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People v. Griffin

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

June 27, 2017

JOSEPH GRIFFIN, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Nos. 12 CR 13428 13 CR 12564 Honorable Thaddeus L. Wilson, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hyman and Justice Pierce concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          MASON, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Pursuant to 2014 guilty pleas, defendant Joseph Griffin was convicted of burglary (in case No. 13 CR 12564) and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon (in case No. 12 CR 13428) and sentenced to concurrent prison terms of six and five years, respectively, with fines and fees. More than 30 days after sentencing in both cases, Griffin filed a pro se motion to correct the mittimus to reflect a different custody date for purposes of calculating presentence detention credit. On appeal from the denial of that motion, Griffin abandoned his claim regarding the date he was taken into custody but contends for the first time that certain fines and fees were erroneously assessed and that he is entitled to presentencing detention credit against his remaining assessments. We find that we may not reach the merits of his claims, since Griffin failed to file a motion pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 604(d) (eff. Mar. 8, 2016) within 30 days of sentencing and, in any event, the trial court's denial of his motion was not a final and appealable order. Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal.

         ¶ 2 Griffin entered a negotiated guilty plea and was sentenced in case No. 12 CR 13428 on April 1, 2014. He entered his negotiated guilty plea and was sentenced in case No. 13 CR 12564 on April 17. Griffin did not file a motion to withdraw his plea or reconsider his sentence, nor did he file a direct appeal in either case. On September 9, Griffin filed a pro se motion to correct the mittimus nunc pro tunc in both cases, asserting that the trial court inadvertently calculated his presentencing detention credit using an incorrect custody date.

         ¶ 3 Finding no mistake, the court denied Griffin's motion in case No. 12 CR 13428 on September 25 and in case No. 13 CR 12564 on October 8. The clerk of the court notified him of the rulings in an October 21 letter, and he filed a pro se notice of appeal by mail on November 6.

         ¶ 4 As noted, Griffin does not challenge here the trial court's denial of his motion. Instead, he raises several entirely new issues regarding the propriety of the fees and fines that were assessed against him. In particular, he claims that under section 110-14 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/110-14 (West 2014)), which governs presentence custody credit, he is entitled to a $5 per diem credit against certain assessments; he also contends that the trial court assessed him $15 in fees that are not applicable to his convictions.

         ¶ 5 This case is but one of hundreds of criminal appeals involving fines-and-fees issues that were overlooked at the trial court level and raised for the first time on appeal. A Westlaw search reveals that in 2016 alone, there were 137 cases in this court where a defendant challenged the imposition of fines and/or fees, and 83 cases in which a defendant asserted error in the application of per diem credit against his fines, all for the first time on appeal. Initially, we observe that many of these issues could easily be discovered and resolved at the trial court level with more diligent oversight by prosecutors and defense attorneys alike. For instance, one of the fines Griffin challenges here is a $5 court system fee that applies only in certain traffic cases (725 ILCS 5/5-1101(a) (West 2014))-obviously not something that pertains to his convictions for burglary and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. But apparently nobody noticed this mistake below; it was only noticed when Griffin filed this pro se appeal and the State Appellate Defender was assigned to the case. This happens all too often and makes the appellate court the court of first resort for such issues.

         ¶ 6 We are aware of no other context in which an appellant may raise entirely new issues on appeal, unrelated to the order or judgment from which appeal is taken, and still obtain review on the merits. Yet this is routine in criminal appeals where fines-and-fees issues are raised for the first time in this court. In fact, it has become so routine that the parties in this case did not even address the question of our jurisdiction until we requested supplemental briefing on the matter.

