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State High Court Rules Against Woman Seeking To Withdraw Guilty Plea

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Illinois Supreme Court building in Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois criminal code does not require a trial judge to inform a person who enters a guilty plea that the plea could affect his or their employment if the plea wasn’t made during the initial court hearing, the Illinois Supreme Court decided on Thursday.

In a 17-page opinion, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled against allowing Chaleah Burge, a certified nursing assistant who pleaded guilty in 2017 to stealing $280 from her home health client, from withdrawing her guilty plea.

Burge argued she should be allowed to withdraw her guilty plea because the trial court judge didn’t inform her that her plea and criminal conviction could result in her losing her job.

Burge’s argument focused on a section of the Illinois Criminal Code of Procedure, section 113-4(c), which does not specifically mention arraignment.

This section requires the court to inform a person charged with a crime that a plea of guilty may impact that person’s ability to, among other things, “retain or obtain employment.”

Burge argued that the trial judge failed, as required by the Code, to inform her of the collateral consequences of a theft conviction, specifically her ability to obtain and retain employment.

When the trial judge accepted Burge’s plea at a hearing after arraignment, he advised her of the nature of the crime, minimum and maximum sentence and the constitutional rights she forfeited by entering a guilty plea. His advisements to Burge followed Supreme Court Rule 402(a), not section 113-4(c) of the Code.

The Illinois Supreme Court rejected Burge’s argument that section 113-4(c) requires the trial judge to advise a person charged with a crime of the various consequences at all times when the person pleads guilty, not just at arraignment.

The justices found that section 113-4(c) should be read within the four other subsections of section 113-4, specifically section 113-4(a), which states the subsection applies to guilty pleas at arraignment.

The justices also pointed to section 113-4(e) of the Code that makes specific reference to the trial judge advising a person charged with a crime “at that time or at any later court date.”

“Unlike subsection (e), where the legislature included an additional reference to ‘any later court date,’ subsection (c), like subsections (b) and (d), contains no such qualifying language giving it broad application beyond arraignment. Thus, without express language providing broader application, we can properly assume that the legislature intended for the provision to be limited to only arraignment,” the Illinois Supreme Court opinion states.

They also noted that if they interpreted section 113-4(c) as Burge suggested, then they would render “superfluous” section 115-2(a) of the Criminal Code — which governs the acceptance of pleas of guilty before and during trial.

“Thus, if the admonishment contained in section 113-4(c) also applied to every plea of guilty besides only at arraignment, then there would be no need for section 115-2(a), provided that the first subsection of section 113-4(c) is essentially identical to section 115-2(a),” according to the opinion. “(W)e find it clear that the five subsections logically flow together to create a simple, comprehensive procedural guide regarding pleas (or lack thereof) made at arraignment.”

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Capitol News Illinois

Capitol News Illinois

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. It is funded by donations from the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government. Capitol News Illinois provides year-round, daily coverage of the Legislature, including committee hearings; state agencies and issues; state office holders; and the Illinois Supreme Court and legal matters.

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