Petitioner’s motion for leave to file successive petition was properly denied where petitioner did not show that his involuntarily intoxication defense would have prevailed at trial

UPDATE: The Illinois Supreme Court granted the defendant’s petition for leave to appeal in this case on May 27, 2020. I have not read the PLA, but I anticipate that the question of law the Court will be resolving is whether a new defense theory based on a change in the law can be considered “newly discovered” evidence of actual innocence. Interesting question. We will have to see what the Court does with that. Could have significant implications for other cases.

Illinois Post-Conviction Blog

The appellant in People v. Taliani, 2020 IL App (3rd) 170546, appealed the decision of the trial court denying his motion for leave to file a second successive post-conviction petition, arguing on appeal that he set forth a colorable claim of actual innocence based on the affirmative defense of involuntary intoxication. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed.

Steven Taliani was charged and convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. At his jury trial, Taliani relied on an insanity defense supported by forensic psychiatrist testimony that he had a major affective disorder, or depression with suicide ideation, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Id. at ¶ 3-5. The psychiatrist further testified that appellant’s depression “severely impacted his ability to appreciate the criminality of his conduct” and that his victim–his girlfriend–had encouraged his homicidal and suicidal ideations Id. at ¶ 5.

The jury found Taliani guilty on both charges…

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Defendant who had completed his sentence but was still required to register as sex offender lacked standing to file post-conviction petition

The appellant in People v. Dunn, 2019 IL App (1st) 150198 appealed the trial court’s decision denying him leave to file a successive petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act, arguing on appeal that he had standing under the Act to pursue his claim of actual innocence because of his ongoing requirement that he register as a sex offender. The Appellate Court affirmed.

Maurice Dunn was originally charged with, and convicted of, rape and aggravated battery for an incident in July of 1979. Following a first trial which ended in a mistrial, Dunn was retried in September of 1980 and found guilty of rape, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm, and aggravated battery on a public way and was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment. Id. at ¶ 5.

On direct appeal, Dunn argued that his second trial violated double jeopardy, he was denied the effective assistance of counsel because defense counsel was unprepared, the trial court erred in denying a motion to suppress the victim’s in-court identification, he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he was not indicted with aggravated battery on a public way, and the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him to an extended term. Id. at ¶ 6. The conviction for aggravated battery on a public way was vacated while everything else was affirmed by the court.

Dunn then filed a pro se post-conviction petition restating many of the claims raised on direct appeal. Id. at ¶ 7. The petition was dismissed following a motion to dismiss filed by the State. While the petition was pending, Dunn sent letters to the State and the trial court requesting genetic testing or “chemical castration.” On appeal, Dunn argued that the circuit court erred in dismissing his post-conviction petition, which contained a viable claim of actual innocence based on the assertion that genetic testing would exonerate him. Id. at ¶ 9. In the alternative, Dunn requested that the case be remanded for further proceedings because he was denied the reasonable assistance of post-conviction counsel when she did not amend his pro se petition to include a claim of actual innocence.

The court reversed the dismissal of the petition and remanded the cause for consideration of Dunn’s motion for genetic testing. Id. at ¶ 9. The motion was ultimately dismissed by the circuit court. Dunn was released from prison in June of 2001, completed parole, and registered as a sex offender. Id. at ¶ 10. In July of 2014, Dunn sought leave, through counsel, to file a successive petition for postconviction relief alleging actual innocence. The petition acknowledged that appellant was no longer serving a “custodial sentence” but asserted that section 122-1(c) of the Act eliminated the statute of limitations for claims of actual innocence, regardless of such status. Id. at ¶ 11.

The petition alleged actual innocence based upon new evidence that the victim misidentified Dunn in a police lineup. Dunned argued that based on analysis of the lineup using recently enacted Illinois standards, the State willfully or inadvertently concealed the victim’s rape kit before the first trial, and Vemon Watson, who was convicted for a series of nearly identical sexual assaults in the same area where the victim in this instance was assaulted, made a “tacit” confession. Id. at ¶ 11. The circuit court entered a written order denying Dunn leave to file the petition because he lacked standing under the Act when he was neither in prison nor on parole. This appeal followed.

