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People v. Strickland

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

December 1, 2017

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CHARLES STRICKLAND, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 13CF105 Honorable John W. Belz, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE APPLETON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Holder White concurred in the judgment and opinion. Presiding Justice Turner concurred in part and dissented in part, with opinion.

          OPINION

          APPLETON JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Charles Strickland, appeals from the dismissal of three pro se motions, which the trial court recharacterized as, collectively, a postconviction petition. The question in this appeal is whether the court should have given defendant the admonitions in People v. Shellstrom, 216 Ill.2d 45, 57 (2005), before so recharacterizing the motions. Our answer is yes.

         ¶ 2 Granted, this case is factually different from Shellstrom in that the dismissal of defendant's recharacterized motions was in the second stage of the postconviction proceeding instead of in the first stage. See People v. Harris, 2013 IL App (1st) 111351, ¶¶ 46-47 (describing the three stages of a postconviction proceeding). Nevertheless, defendant in this case was pro se at the time of the recharacterization. The second-stage order of dismissal simultaneously did three things: (1) allowed the appointed counsel to withdraw, (2) recharacterized the three pro se motions as a postconviction petition, and (3) dismissed the motions. Because defendant was pro se at the time the court first explicitly recharacterized his motions as a postconviction petition, the rationale of Shellstrom applies to this case, despite the factual difference. Like the defendant in Shellstrom, defendant in this case had no attorney to warn him of the looming danger of procedural forfeiture (see 725 ILCS 5/122-1(f) (West 2016)) when the court did the recharacterization.

         ¶ 3 Therefore, we vacate the trial court's dismissal of defendant's three pro se motions, and we remand this case for the trial court to admonish defendant pursuant to Shellstrom, 216 Ill.2d at 57, and permit him to amend or withdraw his motions if he deems that either course of action would be suitable for him.

         ¶ 4 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 A. The Charge

         ¶ 6 The State charged that, on February 14, 2013, defendant committed the offense of unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon, a violation of section 24-1.1(a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 2012 (720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(a) (West 2012)).

         ¶ 7 The information also alleged that, in People v. Strickland, Sangamon County case No. 2001-CF-106, defendant previously was convicted of "a forcible felony, Burglary." This additional allegation was legally significant because, under section 24-1.1(e) (720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(e) (West 2012)), a "[v]iolation of this Section by a person not confined in a penal institution who ha[d] been convicted of a forcible felony" was a Class 2 felony. Id. The offense otherwise would have been merely a Class 3 felony. See id. A prior conviction of a forcible felony elevated unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon from a Class 3 felony, punishable by imprisonment for no less than 2 years and no more than 10 years, to a Class 2 felony, punishable by imprisonment for no less than 3 years and no more than 14 years. See id.

         ¶ 8 B. The Negotiated Guilty Plea

         ¶ 9 On May 1, 2014, defendant entered a negotiated plea of guilty to the charge of unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon. He waived the preparation of a presentence investigation report. That same day, the trial court sentenced him to imprisonment for 7 years minus the 456 days he had spent in presentence custody. The court ordered him to pay a public defender's fee of $200 but imposed no fines.

         ¶ 10 Defendant never filed a motion to vacate his guilty plea. Nor did he take a direct appeal.

         ¶ 11 C. Additional Assessments Imposed by the Circuit Clerk

         ¶ 12 Even though, in its sentence, the trial court imposed no fines (the public defender's fee was a fee, not a fine), the circuit clerk indicated in the court file that defendant owed the following: (1) a violent crime victims' assessment of $100, (2) a probation fund assessment of $10, (3) a drug court assessment of $5, (4) a child advocacy center assessment of $10, (5) a court system assessment of $50, and (6) an Illinois State Police assistance fund assessment of $15.

         ¶ 13 D. The First Two Pro Se Motions

         ¶ 14 On August 26, 2014-more than 30 days after sentencing-defendant filed two pro se motions, and neither motion cited or mentioned the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (720 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2014)).

         ¶ 15 The first pro se motion was titled "Motion To Reduce Sentence Based on Erroneous Elevation of Charges." In this motion, defendant contended that his prior conviction of burglary should not have elevated the present offense, unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon, from a Class 3 felony to a Class 2 felony for two reasons: (1) burglary was not a forcible felony, and (2) he was convicted of the burglary more than 10 years before his conviction of the present offense. He alleged he had informed his appointed defense counsel of this error but that it nevertheless had gone uncorrected.

         ¶ 16 The second pro se motion was titled "Motion To Vacate Judgement, Conviction, and Sentence Based on Unconstitutional Statutes." In this motion, defendant claimed that when representing him in the guilty plea proceedings, his appointed defense counsel was in a conflict of interest and consequently rendered ineffective assistance. Defendant further claimed that, under federal decisions issued before his arrest in this case, the statute defining the offense of unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon (720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(a) (West 2012)) was unconstitutional.

         ¶ 17 E. The Appointment of New Counsel

         ¶ 18 On October 1, 2014, the trial court made a docket entry, which stated: "Attorney WILLIAM DAVIS *** is appointed to represent Defendant *** on his post-trial motions, filed August 26, 2014." The docket entry contains no mention of the Act or of a postconviction proceeding.

         ¶ 19 F. The State's First Motion for Dismissal

         ¶ 20 On October 30, 2014, the State filed a "Motion To Dismiss Petition for Post- Conviction Relief." (It is unclear which of the two pro se motions the State regarded as a postconviction petition.) The State argued that dismissal of the petition was warranted for five reasons. First, defendant pleaded only conclusions instead of specific facts. Second, he failed to allege a substantial denial of his constitutional rights. Third, he had forfeited his claims by failing to raise them on direct appeal. Fourth, the claims he raised on direct appeal had been fully litigated, and the doctrine of res judicata barred them from ...


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