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People v. Bell

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

March 30, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
EARNEST MAURICE BELL, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of McLean County No. 14CF732 Honorable Robert L. Freitag, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holder White and Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          KNECHT JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Following a September 2015 bench trial, defendant, Earnest Maurice Bell, was convicted of two counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a church, two counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, one count of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver within 1000 feet of a church, and one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver and sentenced to three concurrent terms of 22 years' imprisonment. In October 2015, defendant filed a pro se motion alleging, in part, he was provided ineffective assistance by his trial counsel. At a December 2015 hearing, the trial court did not inquire into defendant's complaint about his counsel's performance.

         ¶ 2 Defendant appeals, arguing this court should (1) remand the matter because the trial court failed to conduct an inquiry into his pro se posttrial claim of ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) remand for a new trial and fitness hearing because the court failed to sua sponte order, and/or his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to request, a fitness evaluation when a bona fide doubt existed as to his fitness at the time of trial; (3) remand for a new trial because his right to due process and his right to confront witnesses were violated when his trial was held without him; (4) reverse his convictions for possession with intent to deliver because the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt he had either actual or constructive possession of the discovered drugs; and (5) reduce his sentence or remand for a new sentencing hearing because his sentence is excessive in light of his mental illness and history of drug addiction.

         ¶ 3 Under People v. Krankel, 102 Ill.2d 181, 464 N.E.2d 1045 (1984), and its progeny, we remand the matter for the trial court to conduct an inquiry into defendant's pro se posttrial claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. As a result, we do not reach defendant's other claims.

         ¶ 4 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 A. Indictment

         ¶ 6 In June 2014, the State charged defendant by indictment with unlawful delivery of a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a church (720 ILCS 570/407(b)(2) (West 2012)) (count I), unlawful delivery of a controlled substance (id. § 401(d)) (count II), unlawful delivery of a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a church (id. § 407(b)(1)) (count III), unlawful delivery of a controlled substance (id. § 401(c)(2)) (count IV), unlawful delivery of a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a church (id. § 407(b)(1)) (count V), unlawful delivery of a controlled substance (id. § 401(c)(2)) (count VI), unlawful possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver within 1000 feet of a church (id. § 407(b)(1)) (count VII), and unlawful possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver (id. § 401(c)(2)) (count VIII). The State later nol-prossed counts I and II.

         ¶ 7 B. Bench Trial

         ¶ 8 On September 11, 2015, the trial court held a scheduled bench trial. Prior to commencing the trial, the court held a discussion on the record with defense counsel and the prosecuting attorney. Defendant was not present but rather remained in a holding cell. Defense counsel indicated defendant was "agitated, " "very upset, " and "expressed that he was going to hurt himself" because counsel was unwilling to present a defense that counsel found to have no basis in law. The court elicited comment from the supervising sergeant of court security, who explained defendant was "hitting the walls, " "kicking the door, " "demanding to go downstairs back to the jail, " and "saying he's not coming into the courtroom." The court indicated it would recess to allow defense counsel to speak with defendant about his right to be present during trial.

         ¶ 9 After speaking with defendant, defense counsel returned to the courtroom, and the trial court continued a discussion on the record. Defendant remained in a holding cell. Defense counsel indicated he explained to defendant his right to be present at trial, to which defendant "repeatedly said he didn't understand and he intended to harm himself." Defense counsel noted defendant's agitation began that morning after counsel refused defendant's request to present a "police misconduct defense." The prosecutor noted defendant had not acted out in court previously and had no jail disciplinary reports. Defense counsel further noted defendant had "always been civil up until this morning." The supervising sergeant noted he witnessed defendant with defense counsel and saw defendant knot a shirt around his own neck and attempt to flush the shirt in a toilet. The court found it would be appropriate for it to take additional measures to explain to defendant, on the record, of his right to be present at trial.

         ¶ 10 The trial court convened a hearing outside the holding cell with defense counsel, the prosecuting attorney, defendant, a court reporter, and court security. The court explained to defendant why he was going to trial and his right to be present, to which defendant maintained he did not understand. Defendant asserted "[t]he police department is trying to set me up" and "trying to kill me." Defendant repeatedly stated he did not understand why he was being charged and why he was going to trial. Defendant then sat on the floor in the back of the holding cell and refused to answer the court's question about waiving his right to be present at trial. The court found defendant had been fully admonished regarding his right to be present during his trial and his inappropriate behavior constituted a waiver of that right.

         ¶ 11 Back in the courtroom, the trial court continued the discussion on the record. With respect to the need for a fitness hearing, the court noted it had "numerous occasions" to interact with defendant during the case. The court found it did not have a bona fide doubt as to defendant's fitness. It believed "defendant is simply being uncooperative, and for whatever reason[, ] he has chosen to do so." Defense counsel noted he and defendant had communicated "very well" and defendant became agitated only after their disagreement that morning. Defense counsel believed defendant was "fit to stand trial, " and he "detected nothing to indicate" defendant did not understand the questions posed from ...


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