First District Appellate Court Announces: “The Time Has Come to Take a More Serious Look at this Problem” Involving Criminal Appeals

August 16, 2017 6:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Katherine A. Grosh
Partner, Levin Ginsburg

In People v. Griffin, 2017 IL App (1st) 143800, the First District Appellate Court declined to reach the merits of a case that the court characterized as “but one of hundreds of criminal appeals involving fines-and-fees issues that were overlooked at the trial court level and raised for the first time on appeal.” Id. ¶ 5. In the case, the defendant pled guilty to two crimes in two separate cases and was sentenced to concurrent prison terms in both cases, with fines and fees. Id. ¶¶ 1-2. The defendant did not file either a motion to withdraw his plea or to reconsider his sentence, nor did he file a direct appeal in either case. Id. ¶ 2.

More than 30 days after sentencing in both cases, the defendant filed a pro se motion to correct the mittimus to reflect a different custody date for purposes of calculating presentence detention credit, which the trial court denied. Id. ¶ 1. He appealed the denial of his motion, abandoning his initial claim as to the custody date, and instead contending for the first time that his fines and fees were erroneously assessed against him and that he was entitled to presentencing detention credit. Id. ¶¶ 1, 4.

The appellate court found that, because the defendant failed to file a motion pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 604(d) (eff. Mar. 8, 2016) to withdraw his guilty plea and vacate the judgment or a motion to reconsider his sentence within 30 days of his sentencing, it could not consider his appeal on the merits. Id. ¶¶ 1, 11. The appellate court further found that the denial of his motion to correct the mittimus was not a final and appealable order over which it had jurisdiction because—unlike the sentencing orders—it did not determine the litigation on the merits. Id. ¶¶ 1, 13. Accordingly, the appellate court dismissed the appeal. Id. ¶¶ 1, 27.

The most noteworthy aspect of the opinion was the appellate court’s express recognition that the raising of fines-and-fees issues for the first time on appeal has become a “routine” issue in criminal appeals—one that “could easily be discovered and resolved at the trial court level with more diligent oversight by prosecutors and defense attorneys alike.” Id. ¶¶ 5-6. According to the court’s own Westlaw search, in 2016 alone, there were 137 appeals where a defendant challenged the imposition of fines and/or fees, and 83 cases in which a defendant asserted error in the application of per diem credit against his fines, “all for the first time on appeal.” Id. ¶ 5.

The court stated that “[t]he time has come to take a more serious look at this problem, both for the sake of preserving proper appellate jurisprudence and for the sake of judicial economy.” Id. ¶ 7. The court continued: “Copious amounts of time, effort, and ink are spent resolving these issues at the appellate level when many of them are more appropriately resolved at the trial level through (i) routine review of judgment orders after their entry—a task that would take at most minutes—and (ii) cooperation between the parties to correct any later-discovered errors by means of agreed orders.” Id. (citations omitted). The court “encourage[d] both the State’s Attorney and the public defender to review judgment orders upon entry to ensure that fines and fees are properly assessed,” and “further encourage[d] an open line of communication between the public defender’s office and the State’s Attorney’s office, so that when defense counsel discovers an obvious clerical error in the imposition of fines and fees, he or she can contact the State’s Attorney, and the error can be corrected expeditiously at the trial court level by means of an agreed order.” Id.

The court then went on to support its well-reasoned and amply supported determination of no jurisdiction with a historical discussion of the void judgment rule, abolished by the Illinois Supreme Court in People v. Castleberry, 2015 IL 116916, followed by a rejection of the plain error doctrine as a vehicle for appellate review due to its inapplicability to clerical mistakes. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. The court then outlined what it termed a “three-step analysis,” followed immediately by its determination that it need not proceed beyond step two because the defendant’s appeal from the trial court’s denial of the motion to correct the mittimus was not properly before the court due to the defendant’s failure to file the Rule 604(d) motion—“a condition precedent to any appeal from a judgment on a plea of guilty.” Id.¶¶ 10-11 (quoting People v. Flowers, 208 Ill. 2d 291, 300-01 (2003)).

After reciting the well-established rule that “a trial court retains jurisdiction to correct clerical errors or matters of form at any time after judgment [such as the inadvertent use of the wrong custody date, as Griffin claimed occurred in this case], so as to make the record conform to the actual judgment entered by the court” notwithstanding a lack of compliance with Rule 604(d), the appellate court clarified that “[t]hat jurisdiction, though, does not automatically extend to this court.”  Id. ¶ 12.  Stating, “it is axiomatic that not every denial of a motion gives rise to a right of appeal,” the court explained that the denial of the motion to correct the mittimus was not a final and appealable order because “there no longer was any pending litigation to resolve when that motion was filed” and the trial court merely affirmed the correctness of an existing judgment. Id. ¶¶ 13-15. The court also summarily rejected any application of the revestment doctrine, since: (i) a Rule 604(d) motion was never filed (id. ¶ 20, citing People v. Henderson, 395 Ill.App.3d 980 (2009)), and (ii) parties may not “revest” a reviewing court with jurisdiction over issues that were never raised in the trial court (id. ¶¶ 21-22).

Although it dismissed the defendant’s appeal, the appellate court noted that he was not left without recourse, noting that he could still petition the trial court for the relief that he seeks because “trial courts retain jurisdiction to correct nonsubstantial matters of inadvertence or mistake.” Id. ¶ 26. 

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