On appeal, Dunn argued that the fact that he has completed his sentence does not prevent him from advancing a claim of actual innocence under the Act. Dunn cited his ongoing requirement to register as a sex offender as justification for his appeal. Id. at ¶ 13. In response, the State argued that the denial of leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, based upon a lack of standing, was proper because Dunn had already completed his sentence and parole nearly a decade before.

The Appellate Court noted that “generally, to initiate an action under the Act, a person must be imprisoned in the penitentiary.” Id. at ¶ 15. The Illinois Supreme Court has determined that a defendant is “imprisoned” when his liberty is curtailed in some way by the State because of the criminal conviction that he is attempting to challenge. Specifically, the court has established that liberty is curtailed when a defendant is “always on a string, and the State may pull the string whenever it pleases.” Id. at ¶ 15.

Further, the court established that a defendant retains standing under the Act so long as “he is challenging a conviction from which he continues to serve some form of sentence, such that his liberty would be directly affected by invalidating his conviction.” Id. at ¶ 16. However, the court determined that “the Act and its remedies are not available to defendants who have completed their sentences and merely seek to purge their criminal records.” Id. at ¶ 17.

It was “undisputed” in Dunn’s case that he had completed his sentence and parole prior to his 2014 attempt to seek leave to file a successive post-conviction petition. Therefore, “invalidating his conviction would not have affected his liberty.” Id. at ¶ 18. Accordingly, the court determined that Dunn lacked standing to file a post-conviction petition in 2014 because he was no longer completing any part of his sentence. As to Dunn’s assertion that his on-going requirement to register as a sex offender provided him standing to file, the court held that collateral consequences resulting from a conviction are not actual restraints on liberty sufficient to implicate the Act. Id. at ¶ 18. The court cited People v. Downin, 394 Ill. App 3d 141 (2009) in support of such holding.

Ultimately, because Dunn was no longer serving any portion of his sentence when he filed his motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, he had no standing to seek post-conviction relief and thus, the circuit court properly denied him leave the file the petition. Id. at ¶ 21. The Appellate Court of Illinois First District affirmed the judgement of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Defendant’s natural life sentence was constitutional even though he was 20 at the time of the offense

The appellant in People v. White, 2020 IL App (5th) 170345 appealed the trial court’s order denying his motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, alleging that White made a sufficient showing of cause-and-prejudice in his motion. The Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed.

Douglas White was originally charged and convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of concealment of a homicidal death related the murder of his grandmother and her friend. Id. at ¶ 4. White was sentenced to natural life imprisonment for each of the murder counts and five years’ imprisonment for the concealment of homicidal death. White’s convictions and sentences were affirmed on direct appeal. Id. at ¶ 5.

In his first collateral attack on his conviction, White filed a pro se post-conviction petition, which was summarily dismissed as frivolous and patently without merit. The appellate court affirmed. Id. at ¶ 7. In a second collateral attack, nine months prior to the appellate court affirming the dismissal of his pro se petition, White filed another pro se pleading that combined a successive petition for post-conviction relief with a petition for relief from judgement under section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Id. at ¶ 9.

The matter was continued pending a resolution of the first appeal and finally resulted in the filing of a sixth amended petition (appellant filed numerous pro se amended petitions and a few with counsel during this time period), which raised 13 claims. The amended petition was dismissed for being untimely under section 2-1401. Id. at ¶ 11.

In a third collateral attack, White filed a pro se motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, asserting that his mandatory natural life sentences violated the eighth amendment of the Constitution and the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution, as applied to him, because he was a “20 year old minor” at the time of the murders. Id. at ¶ 13. White cited recently discovered scientific evidence of the maturation of individuals’ brains between the ages of 18 and 21, including “evidence” of “nonapplications” of natural life sentences for multiple murder charges. White also presented affidavits from individuals who had allegedly heard his brother brag about receiving a sentence reduction as part of his plea agreement. Id. at ¶ 14. The court denied the motion for leave, finding that White had “failed to make a sufficient showing of either cause or prejudice.” Id. at ¶ 15. This appeal followed.

