The original intent of Supreme Court Rule 604(d) was to reduce the large number of appeals being taken from guilty pleas.1 Instead, reviewing courts have been beset with such appeals in the wake of Rule 604(d). Issues regarding application of the Rule itself have resulted in numerous and sometimes contradictory appellate decisions. This article will discuss some of those decisions and their practical application.
Rule 604(d) requires certain procedural steps in the trial court before a criminal defendant may appeal the judgment entered after a plea of guilty. The Rule provides, in pertinent part:
No appeal from a judgment entered upon a plea of guilty shall be taken unless the defendant, within 30 days of the date on which sentence is imposed, files in the trial court a motion to reconsider the sentence, if only the sentence is being challenged, or, if the plea is being challenged, a motion to withdraw his plea of guilty and vacate the judgment.2
Only where a trial court denies a motion to withdraw plea or reconsider sentence may a defendant appeal. This procedure affords the trial court the opportunity to correct any errors before the appeal process begins. On its face, the Rule was straight forward and seemingly applied to all guilty plea cases—until the Supreme Court case of People v. Evans.3
In Evans, defendants Evans and Meeks entered fully negotiated pleas of guilty in two unrelated cases. In both cases the State agreed to a specific sentence and also dismissed other charges. Both defendants filed timely motions in the trial court to reduce their sentences which were denied. Ultimately, their appeals were consolidated in the Illinois Supreme Court, which agreed to consider the application of Rule 604(d) to fully negotiated guilty pleas.
The Evans defendants contended that the language of the Rule, as well as earlier Supreme Court decisions, clearly allows any defendant who enters a guilty plea to file a motion to reconsider sentence without moving to vacate the guilty plea. The Court applied contract law principles to the negotiated pleas and found, "the defendants are seeking to hold the State to its part of the bargain while unilaterally modifying the sentences to which they had earlier agreed."4 Under Evans, a defendant wishing to challenge only the sentence imposed after a negotiated guilty plea must first move to withdraw the guilty plea and vacate the judgment.5 Where such a motion is granted, the parties are returned to the status quo before the plea offer was accepted.6 Therefore, the motion to reconsider sentence provisions of Rule 604(b) apply only to open or blind guilty pleas.7 After the Evans decision the application of 604(d) still seemed rather uncomplicated. That is until the courts began grappling with differentiating between negotiated pleas and open pleas.
The Linder Case
In People v. Linder8 the Supreme Court consolidated for review two successive but contrary Second District rulings involving defendants Linder and Rice. Linder entered a plea of guilty to one count each of armed robbery and aggravated vehicular hijacking. In exchange the State dismissed other related charges and agreed not to seek a sentence in excess of 15 years imprisonment. The court sentenced the defendant to 11 years. Defendant Rice pled guilty to four counts of burglary. The State agreed to drop seven other burglary counts and recommend a maximum sentence of six years. Rice received a sentence of five years imprisonment. Both defendants filed motions to reconsider their sentences in the trial court and appealed after the motions were denied.
In Linder, the first Second District panel distinguished Evans because, the Linder trial court had retained some discretion in imposing sentence.9 Accordingly, it construed Rule 604(d) to allow an appeal of a sentence without first moving to vacate the guilty plea. In Rice, a different Second District panel reached the opposite conclusion and extended Evans to cases involving agreed sentencing caps.10 The Supreme Court adopted the Rice panel rationale and held:
Where the sentence imposed is within the agreed upon cap, as the sentences here were, allowing the defendant to seek reconsideration of his sentence without also moving to withdraw his guilty plea unfairly binds the State to the terms of the plea agreement while giving the defendant the opportunity the avoid or modify those terms.11
Simply put, part of the defendant’s bargain in this situation is agreeing not to challenge any sentence imposed within the agreed cap as being excessive.12
In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Freeman observed that the Supreme and Appellate Courts had been beset with appeals concerning the application of the Rule and suggested the Court’s previous opinions had provided inadequate guidance.13 In attempting to provide this needed guidance, he described four distinct scenarios that arise when a defendant pleads guilty:
1. The "blind" plea;
2. The "negotiated as to charge" plea;
3. The "negotiated as to charge and/or sentence" plea; and
4. The "fully" negotiated plea.14
The "negotiated as to charge" plea describes a situation where (1) a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for the State’s dismissal of other charges;15 or (2) where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a reduced or lesser charge.16 Since the trial court exercises full discretion in imposing a sentence, just as in a "blind" plea where there is no agreement between the parties, Justice Freeman stated a defendant may seek a reduction of only the sentence without running afoul of Evans.17
The "negotiated as to charge and/or sentence" occurs where a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for the State’s dismissal of charges and recommendation of a sentencing cap or range.18 The opinion holds that this is similar to a "fully" negotiated plea because the State is barred from arguing for the full range of penalties.19 Here, Chief Justice Freeman suggests that the existence of a sentencing concession triggers Evans and a defendant may not move to reduce a sentence imposed within the agreed range without first moving to vacate the guilty plea.20 Notwithstanding Justice Freeman’s effort to clarify these 604(d) issues, Appellate Courts have continued to struggle with distinguishing between negotiated and blind pleas.
