Appellate Court holds that State cannot participate in motion to reconsider denial motion for leave to file successive petition

The appellant in People v. Coffey, 2020 IL App (3d) 160427, appealed the trial court’s order denying his motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, arguing on appeal that the trial court erred in permitting the State to participate in the proceedings on the motion to reconsider the denial of his motion for leave. The Third District ultimately vacated the decision of the circuit court and remanded for new proceedings for the trial court to consider the motion for leave without participation from the State.

Coffey was convicted at a bench trial of first-degree murder and sentenced to 60 years’ imprisonment. On direct appeal, the appellate court affirmed the conviction and sentence. Id. at ¶ 3. Coffey then filed a pro se post-conviction petition, which he subsequently amended several times. The petition advanced to the second stage of post-conviction proceedings, where the State filed, and the court granted, a motion to dismiss. The court then denied Coffey’s requests for leave to file successive post-conviction petitions on three occasions. Id. at ¶ 4. In his fourth attempt, which is the subject of this appeal, Coffey raised several claims relating to the court’s failure to order a fitness examination prior to his trial. Coffey claimed he was mentally ill and not taking his medication, which created a bona fide doubt as to his fitness. Id. at ¶ 5. The trial court determined that Coffey had failed to satisfy the cause-and-prejudice test and denied the motion for leave to file a successive petition. Id. at ¶ 6.

Coffey then filed a motion to reconsider. A hearing was held on the motion reconsider, at which the State to asked the court to deny the motion to reconsider. Id. at ¶ 9. The State argued there that Coffey did not raise any new issues and had not argued that there was a mistake of fact in the court’s earlier ruling on the motion for leave to file a successive petition. Shortly thereafter, the court denied the motion to reconsider. Id. at ¶ 10.

On appeal, the Office of the State Appellate Defender (OSAD) was appointed to represent appellant. OSAD filed a motion to withdraw pursuant to Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987), claiming that there were no meritorious issues to be raised on appeal. Id. at ¶ 11. The appellate court denied the motion to withdraw and ordered the parties to brief the issue of whether the circuit court erred in allowing the State to participate in the proceedings on appellant’s motion to reconsider and the applicability, if any, of the holding in People v. Bailey, 2017 IL 121450, People v. Munson, 2018 IL App (3d) 150544, and People v. Baller, 2018 IL App (3d) 160165, to this case. Id. at ¶ 12.

The Appellate Court ultimately accepted the argument made by Coffey that “the circuit court erred in allowing the State to participate in the proceedings on the motion to reconsider the denial of [his] motion for leave to file a fourth successive postconviction petition.” Id. at ¶ 14. In support, the court looked to the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Bailey, 2017 IL 121450, which held that it was “premature and improper for the State to provide input to the court before the court has granted a defendant’s motion for leave to file a successive petition.” Id. at ¶ 16. While in this case the State did not participate in the initial proceedings on the motion for leave, the State did participate at the hearing on Coffey’s motion to reconsider. The Appellate Court held that Bailey applied with equal force to the motion to reconsider hearing. Id. at ¶ 18. As such, the court held the State’s participation was premature and improper.

In considering the appropriate remedy for the State’s improper participation, the court acknowledged, pursuant to Bailey, that the court may independently review the circuit court’s cause-and-prejudice determination, however, it chose to remand for an independent determination by the circuit court. Id. at ¶ 27. As a result, the judgment of the trial court was vacated, and the cause was remanded for new proceedings on the motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition without participation from the State. Id. at ¶ 30.

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