Counsel has no duty to advise on availability of good-time credit because it is collateral consequence of plea (People v. La Pointe, 2015 IL App (2d) 130451)

People v. La Pointe, 2015 IL App (2d) 130451 (March 27, 2015) Du Page Co. Affirmed. La Pointe was charged with first-degree murder (under two different theories) and armed robbery for allegedly robbing and killing a taxi cab driver in March of 1978. Defendant entered into a partially negotiated plea agreement only a few months later where he plead open to the first-degree murder charge only. There was no agreement as to sentence. The Court imposed a life sentence following the sentencing hearing, finding that the murder was accompanied by exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty under Ill. Rev. Stat., 1978 Supp., ch. 38, ¶ 1005-8-1(a)(1), the sentencing scheme in place at the time. The defendant appealed.

The second district appellate court vacated the defendant’s life sentence and reduced his prison time to 60 years, having held that the trial court erred by finding that the defendant’s conduct was accompanied by exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty, such that a life sentence was warranted under ¶ 1005-8-1(a)(1). However, the second district was reversed by the Illinois Supreme Court, which held that defendant’s life sentence was appropriate under ¶ 1005-8-1(a)(1) in light of the pre-meditated and deliberate nature of the crime and defendant’s callous and unremorseful behavior following it.

La Pointe then filed a post-conviction petition in 2002, claiming that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to inform him that he could receive good-time credit if he accepted the State’s 40-year offer; that trial counsel failed to explain to him the effect that ¶ 1005-8-1(a)(1) could have on his sentence; and that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to bring up trial counsel’s failure to file post-judgment motions. The trial court dismissed the petition and the appellate court affirmed. La Pointe then filed a successive post-conviction arguing a variation of this theme. This, too, was denied and affirmed on appeal. The Illinois Supreme Court then vacated the second district’s judgment and granted leave for defendant to file a successive petition limited to “the issue of whether trial counsel was ineffective in failing to file a motion to withdraw defendant’s guilty plea” listed in letter written to counsel after sentencing. Defendant’s successive petition again argued a variation of his original claims—namely, that he was misadvised on good-time credit and the applicability of ¶ 1005-8-1(a)(1), and that counsel was ineffective for failing to file post-judgment motions. The defendant’s petition was denied at third-stage after a full evidentiary hearing. La Pointe appealed, which resulted in this decision.

La Pointe argued on appeal “that the trial court erred in denying his petition, because he proved that Simpson had rendered ineffective assistance in two respects: (1) failing to advise defendant that, if he accepted the State’s plea offer, he would be eligible for day-for-day good- conduct credit against the proposed 40-year sentence; and (2) erroneously advising defendant that the absence of any evidence that his offense was accompanied by exceptionally brutal or heinous conduct meant that he could not be sentenced to more than 40 years for first-degree murder.” ¶ 67.

The trial court disagreed with the defendant on both grounds. It held that because the award of day-for-day credit is not a “direct consequence” of the guilty plea (because it was something that would later be awarded by the Illinois DOC), trial counsel had no obligation to advise him that he would be eligible for day-for-day credit. Therefore, the “performance” prong of the Strickland test was not satisfied because counsel had no duty to advise on this issue. As to the second claim, the court found that defendant did not meet the “performance” prong of the Strickland because trial counsel was only offering his “opinion” that defendant’s offense conduct did not amount to “exceptionally brutal or heinous conduct” such that he would not be sentenced more than 40 years. “A defense attorney’s honest assessment of a defendant’s case cannot be the basis for a finding of ineffectiveness.” ¶ 87, citing People v. Wilson, 295 Ill. App. 3d 228, 237 (1998); People v. Bien, 277 Ill. App. 3d 744, 751 (1996).

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