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In re Isaiah D.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

June 8, 2015

In re ISAIAH D., a Minor, Respondent-Appellant

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 JD 2396. Honorable Andrew Berman, Judge Presiding.

For APPELLANT: Michael J. Pelletier, State Appellate Defender, Alan D. Goldberg, Deputy Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Chicago Illinois (Kathleen Weck, of counsel).

For APPELLEE: Anita Alvarez, State's Attorney, County of Cook, Chicago, Illinois (Alan J. Spellberg, Christine Cook, and Katarina Durcova, of counsel).

JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Connors specially concurred, with opinion.

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[¶1] This appeal arises from the trial court's November 25, 2014 order adjudicating respondent-appellant Isaiah D. (respondent) to be an habitual juvenile offender (HJO) and a violent juvenile offender (VJO) and sentencing him to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DOJJ) until the age of 21, pursuant to the mandatory sentencing provisions of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act or Act). See 705 ILCS 405/5-815, 5-820 (West 2012).

[¶2] Respondent's appeal raises two sets of challenges to his sentence. First, respondent argues that his guilty plea in a prior case in 2013 cannot be used as a predicate offense to support his HJO or VJO status, due to the trial court's alleged errors in admonishing respondent in the 2013 case to ensure that his plea was knowing and voluntary. In other words, respondent attempts to challenge the sufficiency of the admonishments given in his 2013 guilty plea, within the context of this appeal of his 2014 conviction in which he was adjudicated an HJO and a VJO. Separately, respondent urges that the Juvenile Court Act's mandatory sentencing provisions for a juvenile adjudicated an HJO or a VJO violate the eighth amendment of the United States Constitution and the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution.

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[¶4] Respondent, a minor born in 1997, has been adjudicated a delinquent minor on three occasions--in 2012, 2013, and 2014. In conjunction with a jury verdict finding him guilty of the third offense in 2014, he was adjudged an HJO pursuant to section 5-815 of the Juvenile Court Act, which provides that a minor is an HJO upon a third adjudication of delinquency for an offense that would be a felony if prosecuted as an adult. 705 ILCS 405/5-815 (West 2012). At the same time, he was adjudicated a VJO under section 5-820 of the Juvenile Court Act. That provision of the Juvenile Court Act applies upon a minor's second finding of delinquency for an offense that, in an adult case, " would have been a Class 2 or greater felony[,] involving the use or threat of physical force or violence," or which involves a firearm. 705 ILCS 405/5-820 (West 2012).

[¶5] The respondent's guilt in the three underlying offenses is not in dispute. In 2012, respondent was adjudicated a delinquent minor after entering a guilty plea to the offense of possession of a stolen motor vehicle. The facts of that case are not at issue in this appeal.

[¶6] In 2013, in a separate case, respondent entered a plea of guilty to the charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm. The facts underlying the commission of that offense are not at issue in this appeal. However, respondent's appeal relies largely on the circumstances surrounding his guilty plea in the 2013 case.

[¶7] Respondent, who was represented by counsel in the 2013 case, appeared before the court on July 25, 2013. On that date, respondent's counsel, the assistant State's Attorney, and the court participated in a conference and reached a plea agreement: in exchange for respondent's guilty plea, respondent would be sentenced to four months in the DOJJ, after which time the court would receive a report regarding respondent's behavior. If the report was positive, the court would release respondent on probation; otherwise, respondent could be sentenced to additional time in the DOJJ. After the conference, respondent's counsel informed the court that respondent would accept the plea agreement. According to the transcript, the court then addressed respondent directly as follows:

" THE COURT: Okay. So I told you, Isaiah, that - I spoke to your lawyer, actually, what I would do if you were to plead guilty to the charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm, that I would sentence you to four months in the Department of Justice or DOC with a bring back, meaning if you come back through the criminal courts that I'd put you back on a type of probation, but you have to come back through the court. If you don't come back through this court,[1] you'll just go back there and serve out the nine to twelve months, whatever it is that they give you. So do you understand that? Is that a yes?
THE COURT: Okay. Now, by accepting that offer, that means that you're pleading guilty to the charge. It means that there won't be a trial today. Where the witnesses that were in court today would testify, you would be here with your lawyer watching it happen. [Where you would watch your lawyer

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question the witnesses[2]], you could be a witness in your own case if you chose to be. You could also call witnesses in your own defense if you wanted to, and the State would have to prove to me beyond a reasonable doubt that you did commit the crime of aggravated discharge of a firearm on June 20th. So that will not happen if we don't have a trial. So are you clear about all of those things?
THE COURT: Now, you know the sentence is going to be -- I can't sentence you today because I have to get an updated social investigation, so that will take -- well, the problem is that I'm going to be gone for two weeks, so because of that, I guess you're going to be held here one week -- I'm going to credit the four months from today, but I won't be able to sentence you until I come back in a couple of weeks because I just want to have time to get that done.
So this is what you want to do today then? Do you accept that offer?

