICE MURPHY delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Presiding Justice Steele and Justice Neville concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Defendant Rodney McKinney entered a plea of guilty to the offense of burglary and was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to withdraw his guilty plea; he was denied his right to counsel where the court allowed him to dismiss his counsel and represent himself at the hearing on his motion to withdraw his guilty plea without first properly admonishing him pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 401 (eff. July 1, 1984); his mandatory supervised release term must be reduced to two years; he was improperly assessed a DNA analysis fee; and the Children's Advocacy Center fine assessed against him should be offset by his presentence custody credit. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.
¶ 3 Defendant was charged with burglary for allegedly entering a building located at 1438 West 103rd Street in Chicago with the intent to commit a theft therein on May 14, 2009. Prior to trial, defense counsel requested, and the trial court conducted, a plea agreement conference under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 402 (eff. July 1, 1997) during which the State asserted that if it proceeded to trial, the evidence would show that defendant broke the window of a convenience store at 1438 West 103rd Street, entered the building, and stole the cash register located therein. Following the Rule 402 conference, the trial court informed defendant that it would sentence him to eight years' imprisonment as a Class X offender if he pleaded guilty to burglary, and defendant withdrew his previously entered plea of not guilty and entered a plea of guilty in exchange for the court's offer of an eight-year sentence. The court accepted defendant's guilty plea, found him guilty of burglary, and sentenced him to eight years' imprisonment. Defendant also requested drug treatment as part of his sentence, and the trial court granted that request and recommended treatment.
¶ 4 Defendant subsequently filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea in which he asserted that defense counsel misadvised him that he was not eligible to participate in a veterans court program. At the hearing on that motion, defense counsel informed the court that defendant had decided to proceed pro se. The court asked defendant, "You understand all of the things that an attorney could do for you and assist you in the whole process; right," and defendant responded "yes, sir, I do." The court then asked, "But you have decided on your own, knowing all of that, that you want to proceed pro se," and defendant responded "[y]es, sir." Defendant told the court that he had mentioned veterans court to defense counsel before entering his guilty plea, that counsel had told him she believed the program was only for drug cases, and that he now believed that he was eligible for the program. The court responded that it believed the program was only available in cases where probation was a possibility and that defendant was not eligible for the program because he was not eligible for probation where he was being sentenced as a Class X offender due to his prior convictions. The court then denied defendant's motion, finding that his guilty plea was made knowingly and intelligently.
¶ 6 Defendant contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea where he entered his plea while under the mistaken belief that he was not eligible for veterans court. The decision to deny a motion to withdraw a guilty plea rests in the sound discretion of the trial court and is reviewed for an abuse of that discretion. People v. Baez, 241 Ill. 2d 44, 109-10 (2011). A defendant does not have an automatic right to withdraw a guilty plea and must show a manifest injustice under the facts involved to obtain leave to withdraw his plea. People v. Jamison, 197 Ill. 2d 135, 163 (2001). This court will only disturb a trial court's denial of a motion to withdraw a guilty plea where the plea was entered through a misapprehension of fact or law or where there is doubt as to the accused's guilt and justice would be better served by conducting a trial. People v. Delvillar, 235 Ill. 2d 507, 521 (2009).
¶ 7 Defendant asserts that his guilty plea was entered under a misapprehension of law where he mistakenly believed that he was not eligible for veterans court because defense counsel misadvised him that the program was only available in drug offense cases and the trial court told him it was only available in cases where probation was a possibility. The State responds that although the availability of veterans court is not limited to drug offenses, defendant was not acting under a misapprehension of law when he agreed to plead guilty because he was ineligible for veterans court where he was not eligible for supervision, conditional discharge, or probation. The record shows that although defendant pleaded guilty to burglary, a Class 2 felony (720 ILCS 5/19-1(b) (West 2008)), he was sentenced as a Class X offender due to his prior convictions (730 ILCS 5/5-5-3(c)(8) (West 2008)), and therefore was not eligible for probation (730 ILCS 5/5-5-3(c)(2)(C) (West 2008)). Thus, to resolve the issue of whether defendant entered his guilty plea under a misapprehension of law, we must determine whether he was ineligible for veterans court because he could not have been sentenced to probation.
¶ 8 Defendant maintains that the plain language of the Veterans and Servicemembers Court Treatment Act (Veterans Court Act) (730 ILCS 167/1 et seq. (West 2010)), does not include a requirement that a defendant be eligible for probation to be eligible for veterans court, and the State disagrees. The Veterans Court Act became effective on June 14, 2010, and this court has not discovered any cases interpreting the eligibility requirements of the statute. A court's primary objective when construing the meaning of a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature, and the most reliable indicator of that intent is the language of the statute itself. People v. Williams, 239 Ill. 2d 503, 506 (2011).
¶ 9 The Veterans Court Act provides for the establishment of a veterans court and corresponding programs whereby a defendant who is a veteran can complete an agreed-upon program, which may include substance abuse, mental health, or other treatment, in exchange for the dismissal of the charges against him, the termination of his sentence, or his discharge from further proceedings. 730 ILCS 167/15, 25, 35 (West 2010). A defendant may only be admitted into a veterans court program upon the agreement of the prosecutor and the defendant and with the approval of the veterans court. 730 ILCS 167/20(a) (West 2010). A defendant shall be excluded from a veterans court program if he: (1) is charged with a crime of violence; (2) does not demonstrate a willingness to participate in the program; (3) has committed a crime of violence in the past 10 years, excluding incarceration time; or (4) has previously completed or been discharged from such a program. 730 ILCS 167/20(b) (West 2010). Thus, under the plain language of the Veterans Court Act, a defendant is not required to be eligible for probation to be eligible for veterans court where no such requirement exists and defendants who are not eligible for probation are not among the four groups of defendants who shall be excluded from such a program.
¶ 10 The State asserts, however, that it is abundantly clear from the legislative history of the Veterans Court Act that the legislature intended to limit eligibility for veterans court to those defendants who are eligible for supervision, conditional discharge, or probation. Defendant first maintains that we need not consider the legislative history of the Veterans Court Act because the statute is clear and unambiguous, and he also maintains that the legislative history does not ...