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People v. Lawson

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

August 28, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DUSTIN J. LAWSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County No. 14CF602 The Honorable Nancy S. Fahey Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: James E. Chadd, John M. McCarthy, and Mariah K. Shaver, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Springfield, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Patrick Delfino, David J. Robinson, and Allison Paige Brooks, of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of Springfield, for the People.

          JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Knecht and Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          STEIGMANN JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In December 2014, the State charged defendant, Dustin J. Lawson, with one count of armed robbery and one count of attempt (armed robbery). 720 ILCS 5/8-4(a), 18-2(a)(1) (West 2012). Following defendant's conviction and sentence, defendant appealed to this court raising numerous issues. In pertinent part, defendant argued that the trial court failed to conduct a Krankel inquiry into his pro se claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. See People v. Krankel, 102 Ill.2d 181 464 N.E.2d 1045 (1984). This court agreed and remanded for a Krankel hearing. People v. Lawson, 2017 IL App (4th) 150590-U, ¶ 29. On remand, the trial court declined to appoint new counsel because it concluded that "the matters were of trial strategy and that there's no merit to the allegations."

         ¶ 2 Defendant appeals, arguing in pertinent part that the trial court erred by not appointing him new counsel. The State argues that (1) this court lacks jurisdiction and (2) defendant was not entitled to new counsel.

         ¶ 3 We conclude that (1) this court has jurisdiction and (2) defendant was entitled to new counsel because his allegations could support a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 6; People v. Roddis, 2018 IL App (4th) 170605, ¶ 77, 119 N.E.3d 52. Accordingly, we remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 4 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 A. Defendant's Trial

         ¶ 6 In December 2014, the State charged defendant with one count of armed robbery and one count of attempt (armed robbery). 720 ILCS 5/8-4(a), 18-2(a)(1) (West 2012). At defendant's jury trial, the State's evidence consisted primarily of Leroy Harmon's testimony. Harmon, the clerk working at Walgreens on the night of the alleged robbery, testified that on December 6, 2014, defendant approached him, displayed a knife, and demanded money from the cash register. Harmon stated that defendant ran out of the store because he was unable to open the cash register. Harmon also testified that he did not know defendant and had never seen him prior to this incident. Ultimately, the jury found defendant guilty of both counts.

         ¶ 7 B. The Pro Se Claims

         ¶ 8 Prior to his sentencing hearing, defendant mailed a letter to the trial court, claiming that he and Harmon knew each other and that Harmon lied at trial. Defendant stated that Craig Sullivan had introduced him to Harmon in October 2014. Defendant further stated that he and Harmon had spoken many times since then. Defendant further claimed that he informed his attorney about this before trial but that counsel replied that it was counsel's decision to determine what evidence to present and he chose not to present this evidence.

         ¶ 9 In May 2015, the trial court conducted a sentencing hearing. At this hearing, defendant informed the trial court that his attorney told him, "[S]ometimes you must plead guilty to things you don't do." Defendant repeated his assertion that he knew Harmon and that Harmon had lied at trial. Defendant stated that he made "the biggest mistake of [his] life" by not testifying on his own behalf.

         ¶ 10 The trial court did not inquire further into defendant's claims and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

         ¶ 11 C. Defendant's First Appeal

         ¶ 12 In defendant's first appeal, he raised numerous arguments. As relevant here, defendant argued that the trial court failed to conduct a Krankel hearing about his pro se claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The State conceded that the trial court should have conducted a Krankel hearing and agreed that the case should be remanded.

         ¶ 13 In December 2017, this court accepted the State's concession and remanded the case for a Krankel hearing. Lawson, 2017 IL App (4th) 150590-U, ¶¶ 21, 29-31. Due to this limited remand, this court declined to address defendant's other arguments because, "[d]epending on the result of the Krankel hearing, those other issues may become moot." Id. ¶ 29. This court did not explicitly state that it was retaining jurisdiction to review the proceedings following remand. See id. ¶¶ 29-31.

         ¶ 14 D. The Proceedings on Remand

         ¶ 15 In June 2018, the trial court on remand conducted a Krankel hearing. Defendant's trial attorney was also present. At the hearing, the following exchange occurred between defendant and the trial court:

"THE COURT: Okay. So you've raised the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel and I'm just gonna let you tell me what these attorneys in your mind did not do correctly.
THE DEFENDANT: One of my biggest issues was towards trial, before we started trial I did bring up that I had a witness that was willing to testify against the witness, the only witness on this case, and I believe I had this conversation with [my attorney]. At the time he told me that he thought there would be other ways to attack the witness's credibility, thus being that my witness had a background. My argument was my witness was related through not marriage but his sister has children with the victim's brother and he introduced me to the victim months beforehand the incident even happened. My argument was if he was willing to lie about that, the foundation of everything, then what else was he willing to lie about? So when I brought it up to [my attorney], he told me, like I said, you know, we have other ways to attack credibility. That never happened. You know, I had the statements written up, Your Honor. ***
THE COURT: Okay.
THE DEFENDANT: You know, was I ignorant to the law? Yeah, I didn't really know a lot of ...

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