The Second District Appellate Court was one of the earliest and most active arenas for post-Linder analysis beginning with People v. Knowles.21 Defendant Knowles was charged with delivery of a controlled substance, a Class X offense punishable by 12 to 50 years in the penitentiary. Pursuant to an agreement with the State he entered a blind plea of guilty to a Class 1 delivery and received a four year sentence. When his motion to reconsider sentence was denied in the trial court he appealed. Even though this was the type of plea described by the concurrence in Linder as "negotiated as to charge" and subject to a motion to reconsider, a divided Second District held this to be a negotiated plea. In finding that the State had made a sentencing concession Justice Thomas wrote, "even though the agreement did not specifically provide a sentence or a cap on a sentence, the agreement did present sentencing possibilities to the defendant that were not available to the defendant under the original indictment."22 Justice McLaren, writing in dissent, declined to extend Evans and Linder to a situation where, "neither an agreement nor a discussion as to sentence was ever broached."23
Ten days later Justice McLaren authored the majority opinion in People v. Wyatt.24 In Defendant Wyatt pled guilty to burglary and escape in exchange for the State’s dismissal of a theft charge and promise to forgo prosecution on other charges. Here the defendant was allowed to seek appellate review of his sentence after his motion to reconsider sentence was denied in the trial court. The Court held that a defendant is not required to withdraw his guilty plea in the absence of some agreement as to sentence, even when there is an agreement to reduce or dismiss charges.25
In People v. Mast,26 a different Second District panel agreed with Wyatt and adopted the reasoning of the Knowles dissent. The defendant in Mast was charged with twelve counts of reckless homicide. He entered a blind plea of guilty to one count in exchange for the dismissal of the remaining counts. The Court held that under these facts the defendant could properly move to reconsider his sentence as this was not a negotiated plea.
Indeed, a similar fact situation was presented in the recent Supreme Court case of People v. Lumzy.27 Defendant Lumzy entered a blind plea to the offense of robbery in exchange for the State’s dismissal of an aggravated battery charge. Again the Court rejected the argument that this was a negotiated plea. The Court held that the State and defendant were free to argue for any sentence provided for in the Code of Corrections.28
Even though both Wyatt and Mast expressly disagree with Knowles, it can be argued that Knowles still controls certain pleas in the Second District. In Knowles the State agreed to reduce the charge in exchange for the defendant’s plea of guilty to that reduced charge. Wyatt, Mast and now Lumzy dealt with a defendant’s plea of guilt in exchange for the State’s dismissal of the same or lesser charges. Where charges are reduced, or greater charges are dismissed in exchange for a plea to a lesser charge, the State may reasonably argue certain sentencing concessions have been made which would trigger the application of Evans.29 For example, the State’s reduction of a Class X offense to a Class 1 is equivalent to an agreed sentencing cap of 15 years on a Class X offense.
Some reviewing courts are attempting to draw a bright line between agreements only as to charges and those involving some aspect of sentencing with only the latter being classified as negotiated. In People v. Doguet,30 the defendant pled guilty in exchange for the State’s promise not to seek an extended term sentence. The Appellate Court viewed this as an agreement to set a sentencing cap under Linder and held this was a negotiated plea. Likewise, in People v. Bullard,31 the same sentencing cap analysis was applied where the defendant pled guilty to one count of first degree murder in exchange for the State’s waiver of the death penalty.32 This bright line analysis was not applied by the Second District case of People v. Bailey.33 Defendant Bailey entered blind pleas of guilty to one count of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and one count of aggravated criminal sexual assault. In exchange, the State agreed to dismiss other charges which would have carried mandatory consecutive sentences. The trial court retained the discretion to impose consecutive sentences and, in fact, sentenced the defendant to consecutive ten-year terms of imprisonment. Even though the agreement related only to the charges, the Court found this was a negotiated plea because the State had made a sentencing concession by dismissing certain charges which mandated consecutive sentences.34
Again, the Second District appears to have produced two contradictory opinions in Wyatt and Bailey. Both cases dealt only with the State’s dismissal of charges and reached opposite conclusions. These decisions illustrate how this bright line rule described above is difficult to apply because of the symbiotic relationship between the charge and the sentence. The dismissal of a charge will often affect the potential range of sentence and the reduction of a charge will always affect this range.
