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People v. Garza

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

January 28, 2014

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JUAN A. GARZA, JR., Defendant-Appellant

Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 10CF1867. Honorable Thomas J. Difanis, Judge Presiding.

SYLLABUS

The appellate court affirmed the summary dismissal of defendant's pro se postconviction petition, notwithstanding his allegation that his guilty plea to first degree murder should be vacated on the ground that the 35-year sentence he negotiated with the State, based on a 15-year firearm enhancement, was void because the factual basis for the plea permitted the inference that defendant personally shot the firearm that killed the victim, thereby invoking the 25-year mandatory firearm enhancement, since the law tolerates fact-based concessions by the State as a " legitimate negotiation tool," and in defendant's case, the factual basis was phrased to avoid directly implicating defendant as the shooter and defendant was admonished that the 35-year firearm enhancement applied; therefore, the 35-year sentence was not void and defendant was not entitled to withdraw his plea.

Michael J. Pelletier, Karen Munoz, and Duane E. Schuster, all of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Springfield, for appellant.

Julia Reitz, State's Attorney, of Urbana (Patrick Delfino, David J. Robinson, and Anastacia R. Brooks, all of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Turner and Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Page 241

KNECHT, JUSTICE.

[¶1] In July 2011, defendant, Juan A. Garza, Jr., pleaded guilty to first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3) (West 2010)). In July 2011, the trial court sentenced defendant to 35 years' imprisonment. In June 2012, defendant filed a pro se motion for relief from judgment pursuant to section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2012)). In August 2012, the trial court, on the State's motion, dismissed the petition. In December 2012, defendant filed a pro se postconviction petition. In January 2013, the court summarily dismissed the petition.

[¶2] Defendant argues this court should vacate his plea because the 35-year sentence he negotiated with the State is void. He contends his 35-year sentence, based on the 15-year firearm enhancement (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(d)(i) (West 2010)), is void because it can be inferred from the factual basis he personally discharged a firearm causing the death of the victim. He asserts this triggered the 25-year mandatory firearm sentencing enhancement (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(d)(iii) (West 2010)) and a minimum 45-year sentence. We disagree and affirm.

[¶3] I. BACKGROUND

[¶4] A. The Plea and Sentencing Hearings

[¶5] In November 2010, the State charged defendant with five counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (2), (3) (West 2010)). All five counts alleged defendant " personally discharged a firearm" causing the death of Cruse Jimenez.

[¶6] On July 7, 2011, the State charged defendant with a sixth count of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3) (West 2010)) (count VI). The information alleged " defendant, or one for whose conduct he is legally responsible, without legal justification, while committing a forcible felony, namely Robbery ***, shot Cruse Jimenez while armed with a .45[-]caliber pistol or similar firearm, thereby causing the death of Cruse Jimenez."

Page 242

[¶7] The same day, the trial court held a plea hearing. The State informed the court defendant would plead guilty to count VI. In exchange for his guilty plea, he would receive a 35-year prison sentence. The State informed the trial court the 15-year firearm enhancement applied. The court admonished defendant he was subjected to a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years. The State presented a factual basis. On November 6, 2010, at approximately 1:45 a.m., Jimenez was shot outside the Cherry Orchard apartment building in Rantoul, Illinois. Witnesses would testify they heard a voice demanding Jimenez's wallet and observed Jimenez handing something to a male. Jimenez then ran toward the apartment building. The male fired multiple shots toward Jimenez. He was struck five times. Defendant was in a vehicle in the apartment building's parking lot in possession of a " large caliber handgun." Other witnesses saw defendant " put up the hood of a hooded sweatshirt and say either that he had something to do or something to the effect of [']hitting a ...


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