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People v. Brown

Supreme Court of Illinois

November 30, 2017

ANTHONY S. BROWN, Appellant.

          JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 In this appeal, we address a disagreement in the appellate court on the proper standard for reviewing a guilty-plea defendant's challenge to his plea counsel's performance raised in a petition seeking relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2014)). The specific issue presented is whether defendant made a substantial showing of a violation of his constitutional right to counsel by alleging that he entered into a negotiated guilty-plea agreement in reliance on his counsel's erroneous sentencing advice.

         ¶ 2 The trial court granted the State's motion to dismiss defendant's postconviction petition without an evidentiary hearing. The appellate court affirmed. In relevant part, the court rejected two other appellate court decisions holding that such a claim was sufficient, standing alone, to establish prejudice and to warrant an evidentiary hearing. See 2016 IL App (4th) 140760, ¶¶ 11, 25 (disagreeing with and ultimately rejecting People v. Kitchell, 2015 IL App (5th) 120548, and People v. Stewart, 381 Ill.App.3d 200 (2008)). For the reasons that follow, we agree with the appellate court's conclusion and affirm its judgment, albeit under a slightly different rationale.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 On September 13, 2012, defendant Anthony S. Brown was charged by information with the offenses of being an armed habitual criminal (720 ILCS 5/24-1.7(a) (West 2012)) and home invasion with a firearm (720 ILCS 5/19-6(a)(3) (West 2012)). The charges arose from an incident that occurred on September 9 in Champaign, Illinois, at the home of defendant's former girlfriend.

         ¶ 5 On May 6, 2013, defendant entered a fully negotiated guilty plea to the charge of being an armed habitual criminal in the circuit court of Champaign County. In exchange, defendant was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment, and the State nol-prossed the home invasion charge.

         ¶ 6 Before entry of the plea agreement, the trial court explained the charges, noting that defendant was charged as an armed habitual criminal after having previously been convicted of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and unlawful possession with intent to deliver cannabis. The court admonished defendant that the armed habitual criminal charge was a Class X felony with a minimum sentence of 6 years and a maximum sentence of 30 years, a 3-year term of mandatory supervised release, and a potential fine of $25, 000. The court further admonished defendant of his trial rights and the consequences of waiving those rights and entering a guilty plea. Defendant responded that he understood his rights and that he intended to plead guilty.

         ¶ 7 In presenting the plea agreement, the State recommended a sentence of 18 years' imprisonment and payment of fees. When asked by the trial court if defendant agreed with those terms, defendant responded affirmatively. Defendant denied that he was promised anything and denied that he was threatened or forced to accept the plea agreement.

         ¶ 8 The State then offered the following factual basis for the plea agreement:

"On September 9 of 2012, Champaign police were called to 1207 Crispus in Champaign by Shauntrayah Foster and Taylor Rodgers, who were reporting that the defendant, who they knew as their mother's ex-boyfriend, was in the home with a gun. Police responded and had to force entry into the home. As they forced entry, the defendant ran down the hallway towards them. Three police officers saw him lifting the gun from the area of his waistband [and] pointing it in their direction. They discharged their weapons. The revolver was recovered where [defendant] dropped it. It was sent to the state lab and determined to be a .22 caliber revolver that was in functioning condition."

         After the State concluded its factual basis, the trial court asked defendant's attorney if he believed the State had witnesses who would testify to those facts. Defense counsel responded affirmatively. The court asked defendant if he was pleading guilty to the charge of being an armed habitual criminal, and defendant responded "yes."

         ¶ 9 The trial court accepted the plea agreement and proceeded to sentencing. Consistent with the plea agreement, the court sentenced defendant to 18 years' imprisonment and dismissed the home invasion charge.

         ¶ 10 On May 22, 2013, defendant filed a pro se notice of appeal. Defendant attached a signed affidavit, indicating that he "took plea at 50% not 85%." The trial court appointed the Office of the State Appellate Defender to represent defendant.

         ¶ 11 On June 7, 2013, defendant filed a pro se motion for reduction of sentence, asserting that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because his counsel erroneously advised defendant that he would serve only 50% of his 18-year sentence. The trial court denied the motion because defendant entered a negotiated guilty plea and, therefore, was not permitted to file a motion to reduce sentence.

         ¶ 12 On August 16, 2013, the appellate court dismissed defendant's direct appeal at his request. Defendant did not refile an appeal.

         ¶ 13 On February 27, 2014, defendant filed a pro se postconviction petition, challenging the constitutionality of the armed violence statute that relied on his prior conviction for unlawful use of a weapon. Defendant also argued that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because counsel misinformed him on his potential eligibility for good time credit and incorrectly advised defendant that he would serve only 50% of his 18-year sentence.[1]

         ¶ 14 The trial court appointed the Champaign County public defender to represent defendant in the postconviction proceedings. Defendant's counsel filed an amended postconviction petition on June 19, 2014. The amended petition is the subject of this appeal.

         ¶ 15 Defendant's amended petition withdrew his constitutional challenge to the armed violence statute and, instead, focused exclusively on his sentencing claim. Specifically, defendant alleged that trial counsel told him that he would serve 85% of his sentence if convicted of the home invasion charge but that he would serve only 50% of his sentence if convicted of the armed habitual criminal charge. Defendant noted that his counsel's advice was erroneous because the applicable sentencing statute requires a person convicted of the offense of armed habitual criminal to serve 85% of the sentence (730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(2)(ii) (West 2012)). In addition, the record of the plea hearing demonstrates that defendant was not advised on how much of his sentence he would have to serve. Nor did any of the accompanying documentation (the charges, the sentencing papers, or the mittimus) include that information. Defendant further alleged in his amended petition that his counsel's ineffective assistance prejudiced him because he pleaded guilty based on the erroneous belief that he would serve only 50% of his 18-year sentence when he actually must serve 85%, an additional 6 years in prison. Defendant asserted that if he had been properly advised on sentencing he "would not have accepted the plea and would have taken the case to trial wherein he would have been acquitted." Defendant argued that he made the requisite "substantial showing of a violation of a constitutional right" and was entitled to an evidentiary hearing.

         ¶ 16 Defendant attached several documents to his amended petition, including his own affidavit. In his affidavit, defendant averred that he trusted his trial counsel to give him accurate information on sentencing and believed his counsel because "[counsel] showed me paperwork for the plea and it said nothing about having to do 85%." Defendant further attested that "right before the plea" he confirmed with his trial counsel that he would serve only 50% of his sentence and that counsel told defendant, "don't play with these people."

         ¶ 17 Defendant did not discover that his trial counsel erroneously advised him on sentencing until he arrived at the Department of Corrections. Although defendant attempted to contact his trial counsel after learning this information, he was never contacted by counsel. Defendant averred that he would not have ...

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