Illinois Supreme Court holds that trial court is not required to conduct Krankel inquiry unless it is initiated by the defendant

In People v. Bates, 2019 IL 124143, the Illinois Supreme Court was asked to decide whether statements made by counsel during a hearing on a motion for new trial, stating his surprise at the depth of evidence introduced and admission that he would have had the evidence tested by experts if he’d known the depth, constituted an admission of ineffective assistance of counsel requiring a Krankel hearing.

Bates was originally arrested and charged with home invasion, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and other crimes arising from two separate incidents. Id. at ¶ 3. The state alleged crimes against two separate victims and tried each case separately. Bates was represented by a public defender for one of the cases and private counsel for the other. Id. at ¶ 4. At trial for the crimes against A. P. (the proceeding in which Bates was represented by private counsel), the State moved in limine to introduce evidence of the second assault against C. H., pursuant to section 115-7.3(b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Id. at ¶ 4. Counsel subsequently moved for a continuance to evaluate the “voluminous” discovery documents and the court appointed  DNA expert to review the DNA testing conducted by the Illinois State Police. Counsel also moved for reconsideration of the order permitting the State to introduce the evidence, arguing that defendant could not receive a fair trial if the evidence was introduced. Id. at ¶ 5-6.

At trial, counsel made conflicting and inconsistent statements regarding the evidence and facts in the C.H. case. Counsel stated that he assumed the evidence and facts in the C.H. case were “basically correct,” yet should be considered by the jury as “not much,” and just an “accusation.” Id. at ¶ 6-7. Both victims, as well as state-appointed DNA expert, testified at trial. DNA matches, or near matches, were testified to by the State’s expert. The defense presented their own DNA expert, who challenged the conclusiveness of the State’s expert’s findings. Id. at ¶ 10. In closing arguments, counsel argued that the jury should not put much weight on the “case within a case” and stated there was no review by any DNA experts. Appellant was found guilty of home invasion and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual conduct.

Bates subsequently moved for a new trial, arguing that the court erred by denying his motion in limine to exclude the other crimes evidence and in granting a motion by the State to exclude evidence regarding A.P.’s sexual history. Id. at ¶ 11. At the hearing for that motion, counsel stated that he was not capable of doing “as good a job in defending [his] client since it wasn’t [his] case,” that he was “taken by surprise at the depth of the evidence and testimony brought by the State’s attorney,” and would have asked for review by experts had he been thinking about that case. Id. at ¶ 11. The court denied the motion.

On appeal, Bates argued that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel, that he was denied his constitutional right to confront witnesses against him, that he should have received a new trial because the State made improper statements in its closing arguments, that the amount of other crimes evidence deprived him of a fair trial, and that the trial court erred when it failed to conduct a Krankel hearing. The appellate court affirmed. Id. at ¶ 12. The Supreme Court granted PLA.

Bates argued in the Supreme Court only that the trial court erred in failing to conduct a Krankel hearing, alleging that counsel’s statements at oral argument for the motion for a new trial constituted an admission that he neglected the case. Id. at ¶ 14. The court noted that Krankel requires the court to inquire into a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, so long as the claim is clearly raised with the court. Id. at ¶ 15. Further, the court acknowledged efforts and statements made by counsel confirming he had not thoroughly evaluated the other crimes evidence, that he was not the attorney for that proceeding, and counsel’s requests made to the jury not to place weight on that evidence. Additionally, the court noted that the evidence in the C. H. case was “much stronger” than that of the A. P. case. Id. at ¶ 17-18.

Bates argued that the trial court should have treated the statements at the hearing for the motion for a new trial as an admission of neglect and conducted a Krankel hearing. Appellant cited People v. Willis, People v. Williams, and People v. Hayes in support. In response, the appellate court noted that the court has never held that a Krankel hearing may be triggered by a defense counsel’s representations in the absence of a pro se motion, citing People v. McGrath. Id. at ¶ 21. The Supreme Court held that all cited cases, but for Williams, Hayes, and McGrath, were distinguishable in circumstance and fact. Id. at ¶ 31.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed with the holdings of McGrath and the appellate court, which stated that if a defendant fails to raise a pro se claim of ineffective assistance, there is no reason for the trial court to conduct a Krankel hearing. Id. at ¶ 31-32. The court explained to hold otherwise would subject the trial court to an unworkable standard requiring that it scrutinize every statement and action by counsel, including privileged matters.

As such, the Supreme Court affirmed the holding of the appellate court, yet modified it slightly to require a trial court to inquire into counsel’s effectiveness “only upon a clear claim of ineffective assistance by a pro se defendant or by an attorney at the defendant’s direction.” The court found that appellant find not raise a claim of ineffective assistance nor did the record indicate that he had directed counsel to make such a claim. Thus, the court was not required to hold a Krankel hearing. Id. at ¶ 36.

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