The Appellate Court noted that leave of court may only be granted if both cause and prejudice are demonstrated by the petitioner. This is the case because White did not raise a claim of actual innocence. The Appellate Court found that White could not establish prejudice “since his claims are not legally cognizable.” Id. at ¶ 18.

First, the court determined that White’s age at the time he murdered his grandmother and her friend was insufficient to consider him “youthful,” such that a mandatory life sentence would be cruel and unusual under the eighth amendment. Id at ¶ 19. The court considered White an adult at the time of offense.

Because Miller protections to do not apply to adult offenders, White was not entitled to benefit from specific considerations that attend youth at sentencing. Id. at ¶ 20. The court held that White’s as-applied challenge failed to demonstrate that White was more like a child than an adult at the time of offense. Further, the court determined that the statute under which White was sentenced is facially valid for adult offenders and cannot amount to a violation of the eighth amendment. Id. at ¶ 21.

The court applied similar reasoning to the proportionate penalties clause challenge and ultimately determined that “his degree of culpability and adult age do not justify advancing his petition, as his case was distinguishable from those cited in his petition, as he was in fact, an adult.” Id. at ¶ 22-26. Ultimately, the court held that White’s sentence of natural life imprisonment did not shock the moral sense of the community and did not violate the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution. Id. at ¶ 29.

The Appellate Court of Illinois Fifth District affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court of Madison County.

Dismissal of 2-1401 petition affirmed where defendant’s conviction was not void

The appellant in People v. Abtahi, 2020 IL App (1st) 181631, appealed the trial court’s order dismissing his section 2-1401 petition, arguing on appeal that the circuit court erred by dismissing the petition without considering his argument on the merits. The First District Appellate Court affirmed.

Farzad Abtahi was originally charged with manufacture or delivery of a substance containing heroin. Prior to trial, Abtahi and the State agreed that he would plead guilty to Class 1 possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance in exchange for a recommendation of probation. Id. at ¶ 5. The trial court accepted the plea and sentenced Abtahi to two years’ probation. Id. at ¶ 7. Abtahi did not appeal or file a motion to withdraw his guilty plea after being admonished of his right to do so.

In 2017, Abtahi, represented by the same attorney from the original plea hearing, filed a section 2-1401 petition alleging that the trial court knew Abtahi was not a US citizen but had failed to admonish him that he was pleading guilty to a “deportable offense.” Id. at ¶ 8. The petition argued that “the lack of proper admonishment regarding the effect of his plea on his immigration status was clearly a prime factor in [his] decision to plead guilty,” that Abtahi had a meritorious defense, that Abtahi would likely not have been found guilty at trial,  and that the factual basis for the plea failed to establish unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Id. at ¶ 8.

The 2-1401 petition, which filed after the two-year statute of limitations expired, effectively alleged that the conviction was “void” and should be vacated. In response, the State filed a motion to dismiss the petition, arguing that Abtahi failed to demonstrate that his petition was exempt from the limitations period because the trial court had personal and subject-matter jurisdiction, the statute Abtahi was charged and convicted under was constitutional; and Abtahi had not alleged disability, duress or fraud. Id. at ¶ 9. The circuit court dismissed the petition, finding that it was untimely and that Abtahi had failed to demonstrate the trial court’s lack of personal or subject matter jurisdiction and did not allege that his conviction rested on a facially unconstitutional statute. Id. at ¶ 12. This appeal followed.

On appeal, Abtahi argued that the trial court abused its discretion by dismissing his section 2-1401 petition without addressing the merits because Abtahi “never pled guilty on the record and, therefore, the trial court did not have jurisdiction to enter his guilty plea or sentence him.” Id. at ¶ 14. In its review, the appellate court noted that in order to prevail on a section 2-1401 petition, a movant must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence: 1) the existence of a meritorious claim or defense, 2) due diligence in presenting the claim or defense, and 3) due diligence in filing the petition. Id. at ¶ 15. Further, the appellate court noted that the exception to the two-year statute of limitations on such petitions is valid only if the petition attacks a final judgment on voidness grounds–meaning that the judgment was entered by a court lacking jurisdiction or that the conviction stemmed from a facially unconstitutional statute.

