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People v. Nelson

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

August 28, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
WILLIAM J. NELSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 14-CF-1063 Honorable John J. Kinsella, Judge, Presiding.

          James E. Chadd, Thomas A. Lilien, and Andrew Smith, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Elgin, for appellant.

          Robert B. Berlin, State's Attorney, of Wheaton (Lisa Anne Hoffman and Edward R. Psenicka, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

          JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hutchinson and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          SCHOSTOK JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, William J. Nelson, had a daughter with Heather Pittman. Pittman obtained an order of protection against defendant that prohibited him from, among other things, sending mail to Pittman. After defendant sent letters to his daughter at Pittman's address, he was found guilty of violating the order of protection (720 ILCS 5/12-3.4(a)(1)(i) (West 2014)), and he was sentenced to concurrent terms of six years' imprisonment. At issue on appeal is whether defendant was denied his right to present a defense when the court barred him from presenting testimony from two attorneys who had told him that sending letters to his daughter would not violate the order of protection. Because at least parts of some of the letters clearly indicate that defendant sent the letters to communicate with Pittman and not his daughter, barring the evidence was not improper. Thus, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 After Pittman became pregnant with defendant's child, defendant began acting violently toward her, and she obtained an order of protection. That order of protection "ordered [defendant] to stay at least 1000 feet away from the residence of [Pittman] and/or protected person(s), and their residence, school, daycare, employment and any other specified place." Immediately underneath this provision, the order of protection provided a definition for "stay away." Specifically, the order of protection indicated that:

" 'Stay Away' means for the [defendant] to refrain from both physical presence and non-physical contact with [Pittman] whether direct, or indirect (including, but not limited to, telephone calls, mail, email, faxes, and written notes), or through third parties who may or may not know about the Order of Protection."

         Nothing in the order of protection prohibited defendant from having contact with his infant daughter.

         ¶ 4 Defendant asserted that, after the order of protection was entered, he sent a letter to "Chief Public Defender Robert York" and "explicitly" asked him, "Am I breaking the law by sending anything to my daughter?" According to defendant, York said, "[N]o, you are not until she is named in an Order of Protection." A week later, defendant asked "Ms. Nevdal" when he saw her in the hallway, "Am I breaking the law by sending anything to my daughter?" According to defendant, Nevdal replied, "No, you are not."[1]

         ¶ 5 Thereafter, defendant sent numerous letters to Pittman's home that were addressed to his infant daughter. Four of these letters are included in the record on appeal. In these letters, defendant asked Pittman for pictures of his daughter, professed his love for his daughter and Pittman, delineated some stories involving Pittman's drug use, hoped that Pittman would seek drug-addiction treatment, sought revenge against Pittman's ex-boyfriend to whom Pittman allegedly lent money, questioned his daughter's paternity, delineated conversations he and Pittman had about their sex life, and described how he might have sexually assaulted Pittman. Included in one letter was a pamphlet on sexually transmitted diseases and information on sending money through Western Union.

         ¶ 6 Before trial, defendant advised the court that he was going to seek a mistake-of-law defense. In doing so, defendant wished to present evidence that the two attorneys told him that sending letters to his infant daughter would not violate the terms of the order of protection. Defendant never presented a formal offer of proof concerning to what the two attorneys would testify. Rather, through counsel, he simply indicated repeatedly that "before sending these letters [to his daughter], [defendant] was advised by Mr. York and Ms. Nevdal of the Public Defender's Office that it was legal to do so."

         ¶ 7 In response, the State filed a motion in limine to bar defendant from presenting a mistake-of-law defense. The State claimed that evidence concerning what York and Nevdal told defendant was irrelevant, because "[n]owhere does the [violation of an order of protection] statute state a requirement that the defendant must have knowledge that his act will be a violation of the order." The State contended that all it needed to prove was that "defendant knowingly commit[ted] the act and that he ha[d] notice of the contents of the order of protection." Although the court allowed defendant to testify about his knowledge with regard ...


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