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People v. Ayres

Supreme Court of Illinois

February 17, 2017

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellee,
v.
QWANTRELL L. AYRES, Appellant.

          JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Freeman, Kilbride, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Thomas dissented, with opinion, joined by Chief Justice Karmeier and Justice Garman.

          OPINION

          BURKE, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 A pro se posttrial claim alleging ineffective assistance of counsel is governed by the common-law procedure developed from our decision in People v. Krankel, 102 Ill.2d 181 (1984), and its progeny. Here, we must decide whether defendant's allegation of "ineffective assistance of counsel" in his posttrial petition to withdraw guilty plea and vacate sentence triggered the circuit court's duty to inquire into the factual basis of defendant's claim. For the reasons set forth below, we answer that question in the affirmative.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In April 2013, defendant, Qwantrell Ayres, pled guilty to aggravated battery and was sentenced to 12 months' conditional discharge, with the requirement he not leave the state without court permission. In July 2013, the State filed a petition to revoke defendant's conditional discharge alleging he left the state without seeking the court's approval. Thereafter, defendant admitted and stipulated he left the state without permission.

         ¶ 4 The Champaign County circuit court held a sentencing hearing on September 4, 2013. Defendant called several witnesses. Michael McClellan testified he had been defendant's attorney in the past. McClellan stated he received a telephone call from defendant several months back and that defendant told him he was the subject of a police investigation involving a shooting. McClellan told defendant "you need to get the hell out of Dodge." McClellan stated that, based on previous conversations with defendant's mother, Ellisia Jones, he believed defendant had two places within the state where he could go. He denied being told defendant could only go to Indianapolis.

         ¶ 5 Jones's testimony contradicted McClellan's. Jones stated she told McClellan the only place defendant could go was Indianapolis. The circuit court sentenced defendant to seven years' imprisonment.

         ¶ 6 On September 26, 2013, defendant's attorney filed a motion to reconsider sentence, arguing defendant's sentence was excessive. The same day, defendant mailed a pro se petition to withdraw guilty plea and vacate sentence, alleging "ineffective assistance of counsel." On November 4, the court held a hearing on counsel's motion. Defendant was not present. The court denied counsel's motion to reconsider. The circuit court did not consider or even reference defendant's petition.

         ¶ 7 Defendant appealed, arguing the circuit court erred because it did not make a preliminary inquiry regarding his pro se claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The appellate court affirmed, finding the four words "ineffective assistance of counsel" without explanation or any supporting facts were insufficient to trigger the circuit court's duty to inquire. 2015 IL App (4th) 130996-U, ¶ 14. We granted defendant's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Jan. 1, 2015).

         ¶ 8 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 9 The issue in this case is whether defendant's allegation "ineffective assistance of counsel" without any factual support was sufficient to trigger a Krankel inquiry. There is a split in the appellate court on this question. Some decisions hold a bare claim warrants inquiry. People v. Remsick-Miller, 2012 IL App (2d) 100921; People v. Pence, 387 Ill.App.3d 989 (2d Dist. 2009); People v. Bolton, 382 Ill.App.3d 714 (2d Dist. 2008). Conversely, other decisions hold a bare allegation is insufficient and that a defendant must meet minimal requirements by asserting supporting facts or specific claims. People v. Montgomery, 373 Ill.App.3d 1104 (4th Dist. 2007); People v. Ward, 371 Ill.App.3d 382 (1st Dist. 2007); People v. Radford, 359 Ill.App.3d 411 (1st Dist. 2005); People v. Rucker, 346 Ill.App.3d 873 (1st Dist. 2003).

         ¶ 10 In People v. Krankel, 102 Ill.2d 181 (1984), the defendant filed a posttrial pro se motion for a new trial alleging ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel failed to investigate an alibi defense and failed to present such a defense. Id. at 187. The defendant was given an opportunity at a posttrial hearing to present argument on the motion, after which the trial court denied it. Id. at 188-89. On appeal, the State conceded the defendant should have had new counsel to represent him on the motion. We agreed and remanded for a new hearing on the motion with different counsel to determine whether the defendant was denied effective assistance of counsel. Id.

         ¶ 11 The common-law procedure, which has evolved from our decision in Krankel, is triggered when a defendant raises a pro se posttrial claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. People v. Jolly, 2014 IL 117142, ¶ 29. This procedure "serves the narrow purpose of allowing the trial court to decide whether to appoint independent counsel to argue a defendant's pro se posttrial ineffective assistance claims." People v. Patrick, 2011 IL 111666, ¶ 39. "[A] pro se defendant is not required to do any more than bring his or her claim to the trial court's attention" (People v. Moore, 207 Ill.2d 68, 79 (2003); People v. Taylor, 237 Ill.2d 68, 76 (2010)), and thus, a defendant is not required to file a written motion (Patrick, 2011 IL 111666, ¶ 29) but may raise the issue orally (People v. Banks, 237 Ill.2d 154, 213-14 (2010)) or through a letter or note to the court (People v. Munson, 171 Ill.2d 158, 200 (1996)). However, the trial court is not required to automatically appoint new counsel when a defendant raises such a claim. Jolly, 2014 IL 117142, ¶ 29. Rather, "[t]he law requires the trial court to conduct some type of inquiry into the underlying factual basis, if any, of a defendant's pro se posttrial claim of ineffective assistance of counsel." People v. Moore, 207 Ill.2d 68, 79 (2003). See also People v. Ramey, 152 Ill.2d 41, 52 (1992); People v. Williams, 147 Ill.2d 173, 251 (1991); People v. Nitz, 143 Ill.2d 82, 134 (1991). Specifically, the "trial court must conduct an adequate inquiry ***, that is, inquiry sufficient to determine the factual basis of the claim." Banks, 237 Ill.2d at 213. " 'If the trial court determines that the claim lacks merit or pertains only to matters of trial strategy, then the court need not appoint new counsel and may deny the pro se motion. However, if the allegations show possible neglect of the case, new counsel should be appointed.' " Jolly, 2014 IL 117142, ¶ 29 (quoting Moore, 207 Ill.2d at 78).

         ¶ 12 In making the inquiry, "some interchange between the trial court and trial counsel regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding the allegedly ineffective representation is permissible and usually necessary in assessing what further action, if any, is warranted on a defendant's claim." Id. ¶ 30; Moore, 207 Ill.2d at 78. Accordingly, the trial court is permitted to inquire of trial counsel about the defendant's allegations. Jolly, 2014 IL 117142, ¶ 30; Moore, 207 Ill.2d at 78. Likewise, the court is permitted to discuss the allegations with defendant. Jolly, 2014 IL 117142, ¶ 30; Moore, 207 Ill.2d at 78. Lastly, the trial court is permitted to make its determination ...


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