Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Appellate court erroneously declined to consider ineffective assistance of counsel claim on direct review where record was sufficient for consideration of that claim. A Coles County jury found Veach guilty of two counts of attempted murder, rejecting his theory that someone else committed the crimes. On direct review, defendant argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for stipulating to the admission of recorded statements of the state’s witnesses. The appellate court affirmed, finding the record inadequate to resolve the issue. The majority encouraged defendant to raise the issue in a postconviction petition. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, holding that the record was sufficient for the appellate court to consider defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim on direct review. The state had conceded that the appellate court should have addressed the claim, but argued that counsel’s decision to stipulate to the witnesses’ recorded statements was not prejudicial nor was it deficient performance. In Illinois, a defendant must generally raise a constitutional claim alleging ineffective assistance of counsel on direct review or risk forfeiting the claim; issues that could have been raised and considered on direct review are deemed procedurally defaulted. View "People v. Veach" on Justia Law

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An altercation ended with defendant shooting Miller multiple times with a laser-sighted firearm. He was convicted of armed violence predicated on aggravated battery and aggravated battery with a firearm; the jury found that an extended-term sentence was warranted (730 ILCS 5/5-5-3.2(b)(6)). After post-trial motions, defendant wrote a letter asserting ineffective assistance by his privately-retained counsel, who, allegedly, assigned defendant’s bond to his fee without defendant’s knowledge; failed to disclose a prior connection to Miller’s father; failed to interview certain witnesses, to test certain evidence, to hire a ballistics expert, and to contest the admission of certain evidence; and failed to prepare defendant to testify. The court sentenced defendant to 25 years in prison for armed violence, into which was merged defendant’s aggravated battery conviction. The court appointed a public defender and scheduled a hearing on defendant’s ineffective assistance claims. At the hearing, no witnesses were called. Appointed counsel summarized the concerns raised in defendant’s letter. The court concluded that, under the “Stickland” standard, defendant failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability that counsel’s alleged errors substantially affected the outcome of defendant’s case. On appeal, defendant argued that aggravated battery cannot serve as the predicate for an armed violence conviction and that he received ineffective assistance from his appointed counsel by merely repeating the claims contained in defendant’s letter. The appellate court agreed that the statute prohibits predicating armed violence on the aggravated battery statute, but held that defendant was required to show that he was prejudiced by appointed counsel’s deficient performance. The court examined the record and determined that no prejudice occurred. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the armed violence conviction and affirmed as to ineffective assistance. Aggravated battery with a firearm is an enhanced form of battery; there is no reason why it cannot serve as the predicate for a charge of armed violence. The court rejected an argument that appointed counsel’s inaction “entirely failed to subject the prosecution’s case to meaningful adversarial testing,” such that a court may presume prejudice under United States v. Cronic. View "People v. Cherry" on Justia Law

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The Johnson County circuit court appointed a psychiatric expert at the state’s request, who testified at trial under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act (SDPA), 725 ILCS 205/0.01, that Grant had not recovered and was substantially likely to commit future sex offenses. A jury found that he was still a sexually dangerous person. The appellate court reversed, holding that the SDPA does not contemplate the appointment of an independent psychiatric expert for the state in a recovery proceeding. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed; “when the legislature wants to grant the State the right to an independent psychiatric evaluation of a respondent, it knows how to do so.” While the SDPA quite clearly allows a respondent in a sexually dangerous persons proceeding to retain a private expert witness, there is nothing in the plain language of the SDPA allowing the state to do so, and the SDPA must be strictly construed. View "People v. Grant" on Justia Law

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In 2008, defendant was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced, as a habitual criminal, to natural life imprisonment. The appellate court affirmed. In 2011, defendant, through privately retained counsel, filed a postconviction petition, claiming due process violations and ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel on multiple grounds. The trial court advanced defendant’s petition to second-stage proceedings. The state moved to dismiss, arguing that the petition was not timely filed; that defendant failed to allege the untimely filing was not due to his culpable negligence; that defendant’s substantive claims were barred by res judicata and waiver and consisted primarily of unsupported, conclusory allegations; and that none of the claims made a substantial showing of a constitutional violation. Defendant’s postconviction counsel filed a response, arguing that the petition was untimely filed because trial counsel failed to inform defendant about the appellate court’s June 3, 2009, decision. In support, defendant attached evidence that the notice of appeal was mailed to his mother, not to defendant. The court dismissed, finding that the record did not substantiate defendant’s claim that his trial counsel suborned perjury and that counsel’s decisions did not rise to the level of deprivation of a constitutional right. The court did not reference timeliness. On appeal, defendant unsuccessfully argued only that his privately retained postconviction counsel did not provide the requisite “reasonable level of assistance” during second-stage proceedings because counsel failed to contest the assertion that defendant’s petition was untimely based on culpable negligence. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, stating the reasonable level of assistance standard applies to both retained and appointed postconviction counsel and that counsel met the standard. View "People v. Cotto" on Justia Law

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A search warrant was served at a home belonging to Chambers’ mother. He was found inside, along with a large quantity of cocaine, cash, weapons, and ammunition. The Cook County circuit court denied his repeated requests for a Franks hearing. He was convicted of armed violence and unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and sentenced to consecutive terms of 25 and 45 years’ imprisonment. The appellate court held that the trial court should have conducted a Franks hearing and remanded for determination of whether the search warrant was properly issued, stating that the informant’s appearance and testimony before an issuing judge is “but one factor to consider in determining whether to grant a Franks hearing, but it does not categorically preclude the court from holding a Franks hearing.” The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Chambers made a substantial preliminary showing that a false statement was intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly included in the warrant affidavit; it is irrelevant that the officer’s suspicions about the presence of guns and drugs at the address turned out to be well-founded. View "People v. Chambers" on Justia Law