It is important to note that Evans bars a motion to reconsider sentence entered upon a plea of guilty where a defendant claims the sentence is excessive. The holding does not apply to a situation where the defendant is challenging the legality of a sentence. In People v. Williams,35 the defendant pled guilty to retail theft when the State agreed to dismiss a burglary charge and recommend a seven year sentencing cap. The Court imposed a consecutive sentence of three years in prison followed by forty months probation. The defendant argued there was no statutory authority for a sentence contemplating post-incarceration probation. The State contended that the defendant was barred from a reconsideration of his sentence because he failed to move to withdraw his guilty plea in the trial court. The Illinois Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for re-sentencing, holding Evans to be inapplicable where a defendant claims his sentence is void abinitio because it does not conform with the statute.36
It appears reviewing courts are destined to decide whether a plea is negotiated on a case by case basis until all of the possible scenarios are addressed. Perhaps in an attempt to stop the flow of these appeals an Illinois Judicial Conference Committee has proposed the following amendment to the Rule:
No appeal shall be taken upon a negotiated plea of guilty challenging the sentence as excessive unless the defendant, within thirty days of the imposition of sentence, files a motion to withdraw the plea of guilty and vacate the judgment. For proposes of this Rule a negotiated plea of guilty is one in which the prosecution has bound itself to recommend a specific sentence, or a specific range of sentence, or where the prosecution has made concessions relating to the sentence.37
It is questionable, however, whether this Amendment would result in a lesser number of appeals as courts would still be required to determine whether the State made a sentencing concession on a case by case basis.
An understanding of the new procedural rules established by Evans and its progeny is important for attorneys and judges alike. Prosecutors and defense attorneys should keep them in mind when formulating and considering plea offers. The nature of the offer will determine whether a defendant will retain the right to file a motion to reconsider sentence in the trial court. Should the defendant choose to appeal, he must first file in the trial court the appropriate motion accompanied by the defense attorney’s certificate. The trial court judge must determine at the time of the plea whether it is negotiated or open and admonish the defendant appropriately under Supreme Court Rule 605(b). Faulty admonishments will almost always result in a remand.
Reviewing courts in this state have consistently required strict compliance with Rule 604(d). This has become more difficult for both the bench and bar as those courts continue to redefine its requirements.
1. People v. Wilk, 124 Ill.2d 93 (1988).
2. 145 Ill.2d R. 604(d).
3. 174 Ill.2d 320 (1996).
4. Id. at 327.
5. Id. at 332.
8. 186 Ill.2d 67 (1999).
9. People v. Linder, 287 Ill.App.3d 1126 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).
10. People v. Rice, 291 Ill.App.3d 9 (2d Dist. 1997).
11. People v. Linder, 186 Ill.2d at 74.
13. Id. at 75 (Freeman, C.J., specially concurring).
14. Id. at 77-78.
15. Id. at 77.
17. Id. at 77, 80.
18. Id. at 77.
19. Id. at 79.
21. 304 Ill.App.3d 472 (1999).
22. Id. at 474.
23. Id. at 476 (McLaren, J., dissenting).
24. 305 Ill.App.3d 291 (2d Dist. 1999).
25. Id. at 294.
26. 305 Ill.App.3d 727 (2d Dist. 1999).
27. No. 85313 (March 23, 2000).
29. In People v. Hunzicker, 308 Ill.App.3d 961 (3rd Dist. 1999), the Third District Appellate Court expressly disagreed with the decision in Knowles.
30. 307 Ill.App.3d 1 (2d Dist. 1999).
31. No. 5-98-0633 (5th Dist. Aug. 13, 1999).
32. The Second District reached the same conclusion in People v. Hess, No. 2-98-0976 (unpublished Summary Order, September 24, 1999).
33. 307 Ill.App.3d 226 (2d Dist. 1999).
34. Id. at 229.
35. 179 Ill.2d 331 (1997).
36. Id. at 333.
37. Proposal 99-7 (P.R. 0067)
Hon. Michael J. Burke was appointed an Associate Judge in 1992, and presently sits in the Felony Division. He received his B.S. in Education from Northern Illinois University in 1980, and his J.D., with highest distinction, from The John Marshall Law School in 1984. Judge Burke would like to thank Victor Terrizzi and Marge Kaczmarek for their assistance in the preparation of this article.