Judgments are not final until filed with the Clerk (People v. Perez, 2014 IL 115927)

People v. Perez, 2014 IL 115927 (September 18, 2014). Kane Co. Appellate court affirmed. Perez was convicted of first degree murder. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal, and petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was denied. On November 9, 2010, Perez filed a pro se post-conviction petition. The court signed and dated an order dismissing the petition, sua sponte, on February 7, 2011, but the clerk did not file-stamp the order until the following day (February 8, 2011). The defendant appealed the dismissal of his post-conviction petition, and the Second District appellate court remanded for second stage proceedings.

These above dates are important because section 725 ILCS 5/122-2.1(a) of the PCHA provides that “Within 90 days after the filing and docketing of each petition, the court shall examine such petition and enter an order thereon pursuant to this Section…” If the court fails to dismiss the petition sua sponte within 90 days, the petition automatically proceeds to the second stage, and the defendant enjoys all of the benefits of that (chiefly, appointment of counsel). February 7, 2011, was the ninetieth day after the petition was filed. Therefore, if the trial court’s dismissal of Perez’s petition was considered untimely because it was not “entered” until the ninety-first day, the petition would automatically be advanced to second stage proceedings, which the Second District appellate court determined to be appropriate here.

The Second District held that “the dismissal order was untimely because it was not entered until it was filed by the clerk, which occurred on the ninety-first day after the postconviction petition was filed and docketed. The appellate court relied on authority from this court that holds that, for a judgment to be effective, it must be publicly expressed in some manner, at the situs of the proceeding. See Granite City Lodge No. 272, Loyal Order of the Moose v. City of Granite City, 141 Ill. 2d 122 (1990); People ex rel. Schwartz v. Fagerholm, 17 Ill. 2d 131 (1959). The court noted that the record did not reflect the presence of any party, any party’s counsel, or any other court personnel on February 7, 2011, the date that the trial court signed the order, and therefore the first public expression of the court’s order was on February 8 when it was file-stamped by the clerk. 2013 IL App (2d) 110306, ¶¶ 13-14.” Perez at ¶ 5. The State appealed, and the Illinois Supreme Court granted PLA.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether the trial court “enter[ed] an order” pursuant to section 122-2.1(a) of the PCHA when the court signed and dated the order but did not “enter” it with the clerk. The Court mainly looked to Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 272 and the decisions interpreting it for guidance. “Under Rule 272, a written judgment order is final when signed and filed with the clerk of court. (107 Ill. 2d R. 272.)…” Perez at ¶ 22 (internal citations omitted). Ultimately the Perez court held that the trial court’s dismissal order was untimely “entered” when it had not been filed with the Clerk on the ninetieth day, reasoning that “Illinois law is clear that “entering” a judgment means entering it of record, and there is no support in this court’s case law for the proposition that merely signing a piece of paper is “entering” a judgment. We also see no evidence in section 122-2.1(a) that the legislature intended to upend Illinois law and have the notice of appeal period run from the date the judge signs the order.” Perez at ¶ 26. The Second District was affirmed, and the case was remanded for second-stage proceedings.

This decision makes sense. The Court provided a humorous (but, unfortunately, entirely believable) hypothetical illustrating the perils of holding that orders are “entered” if they are merely signed: “…if the judge signed the order, placed it in his outbox, locked his office door, and went on vacation for a week, the clock would be ticking on defendant’s appeal rights, even though no one but the judge would have any idea that an order had been entered.” Perez at ¶ 21. To require the court to file it with the clerk instead of merely signing it would be the only way to square this decision with past precedent requiring that judgments be “publicly expressed in some manner.” See Granite City Lodge. 

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