Appellate Court remands for Krankel hearing where defendant makes ineffective assistance claims to Probation during PSI interview

The appellant in People v. Downing, 2019 IL App (1st) 170329 appealed the trial court’s decision denying a request made by the State for a Krankel inquiry into alleged ineffective assistance of Downing’s trial counsel. The First District held that, despite an initial answer to the contrary, a Krankel inquiry was necessitated in this case, reversing the judgment of the circuit court, and remanding for Krankel proceedings. Id. at ¶ 4.

Downing was found guilty of possession of cannabis with intent to deliver. During his pre-sentence investigation interview, Downing complained of his trial counsel’s performance, which complaints were evidenced in the pre-sentence investigation report (PSI). These complaints included allegations that counsel requested to call three witnesses at trial, who were never called; requested new counsel, which was never provided; was denied a request testify on his own behalf; allowed the police to make false statements at trial; failed to raise issues regarding the arresting officers’ failure to read him his Miranda rights; and failed to challenge inaccuracies in the police report. Id at ¶ 10.

At sentencing, the State argued in aggravation that the complaints detailed in the PSI were evidence of Downing’s lack of remorse. Id. at ¶ 11. However, neither at sentencing nor in any other communication with the court did Downing repeat his complaints about his counsel. Downing was subsequently sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Id. at ¶ 12. This appeal followed.

On appeal, Downing argued that the trial court was required to conduct a Krankel inquiry into the allegations of attorney incompetence expressed to the probation department during his PSI interview. Id. at ¶ 15. At the outset, the court acknowledged “there is no dispute that at least some of these allegations sufficed, in terms of their content, to raise a pro se post-trial claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.” Id. at ¶ 17. However, the court noted its decision ought not be predicated on the content of the claims, but the manner in which they were received by the trial court, and by whom they were delivered. Id. at ¶ 18. As a result, the court held that the question they must evaluate was whether allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel, attributed to the defendant but presented to the trial court in open court by someone other than the defendant, require the court to conduct a Krankel inquiry. Id. at ¶ 18.

The court held that it should not make “a difference that the issue [of ineffective assistance of counsel] was raised by the State.” Id. at ¶ 21. As a result, the court concluded that it was a logical extension of existing precedent (Jackson) to hold that, because the State emphasized in open court that defendant had complained about his trial representation and specifically directed the trial court to the page of the PSI in which those complaints appeared, the trial court had a duty under Krankel to conduct an inquiry into the substance of these claims. Id. at ¶ 22. The court further held that more recent case law (Harris) supported such a holding in this case. Id. at ¶ 23.

As a result, the First District remanded this case to the trial court for a preliminary Krankel inquiry, which is designed to determine whether defendant wishes to pursue his allegations in a Krankel proceeding. Id. at ¶ 71. In the event defendant wishes to pursue them, the trial court is instructed to determine whether the allegations reveal possible neglect of the case by counsel. Id. at ¶ 72.

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