Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed March 21, 2013



People v. Donelson, 2013 IL 113603

Appellate citation: 2011 IL App (1st) 092594.


      JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.


      In 1998, this Cook County defendant committed offenses for which he was indicted for first degree murder, home invasion, residential burglary and two separate charges of aggravated criminal sexual assault. A conviction for the last-named offense, by statute, triggers mandatory consecutive sentences where there are convictions for multiple offenses.

      A jury trial began in 2001, but was cut short when the parties reached a fully negotiated plea agreement. The residential burglary charge was dropped, and the defendant agreed to plead guilty to murder, home invasion and one of the charges of aggravated criminal sexual assault. Pursuant to the agreement, the circuit court imposed concurrent terms of 55 years for murder and 30 years for each of the other offenses. Later, in 2003, proceedings on the defendant’s attempt to withdraw his plea resulted in reduction of the murder sentence to 50 years.

      In 2005, Donelson filed an unsuccessful postconviction petition and, in 2009, filed an unsuccessful petition for relief from judgment. In appealing to the appellate court from the denial of relief in the latter proceeding, he contended that concurrent sentencing rendered his sentences and plea void. The appellate court agreed that the concurrent sentencing structure was void, but not that the agreement was not void, because the parties’ intent that 50 years be spent in prison could be implemented by resentencing the defendant in accordance with both the plea agreement and the applicable statutes.

      Defendant, however, was not satisfied with this. Challenging his plea as void, he urged that the plea be vacated and the cause remanded for the reaching of a new agreement, or for the State to proceed to trial. The State countered this by arguing that it would be prejudiced by being forced to attempt to retry a case more than 14 years after the offenses. It sought, instead, reformation of the original agreement so as to give both parties the benefit of their bargain. The appellate court took this course and, with it, the supreme court agreed. The supreme court said that both the defendant and the State were mistaken insofar as they believed that the defendant could be sentenced to concurrent terms. However, their mutual mistake may be rectified by contract reformation because they were in actual agreement and their true intent may be discerned.

      The defendant would receive the benefit of his bargain for a total of 50 years in prison if consecutive sentences for a total of 50 years are imposed. That can be implemented in this case. Fifty years was the amount of time which everyone originally believed the defendant would spend in prison.

      This is the appropriate remedy where parties to a fully negotiated plea agreement are mutually mistaken as to the manner in which sentences must be served, but otherwise agree on the maximum number of years.

      The appellate court’s judgment was affirmed.