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People v. Albea

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

December 15, 2017

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THOMAS T. ALBEA, JR., Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County No. 11-CF-3081 Honorable Mark L. Levitt, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE ZENOFF delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hudson and Justice Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          ZENOFF, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Following a bench trial in the circuit court of Lake County, defendant, Thomas T. Albea, Jr., was convicted of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2010)) and sentenced to 33 years in prison. Defendant argues on appeal that his conviction must be reversed and a new trial ordered because the trial court committed plain error when it denied defendant's request to represent himself at trial. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On October 12, 2011, defendant was indicted on 14 counts of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2010)) and 2 counts of aggravated battery of a child (720 ILCS 5/12-4.3(a) (West 2010)). The charges stemmed from a September 6, 2011, incident in which defendant allegedly struck a minor, X.C., about his body, causing great bodily harm and death.

         ¶ 4 On January 4, 2012, retained counsel Robert P. Ritacca appeared on defendant's behalf. Ritacca represented defendant until July 15, 2014, when he moved to withdraw, citing defendant's dissatisfaction with his services. Defendant confirmed that he no longer wished to be represented by Ritacca and that he could not afford another attorney. The trial court allowed Ritacca to withdraw and appointed the public defender to represent defendant.

         ¶ 5 On July 16, 2014, assistant public defender Gillian Gosch appeared on behalf of defendant. The trial court continued the matter so that Gosch could review discovery. After several continuances, the matter was set for a jury trial on February 27, 2015.

         ¶ 6 On February 5, 2015, Gosch informed the trial court that defendant had told her that he wanted to represent himself. Defendant confirmed that he wished to proceed pro se. Thereafter, the following colloquy occurred:

"THE COURT: [Defendant], I don't hesitate to tell you that that is a bad idea. There are a number of things that occur during the course of regular legal proceedings on a day-to-day basis, not to mention what occurs during the course of a trial that requires somebody with very particularized expert legal knowledge. Ms. Gosch is that kind of a person. I know that sometimes when you have discussions with your lawyers-and I know you have now had a couple-you might not always agree with what they have to say, and you don't have to always agree with what they have to say, but you do have to listen to them when you make judgments about what's best for you.
So you do have a right to represent yourself, but it's something that is generally frowned upon because there is an old saying that a lawyer who represents himself or has himself for a client is a fool for both. Do you know what that means?
THE DEFENDANT: No.
THE COURT: It means it's not a good idea.
How far did you go in school?
THE DEFENDANT: I got a GED.
THE COURT: You got a GED? And when did you get that?
THE DEFENDANT: 2011.
THE COURT: Okay. And have you had any jobs?
THE DEFENDANT: No.
THE COURT: And so tell me what it is or why it is you think that you should represent yourself in this case.
THE DEFENDANT: Well, I talked-I talked to her yesterday and I tried to get her to get a continuance as far as the trial is set.
THE COURT: Well, that's not up to her. You know that, right? So if she told you that I wasn't going to grant a continuance, she's probably basing that on her knowledge of working in my courtroom because she's worked in my courtroom for a long time now. So she knows that when a case gets to be as old as yours is and when it's set for trial she knows that just asking for a continuance without a really good reason generally isn't going to-going to fly. Okay?
THE DEFENDANT: All right.
THE COURT: So if she told you she couldn't get you a continuance, that was probably her accurate opinion about what's going on in ...

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