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People v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

May 17, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JAMES E. HARRIS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County, Illinois, Circuit No. 96-CF-1070Honorable Thomas C. Berglund, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE WRIGHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McDade and O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          WRIGHT JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, James E. Harris, appeals from the trial court's denial of his motion to reconsider sentence. Defendant argues the court abused its discretion when it denied his motion because defendant presented evidence of severe health problems that warranted a reduction in his sentence. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 In December 1996, the State charged defendant with two counts of armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18-2 (West 1996)). Both counts were Class X felonies. The evidence at defendant's jury trial established that, on December 16, 1996, at 11 p.m., defendant robbed a Clark gas station in East Moline. Defendant held a knife to the clerk's side and told the clerk to open the cash register. Defendant absconded with $30 from the cash register. Two and a half hours later, at 1:30 a.m. on December 17, 1996, defendant robbed a Clark gas station in Moline. Defendant held a knife to the gas station clerk's chest and demanded money. The clerk gave defendant $50 from the cash register. The jury found defendant guilty of both offenses.

         ¶ 4 Defendant's presentence investigation report (PSI) stated defendant was then 44 years of age. Defendant's health was then "all right, " but defendant was suffering from headaches and had previously undergone surgery on his back.

         ¶ 5 The PSI also established that defendant had an extensive criminal history. Defendant's criminal history included three prior felony convictions, seven prior misdemeanor convictions, and multiple traffic offenses. Defendant committed the three prior felony convictions over the course of three days, between December 16 and 18, 1990. During this period, defendant obtained money from three different store clerks by splashing gasoline on the store counter and threatening to light it on fire. On April 10, 1991, defendant pled guilty to the three armed robbery charges, and the court sentenced defendant to 12 years' imprisonment. Defendant was released from prison on June 17, 1996, and placed on parole. Less than six months from his parole date, defendant committed the two armed robberies at issue in this case.

         ¶ 6 On March 17, 1997, Judge Donald O'Shea conducted a sentencing hearing. The State argued, from defendant's PSI, that defendant's criminal history warranted a lengthy sentence. Defense counsel argued that defendant would be at an advanced age when he was released from prison. Counsel estimated that defendant would be 50 years old upon release if the court imposed a 10-year sentence, and if the court imposed a 20-year sentence, defendant would be 60 years old at the time of release. The court clarified that defendant was then 44 years old.

         ¶ 7 In his ruling, Judge O'Shea found, in aggravation, that defendant had an extensive criminal history, including his three prior armed robbery convictions. Defendant's armed robbery convictions made "protection of the public *** a high priority." Defendant also demonstrated a lack of rehabilitative potential and a complete lack of remorse. Judge O'Shea sentenced defendant to two concurrent terms of 50 years' imprisonment. Defense counsel did not file a motion to reconsider the sentence imposed by the trial court.

         ¶ 8 On November 8, 2005, defendant filed a motion for leave to file the successive postconviction petition that gave rise to this appeal. The motion asserted that defendant received ineffective assistance of trial counsel due to counsel's failure to file a timely motion to reconsider sentence. The court denied the motion. On appeal, we remanded the cause for compliance with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 651(c) (eff. Dec. 1, 1984). People v. Harris, No. 3-06-0103 (2007) (unpublished order under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23).

         ¶ 9 On remand, defense counsel filed an amended motion for leave to file a successive postconviction petition and a compliant Rule 651(c) certificate. The amended motion once again asserted that trial counsel was ineffective because counsel did not file a timely motion to reconsider the sentence imposed by Judge O'Shea.

         ¶ 10 Judge Walter Braud granted defendant leave to file a successive postconviction petition. On May 11, 2015, following defendant's filing of the successive petition, Judge Braud granted postconviction relief and allowed defendant to file a motion to reconsider the sentence.

         ¶ 11 In his 2015 motion to reconsider the sentence imposed in 1997, defendant claimed Judge O'Shea failed to consider defendant's "relatively advanced age" of 44 years when determining his sentence. Defendant also requested a reduction in the length of time remaining on his 50-year sentence on the grounds that defendant was no ...


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