Here, because Abtahi argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter judgment on the guilty plea, and not that he was convicted under a facially unconstitutional statute, the court only evaluated that potential exception to the two-year limitation on section 2-1401 petitions. The court ruled that the record clearly demonstrated the trial court’s personal and subject-matter jurisdiction when it entered judgment on Abtahi’s guilty plea. Further, the court held that by being present at the plea hearing, Abtahi had conferred personal jurisdiction on the trial court. As such, the court held that Abtahi failed to demonstrate the judgment was void and thus was not excused from the limitations period. Id. at ¶ 19.

The First District affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

 

Defendant who bribed a judge, was convicted of murdering a police officer, and was then sentenced to 600 years gets new chance to vacate sentence

The appellant in People v. Carrasquillo, 2020 IL App (1st) 180534 appealed the trial court’s order dismissing his section 2-1401 petition and motion for leave to file his successive post-conviction petition, which argued that the trial court was biased and that the defendant’s sentence was a de facto life sentence that violated the proportional penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution and eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The First District affirmed the court’s dismissal of the section 2-1401 petition and reversed the court’s denial of Carrasquillo’s motion for leave to file his successive post-conviction petition.

Ronnie Carrasquillo was charged with, and convicted of, the murdering Chicago police officer, Terrence Loftus. Carrasquillo was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of 200 to 600 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). Id. at ¶ 1. At trial, evidence established that Carrasquillo was gang-affiliated and was involved in a gang-related fight at the time Officer Loftus was shot. Id. at ¶ 8. On direct appeal, Carrasquillo’s conviction and sentence were affirmed. Id. at ¶ 9. In rejecting the claims brought forward on appeal, the court noted that “a review of the evidence at trial established that defendant was the only one to fire shots at the time Officer Loftus was struck and killed” and, while bullet fragments found at the scene could not be traced directly to his firearm, they were consistent with the type of bullet fired from his gun.

Further, the court rejected the argument that Carrasquillo should have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, as he was allegedly firing at a YMCA building, not Officer Loftus. The court found the evidence presented at trial sufficient for a murder conviction. Finally, the court rejected the argument that Carrasquillo’s sentence was excessive in light of his lack of criminal history and age (he was 18 years old at the time of offense), stating “although [appellant] had not been convicted of any previous crime, his own testimony was that fights involving knives and guns were a frequent occurrence and he had been involved in two such fights in the weeks prior to” the shooting of Officer Loftus. Id. at ¶ 8-11. As such, the conviction and sentence were affirmed.

Following his direct appeal, Carrasquillo filed his first post-conviction petition, which alleged ineffective assistance of counsel, was denied after a hearing, and affirmed on appeal. Id. at ¶ 12. Carrasquillo then filed a section 2-1401 petition, and, later, a motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, which claimed that the trial judge was biased and that his Carrasquillo’s sentence and violated the proportionate penalties’ clause and eighth amendment, respectively. Id. at ¶ 13. At the evidentiary hearing on the petition, the court found that Judge Wilson had accepted a bribe to acquit a defendant in a prior murder case and later committed suicide following a confrontation over an ongoing FBI investigation into the matter. Id. at ¶ 14.

An investigator working on behalf of Carrasquillo testified that he had searched through all published appellate opinions concerning murder convictions and sentences imposed by Judge Wilson from 1970 to 1981 and found that only one defendant had received a sentence as long as defendant. Id. at ¶ 16. In denying appellant’s 2-1401 petition, the trial court rejected appellant’s claim of bias, finding that “the fact that a judge was bribed in one case does not, in itself, establish that he was not impartial in others.” Id. at ¶ 18.

