Appeal from Circuit Court of Brown County No. 09CF5 Honorable Diane M. Lagoski, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook
JUSTICE COOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Turner and Justice Steigmann concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Defendant, Michael Crenshaw, who is serving an eight-year prison term for criminal sexual assault, appeals from the trial court's denial of his post-conviction petition following a third-stage evidentiary hearing. He argues the court erred in rejecting his claim that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to advise him that probation was not an available sentence for criminal sexual assault, affecting his willingness to engage in plea negotiations. We disagree and affirm.
¶ 3 After a bench trial, the trial court found defendant guilty of criminal sexual assault, a Class 1 felony (720 ILCS 5/12-13(a)(3), (b)(1) (West 2008)). Defendant committed an act of sexual penetration with his daughter, H.H., who was then 15 years old. The court sentenced defendant to eight years' imprisonment. This court affirmed on direct appeal. People v. Crenshaw, 2011 IL App (4th) 090908, 959 N.E.2d 703.
¶ 4 While his direct appeal was pending, in March 2010, defendant filed a pro se petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 to 122-8 (West 2008)), which counsel amended. In November 2010, the trial court entered a partial dismissal of defendant's post-conviction petition, discharging several claims. However, the court found defendant's ineffective-assistance claim alleged a possible constitutional violation that would warrant relief. In that claim, defendant alleged his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to admonish him that he would be ineligible for probation if found guilty of criminal sexual assault. Defendant asserted this failure affected his position in plea negotiations. The proceedings advanced to an evidentiary hearing.
¶ 5 At the February 2011hearing, defendant and his stepmother testified to a conversation in which defense counsel communicated a plea offer from the State of six months of probation and six months in county jail. According to defendant's recollection, defense counsel advised defendant that the favorable offer reflected a weakness in the State's case. Defendant testified had he known probation was not available as a sentence for criminal sexual assault, he would have considered plea options more seriously. However, defendant acknowledged that he informed his attorney he was unwilling to plead guilty to an offense that he did not commit, that would require him to register as a sex offender, or that would cost him his job as a corrections officer. In response to a question whether he had "underst[ood] this offense to be probationable," defendant stated, "I didn't understand. Only thing I knew was I didn't commit the crime and I wasn't going to admit to doing what I was accused of." He recalled that his attorney informed him the range of sentences for criminal sexual assault was 6 to 15 years in prison.
¶ 6 Defendant's trial attorney testified that he never received a specific plea offer from the State, but spoke with defendant about possible plea bargaining as "an alternative to the potential of going to prison for 4 to 15 years." He explained the possibility of pleading guilty to a lesser offense. Defendant expressed that he was not interested in a plea bargain. According to defense counsel, defendant maintained throughout these discussions that "he wasn't going to be pleading guilty to something that he didn't do" and "wasn't interested in pleading to something where he'd be losing his job." Instead, defendant hoped he would be acquitted at trial.
¶ 7 In addition to this testimony, the trial court considered transcripts of the pretrial proceedings. These transcripts showed that, at his initial appearance, defendant was admonished that criminal sexual assault carried a potential penalty of 4 to 15 years in prison and mandatory supervised release. At two subsequent pretrial hearings, defendant was admonished that, in addition to the possible prison sentence and mandatory supervised release, a fine of up to $25,000 was also a possible penalty. Probation was never mentioned as a possible sentence for criminal sexual assault.
¶ 8 The trial court rejected defendant's ineffective-assistance claim and denied his post-conviction petition. It found that defendant was not prejudiced by not knowing he would be ineligible for probation if convicted because defendant would have rejected any plea offer that required him to admit guilt.
¶ 9 This appeal followed.
¶ 11 Defendant argues the trial court erred in finding he was not denied the effective assistance of counsel. He maintains he was harmed in the plea-bargaining process by his defense counsel's failure to advise him that he could not receive a ...