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The dismissal of a postconviction petition at the second stage is warranted only when the allegations in the petition, liberally construed in light of the trial record, fail to make a substantial showing of a constitutional violation. An appellate court reviews de novo the trial court's dismissal of a postconviction petition at the second stage. Also, plea negotiations are generally governed by the principles of contract law. In 2004, the Illinois Supreme Court explained that the plea-negotiation process itself is akin to contract negotiations, as follows: although the application of contract law principles to plea agreements may require tempering in some instances in order to satisfy concerns for due process, plea agreements are nonetheless subject to traditional principles of contract law absent such concerns. Pursuant to traditional principles of contract, the legal effect of a counteroffer is the rejection of a standing offer. A rejected offer cannot be revived by a later acceptance. When a defendant rejects a State offer, the parties go "back to the drawing board."
In February 2007, defendant Alfred D. Robinson was traveling in a vehicle driven by his cousin. A police officer initiated a traffic stop after observing the vehicle speeding and swerving. During the stop, the officer discovered an outstanding warrant for defendant's arrest. Shortly thereafter, a canine unit arrived to assist the officer, and the canine indicated that narcotics were present. While searching the vehicle, the officers discovered cocaine and cannabis. Plaintiff, the State of Illinois, charged defendant with unlawful possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. In April 2007, the State charged defendant with unlawful possession of cannabis. Following a trial, defendant was found guilty of all three charges, and the trial court later sentenced him to 12 years in prison. Defendant appealed, and this court affirmed. Defendant pro se filed a petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act, complaining that he was denied his constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel when his attorney failed to communicate to the plaintiff his desire to accept plaintiff’s guilty-plea offer. After advancing defendant's petition to the second stage of postconviction proceedings, the trial court granted plaintiff’s motion to dismiss. Defendant appealed arguing that the trial court erred by dismissing his postconviction petition because he was denied the effective assistance of trial counsel.
Was defendant’s contention that the trial court err in dismissing his postconviction petition because he was denied of an effective assistance of trial counsel meritorious?
The court disagreed with defendant’s arguments given that a criminal defendant's role in guilty-plea negotiations when he was represented by counsel was limited to accepting or rejecting the agreement for a guilty plea that defense counsel and the prosecutor have reached. Also, the court determined that the trial court did not err by dismissing defendant's postconviction petition because defense counsel was not ineffective for refusing to follow defendant's directive to counter the plaintiff’s eight-year plea offer with an offer to plead guilty in exchange for seven years, and if plaintiff did not accept that counteroffer, to accept plaintiff’s original eight-year offer. The court reasoned that the counsel correctly identified defendant's counteroffer as a rejection of the State's offer. The court held that the fact that defendant later indicated his desire to accept plaintiff’s eight-year offer was of no consequence because at that point, the offer was off the table. Therefore, the court rejected defendant's claim that he was not afforded reasonable assistance of postconviction counsel because the record showed that defendant's claims were adequately presented to the trial court, and that the trial court understood and correctly ruled on those claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.