Carrasquillo had argued that both cases should be viewed as connected because they took place in the same year and were equally high profile, and Judge Wilson may have been influenced by the potential for his own rehabilitation by showing he was tough on crime. The trial court rejected that argument, finding that the defense had not made a legally sufficient showing of a nexus between the two cases. Id. at ¶ 19. Further, the trial court found that Carrasquillo had failed to establish actual bias because both claims regarding the excessiveness of his sentence and improper conviction of murder had already been rejected on direct appeal. Id. at ¶ 21. The section 2-1401 petition was denied.

On the motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, the trial court found that while Carrasquillo had established cause for not including the current claim (of a de facto life sentence violating the proportionate penalties clause and eighth amendment protections) in his earlier petition, he had failed to establish prejudice. Id. at ¶¶ 25-26. The court determined that Carrasquillo’s sentence was not a de facto life sentence, as he would be eligible for parole within 20 years, and any allegation that the parole board would act improperly should be adjudicated in a direct action against the board. Id. at ¶ 26. This appeal followed.

On appeal, Carrasquillo challenged both decisions by the trial court. The first claim focused on the trial court’s denial of his 2-1401 petition. In its review, the appellate court noted that relief under section 2-1401 is predicated upon proof by a preponderance of the evidence (1) a defense or claim that would have precluded entry of the judgment in the original action and (2) diligence in both discovering the defense or claim and presenting the petition. Id. at ¶ 32.

Ultimately, the trial court held that, in addition to unsettled disputes regarding the timeliness of the petition, the “trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding, as a factual matter, that there was a lack of evidence of compensatory bias in this case.” Id. at ¶ 50. In support of such a determination, the court noted that the Illinois Supreme Court has routinely held that the mere fact that a judge was “implicated in accepting bribes in other nonrelated cases does not serve to taint all other decisions with which that judge was involved.” Id. at ¶ 53. Further, the court determined that in order to prevail on such a claim, Carrasquillo would have to establish a nexus between the activities being investigated, the judge’s conduct at trial, and actual bias resulting from the judge’s extrajudicial conduct. Id. at ¶ 54. Thus, Carrasquillo was tasked with establishing before the court a nexus between the unrelated bribe and the judge’s conduct in his trial and actual bias by Judge Wilson. Id. at ¶ 57.

Carrasquillo argued that the relationship in time between the bribe and his trial was sufficient to meet these requirements, yet the court disputed the temporal proximity of the two events (having taken place a minimum of seven months apart), found Judge Wilson’s acceptance of a bribe to be a lone event that did not permeate his broader judicial conduct, and rejected the idea that Wilson was laboring under a need to reshape his public image, as argued by appellant. Id. at ¶ 60-66. Thus, the appellate court held that “the trial court’s ruling was[n’t] arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable or [made in such a way] that no reasonable judge could take the view adopted by the trial court.” Id/ at ¶ 67.

The court rejected additional arguments made by Carrasquillo that the presence of police officers in the courtroom impacted the judge’s decision making and that the announcement of the verdict without explanation was indicative of bias. Id. at ¶ 68-69. As to bias and personal interest, because the arguments from the nexus of the bribe were repeated, the court held the same. Id. at ¶ 75. Further, the court reiterated that “there is ample evidence to support the verdict of murder, as opposed to manslaughter, without resorting to an explanation of bias.” Id. at ¶ 78.

As to Carrasquillo motion for leave, he argued that his sentence was a de facto life sentence without parole, imposed for a crime committed when he was 18 years old, that violates both the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution and proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution. Id. at ¶ 86. The trial court had rejected those claims on grounds that Carrasquillo’s sentence was not a de facto life sentence.

The appellate court looked to the recent decision in People v. Buffer, 2019 IL 122327, where the Illinois Supreme Court found that in order to prevail on a claim that a juvenile’s sentence violated the eighth amendment, a juvenile defendant must show both that he was subject to a de facto life sentence and that the sentencing judge failed to take into consideration the defendant’s youth and attendant characteristics. Id. at ¶ 90. The Buffer court drew the line for de facto life sentences in excess of 40 years imprisonment. Id. at ¶ 91. The court noted that there is no evidence in the record that Judge Wilson had taken into consideration Carrasquillo’s “youth and its attendant characteristics” when sentencing Carrasquillo in 1977. Id. at ¶ 92.

