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.
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
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
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
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 ...