Ill. Sup. Ct. holds that State’s motion to reconsider sentence could not be heard after defendant filed notice of appeal

The appellant in People v. Abdullah, 2019 IL 123492 appealed the trial court’s order denying his petition for relief from judgement pursuant to section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the decision of the circuit court, with directions.

Abdullah was charged and convicted of first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, and aggravated battery with a firearm in June 2005. Id. at ¶ 3. Abdullah was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 40 years (for first degree murder) and 20 years (for attempted first degree murder). Shortly thereafter, the State filed a Motion to Impose Mandatory Minimum and Mandatory Consecutive Sentence, seeking a minimum 45-year sentence for the first degree murder conviction (with a 25 year firearm enhancement). Id. at ¶ 4. Appellant filed a notice of appeal, which was stricken following argument from the State that the initial sentences were invalid and that the appeal could not be filed before a valid sentence was imposed. The trial court re-sentenced Abdullah, imposing consecutive prison terms of 50 years for first degree murder and 31 years for attempted first degree murder, including a 25-year firearm enhancement for both offenses. Id. at ¶ 6. The sentences were then reduced by the trial court to an aggregate 76 years of imprisonment. On direct appeal, the trial court affirmed the convictions and sentences and subsequently dismissed appellant’s petition filed under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act. Id. at ¶ 7.

In 2014, Abdullah filed a pro se petition, arguing that the 25-year and 20-year enhancements to his sentences violated ex post facto laws because they was unconstitutional at the time of his offense under People v. Morgan, 2013 IL 2d 470 (2003), and deprived him of due process because they were based on facts not alleged in the charging instrument and not submitted to the jury, nor proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at ¶ 8. Abdullah also filed a supplemental argument, arguing that the jury was provided fraudulent instructions regarding consecutive sentences. The trial court conceded it had erred in imposing the firearm enhancements without the State charging them or presenting them to the jury, but found the error harmless and denied the petition. Id. at ¶ 9. Abdullah appealed again, arguing that the increased sentences were void because 1) he had filed a timely notice of appeal, the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to re-sentence him on both counts and increase his sentences, and 2) under Morgan, the firearm enhancement for attempted murder was void ab initio and could not be applied to him even after Morgan was overruled in People v. Sharpe, 216 Ill 2d 481 (2005). Id. at ¶ 10. The appellate court rejected these arguments and affirmed his modified sentences. Id. at ¶ 11. Abdullah then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The focus of the Supreme Court’s review of Abdullah’s appeal was whether the circuit court properly denied the petition filed under section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Abdullah argued that because Rule 606(b) only directs trial courts to strike notices of appeal, his timely filed notice conferred jurisdiction on the appellate court (despite the State’s pending motion seeking a sentence increase). Id. at ¶ 15. Thus, Abdullah contended that the subsequent sentencing orders were void because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to modify his sentences.

In the alternative, Abdullah restated his argument that the firearm enhancements were unconstitutional and void under Morgan. The State countered that no statute or rule prohibits it from filing a post-trial motion to correct a sentence, and therefore, Rule 606(b) requires the trial court to strike a notice of appeal following a motion to increase sentence. The State also restated its argument about the constitutionality of the firearm enhancement, yet conceded that the 20-year enhancement on the attempted murder charge should be vacated on ex post facto grounds. Id. at ¶ 16.

The Supreme Court determined that a proper sentence, in light of the concession by the State, depended upon whether the subsequent sentencing orders were void for a lack of jurisdiction by the trial court. Id. at ¶ 18. The Supreme Court noted that “a timely notice of appeal is the only jurisdictional step required to confer jurisdiction upon the appellate court,” yet acknowledged an exception listed in Rule 606(b), which states that “any notice of appeal filed before the entry of the order disposing of all pending post-judgement motions shall have no effect and shall be stricken by the trial court.” Id. at ¶ 20-21. In response, Abdullah contended that the exception only applied to instances of post-trial or post-sentencing motions filed by the defense, not the State. As such, Abdullah argued that the State cannot rely upon this exception. The Supreme Court agreed, and determined that the State’s motion was not permitted, and therefore, did not qualify as an exception to the transfer of jurisdiction caused by Abdullah filing a timely notice of appeal. Id. at ¶ 26.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that the State’s unauthorized motion to reconsider the sentence had no effect on the jurisdictional impact of appellant’s perfected appeal. Moreover, the trial court’s orders entered after the timely notice of appeal had been filed are void. The Supreme Court found that the circuit court erroneously dismissed the section 2-1401 petition and that the appellate court erroneously affirmed that decision. Id. at ¶ 34. As a result, the sentences entered in November 2005 and modifications in January 2006 were to be vacated, resulting in reinstatement of the original sentences. Id. at ¶ 35.

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the circuit court with directions to grant the section 2-1401 petition, vacate the sentencing orders, and reinstate the original sentencing judgment. Id. at ¶ 39.

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