The appellate court did note that at the time of the commission of the offense, Carrasquillo was not in fact a juvenile; he was 18 years old. However, the court also acknowledged that both Illinois and national courts have since extended protections to 18+ year old offenders. Id. at ¶ 96. Moreover, the court agreed that the more than 30 rejections by the parole board over 40 years demonstrated the de facto nature of his sentence, as Carrasquillo was not functionally eligible for parole. Id. at ¶ 101. The appellate court found that Carrasquillo had established both cause and prejudice and had already served the enough time in prison to constitute a de facto life sentence under Buffer. Id. at ¶ 108-109. The court found further prejudice in the previous court’s misstatement of his age when originally reviewing his sentence, and determining it was “not excessive.” Id. at ¶ 110. As such, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s order on the motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition and granted him leave to file that petition.

The First District affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part, the trial court’s judgment on the section 2-1401 petition and order denying Carrasquillo leave to file a successive postconviction petition.

Order Denying Leave to File Successive Petition Reversed Where Firearm Enhancement Violated Proportionate Penalties Clause

The appellant in People v. Womack, 2020 IL App (3d) 170208 appealed the trial court’s dismissing his motion for leave to file successive post-conviction petition, which alleged that Womack satisfied the cause-and-prejudice test by demonstrating that the 20-year firearm enhancement added to his sentence violated the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution and under Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). The Appellate Court of Illinois Third District ultimately reversed the decision of the circuit court and remanded for second-stage proceedings.

Robert Womack was originally charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. At trial, evidence established that Womack was 16 years old at the time of the shooting. Id. at ¶ 3. It was also revealed that the victim in this case, Michael McCarns, had been involved in a verbal altercation which later escalated into McCarns threatening to shoot Womack’s entire family. Id. at ¶ 3. Womack shot McCarns, who was paralyzed from the shooting. Womack admitted to shooting McCarns, but said that he had threatened him.

Following his conviction, Womack faced a minimum sentence of 26 years in prison. Id. at ¶ 5. The PSI revealed that Womack had struggled academically throughout his childhood, had trouble with his peers and was often teased, and was removed from school following a serious car accident in the 9th grade. Womack did not have a criminal record before the offenses for which he was convicted. At the sentencing hearing, the court noted that Womack did not display any remorse for the victim and, at its discretion, sentenced Womack to 18 years for the first-degree murder, plus a 20-year mandatory firearm enhancement, resulting in a 38-year-sentence. Id. at ¶ 6.

On direct appeal, the conviction for attempted murder was affirmed while the aggravated unlawful use of a weapon conviction was reversed. Womack then filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that the mandatory sentencing provisions that resulted in his 38-year sentence violated his due process rights and that he was denied effective assistance of counsel and the right to an impartial jury. Id. at ¶ 7. The petition was denied by the trial court, which found that the firearm enhancement was constitutional pursuant to People v. Sharpe, 216 Ill 2d 481 (2005).

On appeal, Womack did not challenge the constitutionality of the firearm enhancement, and the appellant court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Womack’s petition. Womack, seven years later, moved for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, alleging, in light of Miller, that the statutory scheme that led to his sentence violated the federal and state constitutions, facially and as applied. Id. at ¶ 8. The trial court denied leave to file the petition, noting that his “undeniably harsh” sentence was imposed after consideration of mitigating and aggravating factors. Id. at ¶ 9. This appeal followed.

On appeal, Womack contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, arguing that he sufficiently alleged cause-and-prejudice by demonstrating that, under Miller, the firearm enhancement violated the proportionate penalties clause as applied to him. Id. at ¶ 13. The Appellate Court noted that the proportionate penalties clause requires that “all penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense and with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship.” Id. at ¶ 14. Moreover, the court noted that a violation may be found where the penalty imposed is “cruel, degrading, or so wholly disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community.”

