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People v. Braden

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

February 26, 2018

ARMON BRADEN, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 CR 07904 Honorable Martin Agran, Judge Presiding.

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



         ¶ 1 Armon Braden pled guilty to felony murder. His conviction was predicated on an armed robbery in which the victim died from injuries inflicted by one of Mr. Braden's codefendants. After imposing a negotiated 22-year sentence on Mr. Braden, the trial court gave insufficient admonishments as to what Mr. Braden must do to perfect an appeal, including which motion he would need to file to withdraw his plea and vacate the judgment against him. Because of that, we remand this case to the trial court for proper admonishments and, following the admonishments, to allow Mr. Braden the opportunity to file the proper postplea motions if he so chooses. We also modify the fines and fees order in Mr. Braden's case.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On May 13, 2011, Mr. Braden and three codefendants were charged with multiple counts of first degree murder, home invasion, armed robbery, and aggravated kidnapping. The indictment alleged that, on or about April 12, 2011, the codefendants met at the home of the victim George Nellessen, father of codefendant Matthew Nellessen, where they bound George Nellessen to a chair, gagged him, robbed him of his wallet, and forced him to sign a check payable to his son. Mr. Braden brought a BB gun to the house that he used to threaten George Nellessen into compliance. After robbing the victim, codefendant Matthew Nellessen retrieved a baseball bat, struck his father in the head multiple times, and then stabbed him to death.

         ¶ 4 On November 21, 2014, Mr. Braden agreed to plead guilty to one count of first degree murder-specifically felony murder predicated on an armed robbery-in exchange for a nolle prosequi of the remaining counts and the State's recommendation of a 22-year prison sentence. The trial court explained to Mr. Braden the charges and his right to plead not guilty, confirming that Mr. Braden understood his rights and was voluntarily relinquishing them with his plea. The trial court explained Mr. Braden's right to a jury trial and confirmed his desire to give up that right. The trial court then warned Mr. Braden of the possible penalties for first degree murder, including a 60-year sentence with a possible extended-term penalty of 60 to 100 years, along with a potential fine and several years of mandatory supervised release. After confirming that no one had threatened or promised anything to Mr. Braden, the court asked him if he was pleading guilty of his own free will, and Mr. Braden indicated that he was. The State provided the factual basis for the plea agreement, including Mr. Braden's role in the events leading to George Nellessen's kidnapping, robbery, and death. After hearing the factual basis, the trial court found that Mr. Braden's plea was freely and voluntarily made and ordered a presentence investigation.

         ¶5 Mr. Braden was sentenced on January 30, 2015. After reviewing the presentence investigation report, the trial court assessed the relevant aggravating and mitigating factors and sentenced Mr. Braden to the agreed-upon 22 years of imprisonment, with 3 years of mandatory supervised release and day-for-day credit for the time Mr. Braden had already been incarcerated.

         ¶ 6 The trial court then admonished Mr. Braden as follows:

"If you seek to challenge the sentence or any aspect of the sentencing hearing prior to taking an appeal, you must file in the trial court within 30 days of today's date a written motion asking the court to reconsider the sentence imposed or reconsider any challenges to the sentence hearing. You must set forth all of the reasons that you're challenging [the] sentencing hearing.
If the motion to reconsider your sentence is granted, a new sentence hearing will be conducted. Anything you fail to put in your written motion will be waived for all time.
In order to preserve your right to appeal your sentence or the sentencing hearing, you must file a notice of appeal with the Clerk of the Circuit Court within 30 days of the entry of the order disposing of your motion to reconsider.
You also have a right to a transcript of the proceedings of this case. If you cannot afford to pay because you are indigent, a copy of the transcript of the proceedings, as well as the services of an attorney will be provided to you free of charge.
Do you understand your appeal rights, sir?"

Mr. Braden indicated that he understood the trial court's admonishments, and his counsel confirmed with the trial court that Mr. Braden had served 1386 days in custody since his arrest, for which he would receive credit.

         ¶ 7 The trial court also signed an order assessing fines, fees, and costs, including a $5 electronic citation fee and a $250 DNA ID system fee, a $5 state police operations fee, a $25 court services (sheriff) fee, a $15 automation fee, a $15 document storage fee, a $2 public defender records automation fee, and a $2 state's attorney records automation fee.

         ¶ 8 On February 25, 2015, Mr. Braden filed a "Motion to Vacate Plea of Guilty, " with an accompanying certificate. In the motion, he stated that he pled guilty to murder, that he was sentenced to be incarcerated for 22 years, that his plea ought to be vacated because "the defendant's plea was involuntary because he was coerced, " and that he was indigent and desired the trial court to appoint counsel to represent him in the presentation of his motion. The motion includes the signature of the assistant public defender who had represented Mr. Braden throughout the proceedings in the trial court, Caroline Glennon, with the notation "for A" next to her signature. Below the signature is an unsigned affidavit of Mr. Braden. The motion has the date stamp of the clerk of the court.

         ¶ 9 The next page of the record is labeled "Rule 604(d) Certificate of Defense Counsel." It is unsigned and also has the February 25, 2015, date stamp of the clerk of the court. The certificate states as follows:

" 1. That I was the attorney of record for the defendant.
2. That I have consulted with Armon Braden, in person, by phone or via mail to ascertain his contentions of error in the entry of the guilty plea or in the sentence.
3. That pursuant to those consultations, I, in good faith prepared the attached motion to vacate the guilty plea after having examined the court file.
4. That a transcript of plea proceedings has been examined.
5. I have made any amendments to the motion necessary for adequate presentation of any defects in ...

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