Appellate court holds that State improperly participated in post-conviction hearing but decided not to remand

The appellant in People v. Ames, 2019 IL App (4th) 170569 appealed the trial court’s order denying’s his second motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petitio on the grounds that the circuit court erred by allowing the State to respond to the motion. Ultimately, the Appellate Court of Illinois Fourth District affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court of Sangamon County.

Ames was convicted of one count of home invasion and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault and sentenced to consecutive terms of 28 years of imprisonment for home invasion and 6 years each for aggravated criminal sexual assault. Id. at ¶ 3. On direct appeal, Ames alleged that: (1) evidence of another crime deprived him of a fair trial and (2) trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to prior inconsistent statements made by the victim. The Fourth District affirmed on direct appeal. Immediately following that decision, Ames unsuccessfully petitioned the supreme court for leave to appeal. Id. at ¶ 4.

In September 2005, Ames filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, raising numerous ineffective assistance of counsel claims related to both trial and appellate counsel’s performance, including trial counsel’s alleged failure to move for expert analysis of DNA and trial counsel’s refusal to allow Ames to testify at trial. Id. at ¶ 5. After advancing to the second stage of post-conviction proceedings, the circuit court granted the State’s motion to dismiss. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the dismissal. Again, Ames unsuccessfully petitioned the supreme court for leave to appeal. Id. at ¶ 5.

In September 2012, Ames filed his first motion for leave to file a successive postconviction petition, which was subsequently denied by the circuit court. The circuit court permitted Ames to file an amended motion, which he did in January 2013, asserting, inter alia, that his aggravated criminal sexual assault sentences violated the proportionate penalty clause. Id. at ¶ 6. In May of 2013, following a hearing, the circuit court denied the motion; this denial was affirmed by the appellate court on appeal. Id. at ¶ 6.

In April 2016, Ames filed a second motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition. In the months following, the State filed a response asserting that the motion should be denied, which prompted Ames to file a supplement to the original motion. One week following the filing of the supplement to Ames’ motion, a hearing was held where the State was permitted to make arguments.

In December of 2016, Ames’ motion was denied by the court on the grounds Ames failed to establish cause for failing to raise the issues contained in the second motion in his initial post-conviction petition and failing to file an affidavit in support of his claims. Id. at ¶ 7. In July of 2017, a hearing to reconsider the motion was held, resulting in the motion being denied once again. This appeal followed.

The Post-Conviction Hearing Act provides that in order to obtain leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, a petitioner must demonstrate cause for his or her failure to bring the claim in his or her initial post-conviction proceedings and prejudice stemming from that failure. Id. at ¶ 12-13. As such, the court considered whether or not appellant Ames made a prima facie showing of cause and prejudice in determining whether or not Ames should be granted leave to file the successive postconviction petition. Id. at ¶ 13.

The appellate court disagreed with assertions made by the State that their involvement in the “preliminary screening” process of cause and prejudice in the successive petition hearing was minimal and proper, holding, consistent with previous rulings by the Illinois Supreme Court in People v. Bailey, 2017 IL 121450, that the State should not have been allowed to participate in any fashion. Id. at ¶ 14. The court’s focus thus became what relief should be afforded to Ames. Namely, whether or not the appellate court had the authority to affirm or deny on any basis found in the record or was required to remand for new proceedings.

After an extensive review of Bailey and subsequent appellate court cases, the appellate court agreed with a ruling in People v. Conway, 2019 IL App (2d) 170196, which held that the appellate court may choose for the sake of judicial economy to review a circuit court’s denial of a motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition when the State has been involved. Id. at ¶ 23.

The appellate court held that its review was “more appropriate than remanding the cause to the circuit court.” Id. at ¶ 23. To that end, the appellate court determined that Ames had failed to make a prima facie showing of the cause element for raising conflicts in testimony and evidence that were in the record at the time of his initial post-conviction petition, citing inapplicable Supreme Court cases as reason for delay in bringing his claim, and raising issues regarding DNA testing that had previously been raised. Id. at ¶ 24.

As a result, the Appellate Court of Illinois Fourth District affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court of Sangamon County. Id. at ¶ 26.

 

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