[¶8] Accordingly, respondent was sentenced pursuant to the July 2013 guilty plea. After serving four months in the DOJJ, respondent was placed on probation. There is no indication in the record, and respondent does not dispute, that he never moved to withdraw his guilty plea or to appeal from the July 2013 sentence following his guilty plea.

[¶9] In 2014, the instant case arose out of a new offense committed by respondent and unrelated to the discharge of a firearm that was the subject of the 2013 guilty plea. On June 17, 2014, respondent was one of four young men who were arrested for assaulting and robbing a 15-year-old boy, Anthony Sargent, of the dirt bike which Sargent had been riding. According to Sargent, one of the four men struck him, causing him to lose control of the bike and fall to the ground. Sargent testified that respondent then threw him to the ground while another individual removed Sargent's cellular phone from his pocket. Respondent and the other three assailants took Sargent's bike and left the scene. Respondent and the other three young men were arrested later that day hiding in the basement of one of the offenders' homes, where Sargent's bike and cellular phone were recovered.

[¶10] Respondent was charged with aggravated battery and robbery. Before trial, the State filed a petition seeking to have respondent adjudicated as an HJO pursuant to section 5-815 of the Juvenile Court Act, based on his 2012, 2013, and 2014 offenses. See 705 ILCS 405/5-815 (West 2012). In the same petition, the State also sought adjudication of respondent as a VJO pursuant to section 5-820 of the Act, on the basis of his 2013 guilty plea to aggravated discharge of a firearm and the 2014 battery and robbery. See 705 ILCS 405/5-820 (West 2012).

[¶11] On August 14, 2014, respondent filed a motion to dismiss the State's petition to prosecute him as an HJO and VJO. That motion argued that, when respondent agreed to plead guilty on the 2013 charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm, the trial court violated his due process rights by failing to determine whether respondent understood the rights that he was waiving by entering the plea; failing to

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admonish him as to the consequences of his plea and the maximum penalty that could be imposed; and failing to determine whether the plea was voluntary. As a result of the alleged deficiencies surrounding that plea, respondent argued that the 2013 plea of guilty to aggravated discharge of firearm could not be used as a predicate offense to establish respondent's status as either an HJO or a VJO.

[¶12] The State opposed the motion, arguing that the trial court's admonishments in the 2013 plea complied with due process requirements and that respondent understood his rights and entered the guilty plea knowingly and voluntarily. The State argued that the court correctly advised respondent that after four months in the DOJJ he could be recommitted to the DOJJ for " whatever it is that they give you." The State argued that the court was not required to " use magic words to admonish" respondent, but that it was sufficient that respondent was aware of his rights--specifically, that he would serve only four months in the DOJJ and be permitted to serve the remainder as probation rather than in the custody of DOJJ. The State claimed the trial court " went above and beyond and gave an in-depth description of the trial rights the minor was giving up" and a " complete and accurate statement of the possible consequences of entering the admission." ' The State also noted that if respondent " had appealed or attacked the plea directly, any insufficiency in the admonishments could have been remedied" in the 2013 case, and that he " should not be allowed to accept a plea agreement when it behooves him to do so, and then, having never attacked it directly, repudiate its collateral use and avoid the lawful consequences of his actions."

[¶13] On September 24, 2014, the trial court (which was the same judge who had presided over the entry of respondent's 2013 guilty plea) heard argument and denied respondent's motion to dismiss the VJO and HJO petitions. Notably, at the September 24, 2014 hearing, the trial court stated that there were several errors in the official transcript of the 2013 admonishments. With respect to the portion of the admonishments that was transcribed as the court telling respondent that " you have to come back through the court" during the 2013 hearing, the judge explained that this was an error:

" [W]hat I really was saying and what the transcript should have said was I'm talking about coming back with a positive report -- which rhymes with court -- and that's what we always say. And you'd have to come back with a report and if you don't come back with a positive report ***. And so that whole paragraph is nonsensical and the real thing that was said was talking about coming back with a positive report to be then vacated. And I know all the lawyers will not question that because you've all heard me say that many times, and you know that's a typo."

[¶14] The court also stated that the portion of the transcript that says " [w]hereas you question the witnesses" was wrong, explaining: " whet I always say is [']where you would watch your lawyer question the witnesses['], and that's what is said in every admonishment." Respondent did not and does not dispute the trial court's clarifications regarding the contents of its 2013 admonishments.

[¶15] The State argued that the admonishments were more than sufficient, as " what the Court admonished him would happen is exactly what did happen in that case--*** he served his four months; he had a positive report; and then he was placed on probation." Respondent argued that the court had failed to adequately

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admonish him, particularly " with respect to the maximum punishment that can be provided." Respondent argued that although the court had told respondent he could serve " 9 to 12 months" after review of the report following his initial 4 months in custody, that time frame was " a guideline, but it is not the maximum ...

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