Petitioner could not show ineffective assistance of counsel for counsel’s failure to share discovery with him

The appellant in People v. Walker, 2019 IL App (3d) 170374 appealed the decision of the trial court’s order his pro se post-conviction petition on the grounds that the dismissal was erroneous. The Third District ultimately affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court.

Eric D. Walker was charged with and pled guilty to aggravated battery and burglary and was sentenced to three years imprisonment in 2016.

In 2017, Walker filed a pro se post-conviction petition, raising “numerous claims, many of which related to the representation [he] had received.” Id. at ¶ 6. Walker alleged that his attorney, the assistant public defender, conspired against him with the State and intentionally misled and misrepresented him; failed to file motions requested by Walker; failed to seek additionally discovery; refused to speak to his witnesses; and, of most relevance to the appeal, refused to allow him to review the discovery and evidence against him. The petition concluded that had Walker been provided the information the assistant public defender failed to allow him to review, he would not have pled guilty. Id. at ¶ 7. Walker filed substantively similar post-conviction petitions in both the aggravated battery and burglary cases, each of which related to both convictions. The trial court summarily dismissed both petitions as frivolous and patently without merit at the first stage of post-conviction proceedings. Id. at ¶ 1, 10. Walker then appealed.

On appeal, Walker argued that his petition presented an arguable constitutional claim of ineffective assistance of counsel due to counsel’s failure to show and discuss discovery materials with him. Accordingly, Walker argued that the trial court erred in dismissing his petition. Id. at ¶ 12. The Appellate Court’s review of the trial court’s summary dismissal was conducted de novo.

The Appellate Court explained that a “trial court must summarily dismiss a postconviction petition at the first stage of proceedings if the petition is frivolous or patently without merit.” Id. at ¶ 14. Further, the Appellate Court explained that to ultimately prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, one must show that counsel’s performance was objectively unreasonable and that there is a “reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at ¶ 15. Yet, at the first stage of post-conviction proceedings, “a petition alleging ineffective assistance may not be summarily dismissed if (i) it is arguable that counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (ii) it is arguable that the defendant was prejudiced.” Id. at ¶ 15.

The State argued that a defendant has no independent right to review discovery materials and that counsel’s refusal to allow a defendant to review those materials may not provide the basis for an ineffectiveness claim. In support of their argument, the State cited People v. Savage, 361 Ill. App. 3d 750 (2005), and People v. Davison, 292 Ill. App. 3d 981 (1997). Id. at ¶ 16. Walker argued, in response, that counsel has a duty to disclose or discuss “at least certain discovery materials,” especially those most relevant to a decision to plead guilty, implicitly conceding to the State’s argument that counsel does not have a duty to show a defendant all discovery materials to his client. Id. at ¶ 17.

The Appellate Court sided with the State and found that Walker’s argument regarding the disclosure of the police report undermined his own claims, as it contained no information not already in the record and provided no basis for arguing that counsel’s decision not to disclose the report was unsound or unreasonable. Id. at ¶ 20. Additionally, the Appellate Court held that no factual allegations within the petition, nor documents attached to the petition, created a basis for arguing that counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. The appellate court affirmed.

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