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Sanders was convicted of the 1992 first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping of Cooks. Sanders was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 60 and 15 years. Bingham, May, and Barfield were convicted in separate trials. In 2010, Sanders filed a second successive postconviction petition, alleging actual innocence. Despite the absence of any motion for leave to file the successive petition, the circuit court allowed it and advanced it to the second stage of proceedings. The court then dismissed the petition. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, finding purported new evidence and a recantation “not so conclusive in character as would probably change the result on retrial.” View "People v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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In 2011, defendant was convicted under the aggravated unlawful use of a weapon statute (AUUW) (720 ILCS 5/24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A)) and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. That statute was found to be unconstitutional in 2013 (Aguilar case). The appellate court affirmed defendant’s conviction, finding that, in Aguilar, the Illinois Supreme Court limited its finding of unconstitutionality to the “Class 4 form” of the offense and that the “Class 2 form,” applicable to felons, like defendant, was constitutional and enforceable. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. A “Class 2 form” of AUUW does not exist. There is only one offense of AUUW based on section 24-1.6(a)(1)(a)(3)(A) and a prior felony conviction is not an element of that offense. A prior felony conviction is a sentencing factor which elevates the offense from a Class 4 felony to a Class 2 felony. On its face, the provision constitutes a flat ban on carrying ready-to-use guns outside the home and amounts to a wholesale ban on the exercise of a personal right that is specifically guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, as construed by the Supreme Court. Because the prohibition is not limited to a particular subset of persons, such as felons, the statute, as written, is unconstitutional on its face. View "People v. Burns" on Justia Law

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McElwain, was involved in a traffic accident.. The driver and passenger of the motorcycle that hit McElwain's vehicle had substantial injuries; the passenger died. On the date of the accident, plaintiff was neither issued any tickets nor asked to take any chemical tests. During their investigation, police discovered rolling papers and a bag containing a residue that appeared to be cannabis in McElwain’s vehicle, but officers at the scene did not think he appeared to be under the influence of cannabis. Two days later, McElwain was questioned and admitted that he had smoked marijuana two weeks before the accident. The police issued a ticket for failing to yield when turning left and requested that he take a chemical test. The police read him statutory warnings (625 ILCS 5/11-501.6(c). McElwain refused. The Secretary of State suspended his driver’s license for three years. An ALJ upheld the suspension, rejecting an argument that the officers violated due process by waiting too long. The circuit court and Illinois Supreme Court disagreed, finding the statute unconstitutional as applied. While the state can condition receipt of a driver’s license on a driver’s agreement to consent to a chemical test if he is involved in a serious motor vehicle accident, the essential nexus between the state’s interest in protecting the public from intoxicated drivers and requiring consent to a chemical test following an arrest related to a serious accident no longer exists when the test is requested two days after the accident. View "McElwain v. Ill. Sec'y of State" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with first degree murder. After the presentation of the evidence, the circuit court instructed the jurors. The term “reasonable doubt” appeared in three instructions: “The defendant is presumed to be innocent of the charges against him. This presumption remains with him throughout every stage of the trial and during your deliberations on the verdict. It is not overcome unless from all the evidence in this case you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty.” “The State has the burden of proving the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, and this burden remains on the State throughout the case. The defendant is not required to prove his innocence.” The third instruction sets forth specific propositions that the state must prove to sustain the charge of first degree murder: “If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that each one of these propositions has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant guilty. If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that any one of these propositions has not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant not guilty.” During deliberations, the jury sent a note asking for a definition of “reasonable doubt.” The court’s written reply stated: “We cannot give you a definition it is your duty to define.” The jury found defendant guilty. Following post-trial proceedings, the court sentenced defendant to 70 years’ imprisonment. The appellate court vacated defendant’s conviction and remanded for a new trial. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed and reinstated defendant’s conviction. Defendant failed to show that a clear or obvious error occurred, so his procedural default of the reasonable doubt claim must be honored. View "People v. Downs" on Justia Law

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In 2005, the then-17-year-old defendant entered an open guilty plea to attempted first degree murder and home invasion. In 2007, he moved to withdraw that plea, alleging deficient advice and representation. The trial court denied the motion and sentenced defendant to two consecutive terms of 17½ years in prison. In 2009, defendant filed a pro se petition, alleging that he was denied his right to effective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel by failure to investigate defendant’s history of mental illness and telling defendant, defendant’s mother, and defendant’s aunt “lies” in order to “force” a guilty plea. The alleged lies included telling defendant that he would receive a sentence of between 12 and 20 years if he pleaded guilty; stating that defendant’s family had not paid enough to go to trial; and hiding exculpatory police and medical reports. Defendant alleged that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise trial counsel’s ineffectiveness on direct appeal. The trial court held that the petition “is not frivolous or patently without merit,” docketed second-stage proceedings, and appointed counsel. Three years later, appointed counsel moved to withdraw, stating that the issues raised wre without merit and unsupportable as a matter of law. The trial court granted counsel’s motion to withdraw and dismissed. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed: If a pro se postconviction petition advances to the second stage on the basis of an affirmative judicial determination that it is neither frivolous nor patently without merit, appointed counsel’s motion to withdraw must contain at least some explanation as to why all of the claims in that petition are so lacking in legal and factual support as to compel withdrawal. The motion filed in this case failed to meet this standard. View "People v. Kuehner" on Justia Law