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People v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

June 25, 2019

DONTARRIES L. WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois, Circuit No. 15-CF-119 Honorable John P. Vespa, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE LYTTON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Schmidt and Justice Carter concurred with the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Defendant Dontarries L. Williams pled guilty to criminal sexual assault (720 ILCS 5/11-1.20(a)(2) (West 2014)) and was sentenced to 8 years in prison with a mandatory supervised release (MSR) term of three years to natural life. As a result of his conviction, he was required to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) (730 ILCS 150/1 et seq. (West 2016)). Within 30 days of sentencing, defendant filed a motion to withdraw his plea, which the circuit court denied. On appeal, he argues he should be allowed to withdraw his plea because (1) the trial court improperly considered the merits of his proposed defense in assessing his motion, (2) he did not understand the requirements and consequences of SORA when he entered into the plea, (3) counsel was ineffective in failing to advise him about the requirements of SORA, and (4) the trial court failed to adequately admonish him before accepting his plea. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 Defendant was charged by indictment with criminal sexual assault for knowingly committing an act of sexual penetration on Latoya Coffee by use of force or the threat of force on or about February 8, 2015. On the date of trial, the court informed defendant that, if he was convicted, he would be sentenced to a term of 4 to 15 years in prison. The court also informed defendant that at the end of his prison term he would "be placed on a period of mandatory supervised release [(MSR)], or what we used to call parole, for a period of at least two years, but it could be up to natural life. But that will be determined by authorities of the Department of Corrections and other relevant authorities before your release." The prosecutor reminded the court that the minimum term of MSR was 3 years. The court then corrected its earlier statement and informed defendant that MSR would be "[t]hree years to natural life."

         ¶ 3 Following jury selection, public defender William Loeffel informed the court that the parties had negotiated a plea agreement. Loeffel stated that defendant agreed to plead guilty to criminal sexual assault, with a recommended sentence of eight years and "three years to life mandatory supervised release at the discretion of the Department of Corrections." The court then admonished defendant as follows:

"If you did not have a plea agreement, in other words if you went to trial and lost and let the judge decide, you would face the following sentencing range: This is a nonprobational offense so it would have to be a minimum prison sentence of 4 years. It would not exceed 15 years. You would be serving 85 percent and parole, or, mandatory supervised release, at the end, would be three years to life. It would not determine how much until the end of your sentence. You understand that's what you could have faced."

         Defendant acknowledged the court's statement and said that he understood. The trial court did not admonish defendant that he was required to register as a sexual offender under SORA.

         ¶ 4 The prosecutor provided the factual basis for the plea, which showed that Coffee provided a statement indicating that defendant sexually assaulted her by force on February 8, 2015. Within hours of the attack, Coffee went to the hospital, where a rape kit was collected. She also identified defendant as her attacker. A buccal swab collected from the defendant matched the DNA analysis of the sperm collected during Coffee's examination.

         ¶ 5 The court accepted the plea agreement and sentenced defendant to eight years in prison. The written sentencing order noted that defendant was subject to "3 years to life Mandatory Supervised Release (parole)," and a box next to "[s]ex offender registration pursuant to statute" was also checked.

         ¶ 6 Within 30 days, defendant filed a pro se motion to withdraw his plea and vacate judgment. Defendant alleged that Loeffel provided ineffective assistance of counsel by (1) failing to discuss or acknowledge defendant's options to prepare for a better defense, (2) rushing defendant to take a plea because Loeffel was not prepared for trial, and (3) failing to present a witness whose testimony would have changed the outcome of the case. Defendant asked for leave to withdraw his plea and for the court to appoint new counsel.

         ¶ 7 At the hearing on defendant's motion, Loeffel presented a motion stating that defendant had raised claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and asking the court to review them under People v. Krankel, 102 Ill.2d 181 (1984). During the hearing, Loeffel acknowledged that defendant's pro se motion alleged that he was ineffective and suggested that another attorney be appointed to review the allegations. In response to the court's questioning, defendant expressed his frustration with the guilty plea process and affirmed that he wished to withdraw his plea. He stated, "I just kind of feel like the negotiation process didn't go-wasn't a two way, and I didn't kind of understand everything, you know, didn't explain everything to me. I feel like that I was just kind of left in the blind about certain things." At the conclusion of defendant's testimony, the court assigned new counsel and ordered a transcript of the plea hearing.

         ¶ 8 Newly appointed counsel filed a motion to withdraw defendant's plea. The motion alleged that Loeffel was ineffective and that defendant felt compelled to plead guilty due to Loeffel's deficient representation. The motion claimed that Loeffel (1) failed to request a continuance to obtain Facebook evidence of a conversation defendant had with Coffee hours after the alleged attack and (2) failed to contact defendant's caseworker, Ron Valle, who had access to defendant's Facebook account. Defendant claimed the conversation would have demonstrated that he had consensual intercourse with Coffee. The motion also claimed that defendant's plea was not knowing and voluntary because Loeffel did not explain the terms of MSR to defendant.

         ¶ 9 At the hearing on the motion, counsel stated that he tried to obtain the Facebook information to present to the court as proof of a meritorious defense but was unable to do so because the account had been erased. He acknowledged that defendant had been properly admonished regarding MSR but argued that defendant did not understand that the department could keep him in prison for life if he was unable to obtain approved housing.

         ¶ 10 Defendant testified that he would not have pled guilty but for Loeffel's ineffective representation. He stated that he asked Loeffel to obtain the messages from his Facebook account before trial but Loeffel failed to do so. When Loeffel was unable to get the Facebook messages, defendant asked him to request a continuance, and Loeffel refused. Defendant also noted that he did not understand the effect the sex offender registration would have on his MSR term when he accepted the plea:

"[Loeffel] explained to me that everybody that would be charged would get this and that after I come out that I could be on parole for life. That's all he said, was that everybody gets it and after I get out I could have life on parole, that once a sex offender, always a sex offender."

         ¶ 11 Defendant admitted that the court admonished him that the MSR term was three years to life. But he testified that he did not understand that he could remain in prison indefinitely if he was unable to find suitable housing as a registered sex offender. He stated that, had he known about the practical effects of the MSR term, he would have gone to trial.

         ¶ 12 On cross-examination, defendant recalled being shown a picture of Coffee. He told the officers that he did not remember her and that he was in a relationship with another woman. When asked if he had sex with her, he said that he did not know the victim and that he did not have sex with her. Defendant admitted that he was now, at the motion to withdraw hearing, admitting that he had sex with Coffee. He testified that his statement to police that he did not know the victim or have sex with her was a misunderstanding. He also admitted that he did not remember the Facebook messages when he spoke with officers two weeks after the incident.

         ¶ 13 On redirect, defendant stated that he would not have pled guilty had Loeffel obtained the Facebook communications and if he had understood that he potentially could remain in prison indefinitely under his MSR term.

         ¶ 14 The trial court then questioned defendant. The court asked defendant how he met the victim, and he said that she reached out to him through a Facebook request on his cell phone. Defendant then informed the court that he did not have his cell phone with him when he spoke with police a few weeks after the incident and that he no longer had possession of it. Defendant said he met with his social worker, Ron Valle, and he told him about the Facebook messages. Valle followed up and told ...

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