Defendant cannot claim actual innocence on post-conviction without also challenging the validity of his guilty plea

The appellant in People v. Reed, 2019 IL App (4th) 170090 No. 4-17-0090 appealed the decision of the Macon County circuit court to deny post- conviction relief to defendant, Demario Reed.

Reed was serving a prison sentence of 15 years for armed violence (720 ILCS 5/33A-2(a), 33A-3(a) (West 2014)), when he filed a post-conviction petition, arguing that “newly discovered evidence he presented to the court in the postconviction hearing proved, clearly and convincingly, that he actually was innocent” of the charges for which pled guilty as part of a negotiated plea deal with the State. Id. at ¶ 1.

Prior to this appeal, Reed filed a successive post-conviction petition in which he claimed actual innocence of the count for which he had entered a negotiated guilty plea. He submitted “proof of his innocence, an affidavit by his codefendant, Davie Callaway,” and stated that Reed was unaware of the existence of the cocaine within Callaway’s possession, which a key piece of evidence in the charges against Reed. Id at ¶ 10. The petition advanced to third stage post-conviction proceedings after the State failed to dismiss the petition.

The circuit court denied Reed’s successive petition for post-conviction relief on the grounds that the court “court simply did not believe Callaway”. Id at ¶ 13. In their opinion, the court wrote: “The court *** does not find that the testimony of Mr. Callaway to be credible as [he] did not come forward with this information until after he pled, and he and the petitioner were in prison together.” Id at ¶ 14. As a result, the court held that appellant did not have establish a colorable claim of actual innocence. This appeal followed.

On appeal, appellant cited People v. Shaw, 2018 IL App (1st) 152994, ¶ 41, a First District cased that held that “a freestanding actual innocence claim may be brought [in a postconviction proceeding] after a guilty plea, and that a defendant need not challenge the knowing and voluntary nature of his or her plea to bring such a claim.” Id. at ¶ 16. Yet, upon the Court’s review, it uncovered that another division of the First District had reached the opposite conclusion, and cited Supreme Court precedent holding that only in the event of a coerced plea agreement would there be sufficient constitutional deprivation to justify post-conviction relief, and “not where he claims actual innocence in the face of a prior, constitutionally valid confession of guilt.” Id. at ¶ 17. The court found this precedent to be more substantial in the consideration of appellant’s grounds for appeal because “when the supreme court speaks, our duty is to obey.” Id. at ¶ 19. Moreover, the court was unaware of any other decision by the Supreme Court which stated that a post-conviction claim of actual innocence could be entertained after a valid plea of guilty.

Further, the court used the Washington evidentiary standard set forth in People v. Washington, 171 Ill. 2d 475, 489 (1996) that all evidence of actual innocence brought under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act must be “new, material, noncumulative[,] and, most importantly, of such a conclusive character as would probably change the result on retrial” in their evaluation of Reed’s claims of actual innocence. Id. at ¶ 23. As a result, the court held that in the event of a negotiated guilty plea, the defendant in that case would never be in a position for re-trial, as a voluntary guilty plea involves waving the rights to a jury trial and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, the court held that because a guilty plea releases the State from their evidentiary burden, “[e]vidence, in general, would have been immaterial and superfluous.” Id. at ¶ 24.

In the court’s consideration of appellant’s use of People v. Shaw, 2018 IL App (1st) 152994, the court disagreed with Shaw’s holding that a postconviction claim of actual innocence may be brought after a valid guilty plea for three reasons.

First, the court believed the application of the Washington test in Shaw is like “trying to jam a square peg into a round hole,” as the supreme court dictates that all post-conviction claims of actual innocence must meet the Washington standard and guilty pleas are “inherently incapable of meeting the Washington standard.” Id. at ¶ 36.

Second, the court held that “actual innocence would be a nonjurisdictional defense to the charge and a ‘guilty plea waives all nonjurisdictional defenses or defects.’” Id. at ¶ 37. The court concluded that “If, by a postconviction claim of actual innocence, defendant now can obtain a trial, that admonition would have been false.Id. at ¶ 37.

Third, the court held that “defendants cannot knowingly and voluntarily plead guilty in the trial court and then turn around and complain to a reviewing court that the trial court found them guilty,” as that would be duplicitous. Id. at ¶ 38. Further, the court argued that even in the event that defendant’s conviction was a constitutional error, “it was an error he himself invited by pleading guilty” and “the use of invited error as a basis for postconviction relief is clearly frivolous and patently without merit.” Id. at ¶ 38. In support of this, the court cited People v. Harvey, 211 Ill. 2d 368, 385 (2004), which ruled “Defendant is estopped from “us[ing] the exact ruling or action [he] procured in the trial court as a vehicle for reversal on appeal.” Id. at ¶ 38.

Ultimately, the court held, because the validity of the guilty plea entered by defendant was not called into question upon appeal, that, de novo, appellant remains bound by his guilty plea and that “his claim of actual innocence cannot be entertained.” Id. at ¶ 2. In support of this ruling, the court cited People v. Pendleton, 223 Ill. 2d 458, 473 (2006) and  People v. Cannon, 46 Ill. 2d 319, 321 (1970). As a result, the Appellate Court of Illinois Fourth District affirmed the ruling of Circuit Court of Macon County No. 14-CF-1205 and awarded the State $50 in costs against defendant.

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