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.
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)
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
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
9 II. ANALYSIS
10 A. The Three Stages of a ...