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People v. Niffen

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

May 24, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINO Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOSEPH L. NIFFEN, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Adams County Nos. 11CF648 12CF175 Honorable Robert K. Adrian, Judge Presiding.

          CAVANAGH JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices DeArmond and Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          CAVANAGH JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Joseph L. Niffen, is serving a total of 39½ years' imprisonment for unlawful possession of a methamphetamine precursor (720 ILCS 646/20(a)(2)(E) (West 2012)) and anhydrous ammonia (720 ILCS 646/25(a)(1) (West 2010)). He appeals the summary dismissal of his pro se petition for postconviction relief (see 725 ILCS 5/122-2.1(a) (West 2014)) and the imposition of fines by the Adams County circuit clerk. We find arguable merit in one of the claims of his petition, and we hold that the clerk-imposed fines are void. Therefore, we reverse the summary dismissal, vacate the clerk-imposed fines, and remand this case for further proceedings.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On July 19, 2012, defendant entered a negotiated guilty plea to one count of unlawful possession of a methamphetamine precursor (720 ILCS 646/20(a)(2)(E) (West 2012)) in Adams County case No. 12-CF-175 and one count of unlawful possession of anhydrous ammonia (720 ILCS 646/25(a)(1) (West 2010)) in Adams County case No. 11-CF-648. The trial court sentenced him to consecutive terms of 15 years' imprisonment for the methamphetamine precursor and 24½ years' imprisonment for the anhydrous ammonia.

         ¶ 4 The written sentencing order also included the following: (1) "Court Costs, VCVA [(Violent Crime Victims Assistance)], and Penalties, " with no listed monetary denominations; (2) a "Crime Lab fee of $100.00" in both cases; (3) an "Assessment (per Cannabis/Controlled Substances Act) of $3000/$1000"; (4) $100 for "Meth"; (5) $5 for "Spinal Cord"; and (6) $1325 restitution.

         ¶ 5 Also, in "Payment Status Information" sheets in both cases, the circuit clerk imposed the following assessments: $50 for "Court, " $100 for "Violent Crime, " $10 for "Medical Costs, " $10 for "Lump Sum Surcharge, " $15 for "Child Advocacy Fee, " and $5 for "State Police Ops."

         ¶ 6 Defendant never filed a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. Nor did he take a direct appeal.

         ¶ 7 On July 13, 2015, defendant filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief. One of his claims was that, on approximately July 26, 2012, he wrote defense counsel a letter requesting that he file a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. (As we already have noted, no such motion ever was filed.) In a "Sworn Affidavit" attached to his petition, defendant stated:

"1. That while housed at the Graham Correctional Center I sent a letter to my retain [sic] counsel requesting that he fil[e] a [m]otion to withdraw my plea. That in the body of my letter I complained about the length of a sentence I had received[, ] telling my [a]ttorney that I would have one foot in the graveyard by the time I was released from prison. That also I told my [a]ttorney that the factual basis information was inaccurate and[, ] based upon my prior guilty pleas[, ] I thought it would be grounds for withdrawing my plea."

         ¶ 8 On October 2, 2015, by written order, the trial court summarily dismissed the postconviction petition. The court reasoned: "The *** issue concerning counsel's failure to file a timely motion to withdraw the guilty plea is without merit because [defendant] could have filed the motion pro se and been appointed counsel. Further, the motion[, ] even if filed[, ] would have been without merit."

         ¶ 9 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 10 A. The Three Stages of a ...


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