The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas
JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant, Albert L. Fields, was convicted of two counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child (720 ILCS 5/12-14.1(a)(1) (West 2006)), three counts of criminal sexual assault (720 ILCS 5/12-13(a)(1), (a)(3) (West 2006)), and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse (720 ILCS 5/12-16(b) (West 2006)). Defendant was sentenced to 36 years' imprisonment. Defendant appealed, contending that he had been denied the effective assistance of counsel because his trial attorney labored under a per se conflict of interest. A divided appellate court agreed, reversing defendant's convictions and sentence, and remanding for a new trial. 409 Ill. App. 3d 398.
¶ 2 This court allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). We now reverse the judgment of the appellate court.
¶ 4 Defendant was charged by information in January 2007.
Specifically, the information charged predatory criminal sexual assault in that between 1999 and October 27, 2004, defendant, who was age 17 or older, on two separate occasions placed his penis in the mouth of his stepdaughter, K.N.J., when she was younger than 13. The information charged criminal sexual assault in that between 1999 and February 2006, defendant, on two separate occasions, placed his penis in the mouth of K.N.J. by the use of force or threat of force. The information charged two counts of criminal sexual assault occurring between 1999 and February 2006, in that defendant, on two separate occasions, placed his penis in K.N.J.'s mouth when she was younger than 18 and he was her stepfather. Finally, the information charged that between 2001 and February 2006, defendant committed aggravated criminal sexual abuse in that defendant fondled K.N.J.'s breasts and vagina, and made her fondle his penis, for his sexual arousal and gratification, when K.N.J. was younger than 18 and he was her stepfather. The public defender of Henry County was appointed to represent defendant.
¶ 5 Prior to trial, the State moved to introduce other-crimes evidence pursuant to section 115-7.3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/115-7.3 (West 2006)). The State sought to introduce evidence that defendant had sexually abused another child, in order to show that defendant had a propensity to commit sex crimes. The State's section 115-7.3 motion alleged that, in 2007, defendant had been convicted in the circuit court of Rock Island County of the aggravated criminal sexual abuse of C.S., a nine-year-old girl. The trial court granted the State's motion, ruling that the State could present testimony about the prior crime, along with a certified copy of defendant's conviction for that crime.
¶ 6 Thereafter, defendant filed a complaint against his attorney with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. The trial court allowed defendant's attorney to withdraw from the case, and appointed Edward Woller to represent defendant. Woller had represented defendant before, including representing defendant in the Rock Island County case.
¶ 7 Defendant's jury trial commenced on June 5, 2008. At defendant's trial, a certified copy of defendant's conviction of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against C.S. in the Rock Island County case was admitted into evidence on the issue of defendant's propensity to commit the offenses for which he was charged in the instant case.*fn1 In addition, C.S. testified that in 2005, defendant sexually abused her when he was living with her and her mother in Moline, Illinois. C.S. said that she was nine years old at the time. C.S. testified that one morning, defendant gave her a book containing pictures of naked girls "showing their private parts," and told C.S. to put the book on his weight set in the basement. Defendant then followed C.S. into the basement. Defendant pulled down his pants, grabbed C.S.'s hand, put C.S.'s hand on his "wee wee," and made C.S. rub it until he ejaculated. Defendant also put his hand down C.S.'s pants and stuck his finger inside her. Defendant then pushed C.S. down on the ground and told her "to suck his wee wee." C.S. refused. Defendant told C.S. if she told anyone, he would beat her and ground her. After defendant had kicked C.S. and her mother out of the house, C.S. told her mother about the abuse.
¶ 8 K.N.J., defendant, and several other witnesses also testified at defendant's trial. At the conclusion of his jury trial, defendant was convicted on all counts concerning K.N.J. The trial court denied defendant's motion for a new trial. After vacating defendant's three criminal sexual assault convictions on one-act, one-crime grounds, the trial court imposed consecutive sentences of 18 years' imprisonment for each conviction of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, and concurrent sentences of six years' imprisonment for each conviction of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.
¶ 9 Defendant then appealed, arguing that his attorney, Woller, had a per se conflict of interest because Woller had served as a guardian ad litem for C.S. in a case that ended in 2002 or 2003. Woller had disclosed that fact during pretrial proceedings in the Rock Island County case, but did not disclose his prior representation of C.S. in the instant case. The guardian ad litem proceedings were unrelated to either of the criminal cases brought against defendant. Defendant claimed that the cause should be remanded for a new trial because of the per se conflict of interest.
¶ 10 A majority of the appellate court agreed. The appellate court, citing this court's decisions in People v. Taylor, 237 Ill. 2d 356 (2010), and People v. Hernandez, 231 Ill. 2d 134 (2008), noted that there are three situations where a per se conflict of interest exists: (1) where defense counsel has a prior or contemporaneous association with the victim, the prosecution, or an entity assisting the prosecution; (2) where defense counsel contemporaneously represents a prosecution witness; and (3) where defense counsel was a former prosecutor who had been personally involved in the prosecution of the defendant. 409 Ill. App. 3d at 401. The majority held that C.S. was an entity assisting the prosecution, as set forth in the first situation, so that defense counsel's prior association with C.S. constituted a per se conflict of interest. Id. at 402. The appellate court rejected the State's argument that "entity" applied only to a municipality, rather than a person. Id. at 403.
¶ 11 The majority also held that even if C.S. was not an "entity" for purposes of finding a per se conflict of interest, defendant's conviction nonetheless had to be reversed because C.S. would benefit from an unfavorable verdict for defendant. 409 Ill. App. 3d at 404. The majority noted that in Hernandez, 231 Ill. 2d at 142, this court held that when a defendant's attorney has a tie to a person or entity that would benefit from an unfavorable verdict for the defendant, a per se conflict of interest arises. 409 Ill. App. 3d at 404.
¶ 12 The majority found that there were three intangible benefits to C.S. that would result from an unfavorable verdict for the defendant. First, C.S. would benefit from having her assailant incarcerated. 409 Ill. App. 3d at 405. Second, defendant's conviction for the same crime against another young girl would validate C.S.'s own claim of sexual abuse against defendant. Id. Third, assisting the State in convicting defendant would allow C.S. the opportunity to help another young girl who had been subjected to the same horrific behavior that C.S. had to endure. Id. The majority stated that they could not ...