People v. Hiatt, 2018 IL App (3d) 160751 (August). Episode 537 (Duration 8:40)
Defendant wins his postconviction petition because there were enough signs he was unfit.
We affirm the trial court’s grant of Defendant’s postconviction petition.
Defendant was charged with three counts of unlawful delivery of cannabis. He entered into a plea agreement with the State in which he pled guilty to the charges and was released on his own recognizance to assist the authorities until his sentencing hearing.
A month later, the State requested a revocation of his recognizance bond, which the trial court granted, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Subsequently, the court sentenced him in absentia to nine years’ imprisonment.
15 Days Later Found In Florida
Fifteen days later, defendant was arrested in Florida and extradited to Illinois, where he was taken into custody.
Defendant appeared in court in July and was shocked to learn that he had been sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. He stated that he did not agree to nine years.
He believed he would be “employed as a [D]rug Enforcement Agent, assigned to apprehend any Drug Lord or his conspirators/co-conspirators” and would become a police officer like he saw on television if he accepted the plea agreement. Subsequently, defendant went to Florida to “follow[ ] a flow of drugs from Rock Island to Florida” and set up individuals conducting drug activity. He did not know anyone in Florida and continued to “stay[ ] on the streets” until he was arrested.
The plea agreement did not involve defendant going down to Florida and getting “drug lords” but rather involved him working locally with authorities.
Trial Judge Says
The postconviction judge said, “Looking at his testimony in its entirety and these other factors that seem to be right on point and accurate, I don’t have any reason to disbelieve him as he sits here about why he went to Florida, what he was trying to do, and I also believe him when he talks about maybe he’s feeling better now. Based on all that, I do agree with Mr. Nieman with respect to the second prong. I think there is a reasonable probability here that a fitness evaluation would have resulted in the finding of unfitness based upon what was going on in the defendant’s mind at the time.”
Was He Unfit?
Defendant filed a pro se postconviction petition, arguing, inter alia, that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel when he failed to investigate his mental state and that he was prejudiced because he was unfit to plead guilty.
The petition advanced to the third stage of postconviction proceedings, and ultimately, the trial court vacated his guilty plea. The State filed a motion to reconsider, which the trial court denied, and the State appealed.
He Had Issues
He also argues that if his trial attorney had inquired into his mental state, he would have discovered defendant was diagnosed with
- anxiety disorder
- posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and
- was taking medication.
The Iowa Case
Moreover, counsel would have discovered defendant’s Iowa case, in which he was ordered to complete a fitness evaluation. Ultimately he was found fit to stand trial in the Iowa case. In the trial court’s order of disposition, it stated that Defendant must complete mental health treatment and provide proof to the court.
In 2011, Defendant was charged with second degree robbery in Iowa. During the pendency of the case, the court ordered him to perform a fitness evaluation. Counsel never asked him about the fitness evaluation.
Defendant never talked to his attorney about his mental health problems or his medication.
When asked if counsel knew about defendant’s prior fitness evaluation in his Iowa case, counsel responded, “You know, now that you say that it may be that I recall something about that, but nothing—I mean, I would have to looked [sic] at the file and notes and so on to have a particular recollection about that. But I guess you saying that makes me think that perhaps I did know about that.”
He was initially offered a plea deal of two years but “I thought it would be better if I could get out right away because it’s hard for me to be in prison” so he agreed to be released on his own recognizance.
When he was initially arrested, he was consistently taking his medication in jail. When asked if his attorney asked him about taking psychotropic medication, he stated, “No, I don’t believe he did. He could have, but I don’t recall. He only came to see me I believe two times for 15 minutes and it wasn’t—I can’t remember exactly if he asked me, but if he would have asked me I would have told him the truth.”
He also stated that he did not recall talking to counsel about his psychiatric treatment history.
During The Plea On His Medication
When Defendant entered into the plea agreement he had mental health problems but was taking medication.
He believed his mental conditions and his medication affected his ability to enter into the agreement, and he would not have entered into the agreement under a different mental state. He stated that, “I feel when I have my relapses with mental illness I just feel like I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know where I’m at really and stuff like that. But right now I’ve been working on my—myself and trying to get better because I have a lot going on. When I get out I want to be better for my family.”
Defendant remembered pleading guilty to all three counts because “that’s what I had to do to go home so I did it” and “at the time I thought it was a good idea. So I thought it was just the best deal or go to prison.” He realized that he had made a bad decision accepting the plea deal when he learned that he was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. He knew he was supposed to return for sentencing on March 31 but did not know he would suffer consequences if he did not appear.
