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The People of the State of Illinois v. Emerson T. Burns

December 5, 2012

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
EMERSON T. BURNS,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County No. 08CF1805 Timothy J. Steadman, Honorable Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Steigmann

Carla Bender 4th District Appellate

PRESIDING JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Appleton and Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Following a May through June 2011 bench trial, the trial court convicted defendant, Emerson T. Burns, of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2008)). In July 2011, the court sentenced defendant to 50 years in prison.

¶ 2 Defendant appeals, arguing only that the trial court abused its discretion by coercing him into withdrawing his request to proceed pro se. We disagree and affirm.

¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 4 In December 2008, the State charged defendant with three counts of first degree murder in connection with the death of six-month-old Amylah Smith-Allende (born June 8, 2008).

¶ 5 On May 2, 2011, two days before his bench trial was to begin, defendant pro se filed a "motion for ineffective counsel" in which he asserted that his court-appointed attorney, (1) attempted to coerce him into accepting a plea agreement, (2) told him he "better take a [b]ench [t]rial because she *** would not be able to properly represent [him] in the presence of a jury," and (3) violated his right to confidentiality by speaking with him freely about his case in the presence of correctional officers. Defendant requested new counsel be appointed or, in the alternative, that he be allowed to represent himself.

¶ 6 On May 3, 2011, the trial court conducted a hearing on defendant's motion. The court concluded that appointed counsel was not ineffective and denied defendant's request for alternative counsel. The following colloquy followed:

"[THE COURT:] Now, Mr. Burns let me try to put this in perspective for you. Your choice now would be to remain with your attorney as your attorney during your bench trial, starting tomorrow or you said something about representing yourself. Now, before you go any further, I will tell you representing your-self is a terrible idea. And [appointed counsel] is experienced, she knows what she's doing, she will represent you to the fullest extent of her ability, she knows the rules. You don't know any of the rules. So, I would caution against giving up your right to a lawyer and representing yourself. I think it's a real bad idea.

Now, before we go any further, do you still want to represent yourself or do you want to stay with ...


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