         ¶ 7 The time has come to take a more serious look at this problem, both for the sake of preserving proper appellate jurisprudence and for the sake of judicial economy. Copious amounts of time, effort, and ink are spent resolving these issues at the appellate level when many of them are more appropriately resolved at the trial level through (i) routine review of judgment orders after their entry-a task that would take at most minutes-and (ii) cooperation between the parties to correct any later-discovered errors by means of agreed orders. See In re Derrico G., 2014 IL 114463, ¶ 107 (State's Attorney has a duty to see that justice is done, not only for the public, but also for the defendant); see also People v. Brown, 388 Ill.App.3d 104, 112 (2009) (State concedes that $5 court system fee was imposed in error and should be vacated). We encourage both the State's Attorney and the public defender to review judgment orders upon entry to ensure that fines and fees are correctly assessed. We further encourage an open line of communication between the public defender's office and the State's Attorney's office, so that when defense counsel discovers an obvious clerical error in the imposition of fines and fees, he or she can contact the State's Attorney, and the error can be corrected expeditiously at the trial level by means of an agreed order.

         ¶ 8 Without oversight and open communication at the trial level, the State Appellate Defender frequently brings these questions in the first instance to the appellate court, where the justification for addressing them on the merits is, at best, questionable.[1] Before our supreme court's decision in People v. Castleberry, 2015 IL 116916, defendants frequently argued that fines-and-fees errors raised for the first time on appeal were reviewable under the void judgment rule, which provided that a judgment not conforming to a statutory requirement was void and subject to challenge at any time. See, e.g., People v. Breeden, 2014 IL App (4th) 121049, ¶ 56 (fine was void where it was below the statutory minimum), vacated by No. 118880 (Ill. Jan. 20, 2016) (supervisory order directing the appellate court to reconsider in light of Castleberry). But Castleberry abolished the void judgment rule, reasoning that "whether a circuit court complies with a statutory sentencing requirement in a criminal proceeding is irrelevant to the question of jurisdiction." Castleberry, 2015 IL 116916, ¶ 16; see People v. Reed, 2016 IL App (1st) 140498, ¶ 13 ("Defendant asserts that his fees are void, and may therefore be challenged at any time [citation]. In light of People v. Castleberry [citation], this rule no longer applies.").

         ¶ 9 Nor is the plain error doctrine an appropriate vehicle for review in cases where the complained-of error does not stem from failure to provide a fair process for determining the fine or fee at issue, but a mere clerical mistake-which encompasses the majority of such cases. Ill. S.Ct. R. 615(a) ("Plain errors or defects affecting substantial rights may be noticed although they were not brought to the attention of the trial court." (Emphasis added.)); see People v. Taylor, 2016 IL App (1st) 141251, ¶ 28 (where defendant challenged the imposition of two $2 fees, court stated that it would be "hard-pressed" to consider the assessment an error affecting substantial rights, "given the insubstantial nature of the fees assessed"). Thus, in the wake of Castleberry and given the "narrow and limited" scope of plain error review (People v. Herron, 215 Ill.2d 167, 177 (2005)), it is questionable whether appellate courts may or should address contentions of error regarding fines and fees that were never raised in the trial court.

         ¶ 10 We must consider whether we have jurisdiction to consider the merits of Griffin's contentions regarding his fines and fees. This issue entails a three-step analysis: (1) Did the trial court have jurisdiction to reach the merits of Griffin's motion to correct the mittimus, even though the motion was filed more than 30 days after sentencing? (2) If so, is Griffin's appeal from the denial of that motion properly before this court? (3) If so, can Griffin "piggyback" his fines-and-fees issues into this appeal, despite his failure to raise them before the trial court? For the reasons that follow, we answer the first question in the affirmative but the second question in the negative, and therefore, we need not proceed further with our analysis.

         ¶ 11 Ordinarily, a defendant who pleads guilty has 30 days from the date of sentencing to file a motion to withdraw the guilty plea and vacate the judgment or a motion to reconsider sentence. Ill. S.Ct. R. 604(d) (eff. Mar. 8, 2016). Griffin filed no such motion. Griffin's failure to file a timely Rule 604(d) ...

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