While In IDOC
After he began his nine-year sentence, Hiatt received different mental health treatment in the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) than he had in the Rock Island County jail. Defendant averred that if he had received the same treatment in the county jail,
“I feel like my head would be more clear and to think about it than just to—just to answer and just say the wrong thing because when I’m—when I’m mentally going on it’s like I don’t understand what’s going on and I don’t know where I’m at. I’ll live right down the street my whole life and I’ll be standing there, like where am I, I don’t know where I’m at. And then I’ll go in the gas station and I’ll ask the clerk to say, will you call my sister for me? And he’ll be like, who is your sister? And that happens from time to time. And that’s how I felt, and it’s a very scary feeling and that’s how I kind of felt around the time that I was going through.”
Currently, Haitt was not taking the medication directed by the DOC because they made him feel suicidal. He had been dealing with his mental illnesses on his own. He was no longer taking Xanax or Adderall because “they told me that they—that was the medicine that I felt worked pretty good, but when I got to DOC they said we are not having this, you are not taking this. They started to put me on this other stuff, but I’m not taking it.”
Trial Attorney Says
Counsel testified that he was an assistant public defender for Rock Island County Public Defender’s Office.
They met at least twice in the jail and other times in the courtroom. Initially, the State had offered defendant a four-year prison sentence. Counsel clarified that he would have explained to him that he could receive day-for-day credit and his sentence could be lessened to two years.
The parties came to an alternative agreement in which Defendant would plead guilty and be released on recognizance bond if he did work for the authorities. “The objective was to keep [Defendant] out of DOC. Mr. [Defendant] has expressed to me several times that he was very, very reluctant to return. Apparently on his last trip to DOC he had gotten a pretty severe injury. He had a facial scar that was pretty prominent and he did not want to go back because he feared further injury or harm to his person.”
They never talked about his medication.
Counsel believed that defendant understood what was happening during his plea and that the plea agreement was the closest deal to meeting defendant’s objectives of not returning to DOC. He never had trouble understanding him.
Then He Was Gone
Defendant was told that he had to come back to court for sentencing.
After his was released, counsel did not have contact with him. He tried every number in his file but was unable to reach him. He received a call from the state’s attorney’s office expressing concern that defendant had not been in touch with the authorities.
All Normal Behavior
Defendant never exhibited any behaviors that would make counsel inquire into his mental condition.
He would have inquired about hiss mental condition if he had known that defendant was taking medication.
Defendant never told counsel about his concerns of being unable to help the authorities because no one would associate with him or about his plan to go to Florida.
Bona Fide Doubt of Fitness
A defendant is entitled to a pretrial fitness hearing only when a bona fide doubt of his fitness to stand trial or be sentenced exists. People v. Johnson, 183 Ill. 2d 176, 193 (1998). “[T]he question of whether a bona fide doubt of fitness exists is a fact-specific inquiry.” People v. Rosado, 2016 IL App (1st) 140826, ¶ 31.
See 725 ILCS 5/104-11(a) Raising Issue; Burden; Fitness Motions:
The issue of the defendant’s fitness for trial, to plead, or to be sentenced may be raised by the defense, the State or the Court at any appropriate time before a plea is entered or before, during, or after trial. When a bonafide doubt of the defendant’s fitness is raised, the court shall order a determination of the issue before proceeding further.
Here, we find that counsel rendered deficient performance.
Counsel failed to inquire about defendant’s prior fitness evaluation in his Iowa case although he acknowledged some awareness about that fitness evaluation. If he had inquired about the Iowa case, he would have learned that, although defendant had been found fit, Defendant’s mental illness could affect his ability to plead guilty in a subsequent case because the trial court in the Iowa case ordered defendant to complete mental health treatment in its order of disposition.
Defendant was prejudiced by counsel’s performance because the evidence shows there was a bona fide doubt of his fitness at the time he pled guilty.
When he was initially taken into custody, he consistently took the medications prescribed to him by the county jail. Defendant testified that, during his guilty plea proceedings, his mental conditions and medications affected his ability to enter into the plea agreement because he was experiencing a “relapse with mental illness” and did not understand what was happening.
This lack of defendant’s understanding is evident in his petition in which he stated that the trial court found defendant to be credible. Therefore, we find that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel.
Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s grant of defendant’s postconviction petition.