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People v. Harrison

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

April 20, 2018

WILLIE HARRISON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 13th Judicial Circuit, La Salle County, Illinois. Appeal No. 3-15-0419 Circuit No. 13-CF-158 Honorable Cynthia M. Raccuglia, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE SCHMIDT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holdridge and Lytton concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Defendant, Willie Harrison, appeals from the third-stage dismissal of his postconviction petition. He argues that his waiver of postconviction counsel was invalid because the trial court failed to admonish him pursuant to Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975). We affirm.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 In August 2013, pursuant to a fully negotiated guilty plea, the court sentenced defendant to 16 years' imprisonment for the unlawful possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver (720 ILCS 570/401(c)(2) (West 2012)). Although the offense itself is a Class 1 felony, defendant's criminal history required a Class X sentence.

         ¶ 4 In September 2013, defendant filed a timely motion to withdraw his guilty plea and vacate his sentence. Subsequently, he voluntarily dismissed this motion.

         ¶ 5 In August 2014, defendant filed a pro se postconviction petition raising various claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The trial court appointed postconviction counsel to represent defendant on his petition.

         ¶ 6 At an April 2015 hearing, postconviction counsel informed the trial court that defendant wished to proceed pro se on his petition. The court then addressed defendant stating, "This is a crucial stage of your proceedings in post conviction, and I need to know why you think you are capable of handling the complex issues in a post conviction proceeding." Defendant responded that he had been asking postconviction counsel "to do stuff" for seven months but counsel told him he was unable to get in contact with the witnesses defendant asked him to seek out. Counsel then informed the court that defendant "is seeking to have another person admit that the drugs that were found that he was charged with and that he pled guilty to were in fact another person's, " but that counsel had spoken with the two people defendant asked him to contact and neither knew where "Mr. Finny" was. Defendant next informed the court that he wished to represent himself on his claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel because his trial attorney, whose performance he was attacking, was postconviction counsel's boss. The court then announced it would let defendant proceed pro se.

         ¶ 7 At the June 2015 evidentiary hearing, defendant questioned his trial counsel on the stand. Following arguments, the trial court denied the postconviction petition, finding that defendant failed to meet his burden of showing trial counsel's performance was ineffective.

         ¶ 8 This appeal followed.

         ¶ 9 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 10 Defendant argues that the trial court's failure to properly admonish him pursuant to Faretta, 422 U.S. 806, rendered his waiver of postconviction counsel invalid. Defendant also asserts that "[a]dmonishments regarding the potential punishment, required by [Illinois Supreme Court] Rule 401(a) [(eff. July 1, 1984), ] in the trial context, should likewise be required in post[ ]conviction proceedings where the defendant faces the possibility of a new trial."

         ¶ 11 We begin by noting that a postconviction petitioner has a right to represent himself in postconviction proceedings. People v. Heard, 2014 IL App (4th) 120833, ¶ 10 (citing 725 ILCS 5/122-4 (West 2010)). In fact, a court must accept a defendant's knowing and intelligent request to proceed pro se provided that the waiver is clear and unequivocal, not ambiguous. People v. Baez, 241 Ill.2d 44, 115-116 (2011) (citing Faretta, 422 U.S. at 835, and People v. Burton, 184 Ill.2d 1, 21 (1998)). In determining whether a defendant has intelligently waived his right to counsel, a court must consider the particular facts and circumstances of defendant's case, including his background, experience, and conduct. People v. Lego, 168 Ill.2d 561, 564-65 (1995). We review a trial court's decision regarding a defendant's waiver of his right to counsel for an abuse of discretion. Baez, 241 Ill.2d at 116. An abuse of discretion exists only where the ruling is "arbitrary, fanciful, unreasonable, or where no reasonable person would ...

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