The following is an exact reproduction of an article that appeared on the front page of the October 15, 2009 Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, a legal and business newspaper published since 1854 and read by tens of thousands of professionals in the Chicagoland area:
Court: Judge didn't consider woman's clean record
before approving plea deal
By Pat Milhizer
Law Bulletin staff writer
A woman who pleaded guilty to purposely burning her child in exchange for a 16-year prison sentence should get a new sentencing hearing because a Cook County judge didn't consider her clean criminal record before approving the deal she made with prosecutors, the 1st District Appellate Court has held.
In 2004, Ollie Smith was charged with three counts of aggravated battery of a child, three counts of heinous battery and three counts of aggravated battery after she held her three-year-old daughter in 165-degree water.
In a videotaped statement to police, she said that she burned the girl and that she initially lied about the cause of the third-degree burns that the child sustained over a third of her body, according to the Appellate Court order.
In 2007, Smith reached an agreement with the state that she would plead guilty to aggravated battery of a child and receive a 16-year sentence. The judge then advised Smith that she had given up her right to a jury trial and a presentence investigation.
About a month later, Smith filed a pro se motion to vacate her guilty plea, claiming that it was made involuntarily and that she wasn't mentally fit to enter it.
Associate Judge Lawrence P. Fox concluded that her allegation had no basis in law or fact.
Fox also noted that during her hearing in which she pleaded guilty, Smith didn't express hesitation or a lack of understanding the proceedings. Case law holds that defendants don't have an absolute right to withdraw guilty pleas, and Fox denied her motion to withdraw the plea.
On Wednesday, an appeals panel upheld the conviction in an unpublished order but remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing based on the Unified Code of Corrections.
The panel said that strict compliance with the code is required, and presentence investigation reports can only be waived when there's a plea deal--like there was in this case--and when there's an on-the-record finding regarding the defendant's criminal history.
In Smith's case, such a record would have indicated that she had no criminal past. The appeals panel disagreed with the state's argument that Smith wasn't entitled to the new sentencing hearing because she failed to raise that issue in her motion to withdraw her guilty plea.
Smith was represented by Deputy Defender Patricia Unsinn of the state appellate defender's office and Assistant Appellate Defender Michael Joseph Wilson.
The state was represented by Assistant State's Attorneys James E. Fitzgerald, Marie Quinlivan Czech and Anthony L. Kenney.
The 14-page order was written by Justice John Owen Steele. Justices Michael J. Murphy and Patrick J. Quinn concurred.
People v. Ollie Smith, No. 1-08-0120