In determining whether Womack’s punishment met such a threshold, the court considered the gravity of the offense in connection with the severity of the mandated sentence within the community’s evolving standard of decency. Id. at ¶ 14. To that end, the court noted that recent Illinois case law “demonstrates the mandatory imposition of firearm enhancements for juveniles no longer reflects Illinois’ evolving standard of decency.” Id. at ¶ 15. The court, in Barnes, 2018 IL App (5th) 140378, and Aikens, 2016 IL App (1st) 133578, held this, finding that 15-year and 20-year enhancements for possession and use (respectively) of a firearm violated the Illinois constitution, as applied to juvenile offenders. Further, under Illinois law, trial courts now have the discretion to decline to impose the enhancements on juvenile offenders. Id. at ¶ 16.

As such, the Appellate Court held that “applying the 20-year mandatory firearm enhancement to appellant in this case violates the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois constitution.” Id. at ¶ 17. The court further concluded that Womack’s claim satisfied both prongs of the cause-and-prejudice test for successive post-conviction petitions. Id. at ¶ 18. Ultimately, the Appellate Court held that Womack’s motion for leave to file his successive post-conviction petition should have been granted. The Court remanded the cause for second-stage proceedings to allow for the requisite factual development of those constitutional claims. Id. at ¶ 22.

The judgment of the Circuit Court of Kankakee County was reversed and remanded with directions.

Trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to bar testimony that would not have impacted the verdict

The appellant in People v. Brown, 2020 IL App (1st) 170980 appealed the trial court’s order dismissing his pro se post-conviction petition claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Brown argued on appeal that the circuit court erred by dismissing his petition where he made a substantial showing of a constitutional violation. The Appellate Court affirmed.

Kiar Brown was originally charged and convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 55 years’ imprisonment. Id. at ¶ 1. At trial, the State presented testimony from multiple eyewitnesses, two of whom were minors, who had observed the commission of the crime, saw Brown conceal the weapon used in the commission of the crime, notified police, gave sworn statements and selected Brown out of a lineup shortly thereafter. Id. at ¶ 5-21.

The defense presented testimony from one witness, Tenija Ratcliffe, who disputed part of the eyewitness testimony regarding beads in Brown’s braids, as she had braided his hair that day and testified that Brown was with her at a barbecue during the murder. Id. at ¶ 27. Brown did not to testify and rested following Ratcliffe’s testimony. The State presented a portion of Brown’s post-arrest, video-recorded statement to rebut his alibi defense. Brown indicated in his statement that he left the barbecue approximately at hour before the murder. Id. at ¶ 30. After the recording of the video was played for the jury, Brown was found guilty of murder. Id. at ¶ 31.

On direct appeal, Brown argued that his sixth amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated where his trial counsel presented Ratcliffe’s alibi testimony, which contradicted his post-arrest statement to police. Id. at ¶ 32. The court affirmed his conviction. While his appeal was pending, Brown filed a petition for injunctive relief, alleging various improprieties in the grand jury process that rendered his indictment invalid. The court dismissed the petition and Brown appealed. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgement. Id at ¶ 33.

Brown then filed a post-conviction petition in which he asserted a litany of claims, including a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The ineffective assistance of counsel was based on counsel’s failure to inform the trial court that Brown had overhead an ASA tell a witness the contents of a previous witnesses’ testimonies, what she was going to ask him, and what she expected the witness to say in response. Id. at ¶ 34. No action was taken on the petition within 90 days, and it was advanced to the second stage of proceedings, where counsel was appointed. Brown filed a motion to proceed pro se, which the court granted. The State filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted by the court. Brown appeal after the trial court denied Brown’s motion to reconsider.

On appeal, Brown argued that the allegations in his petition and affidavit substantially showed that he was deprived of his right to effective assistance of counsel. In its review, the court noted that a second stage dismissal is proper “where the defendant’s claims, liberally construed in light of the trial record, fail to make a substantial showing of a constitutional violation.” Id. at ¶ 41.

The appellate court applied the Strickland test and determined that Brown had failed to make a substantial showing of prejudice originating from counsel’s alleged deficient performance, as “even if we presume [the witnesses’] testimony would have been excluded at trial, it is unlikely the outcome would have been different.” Id. at ¶ 43-45. The court noted that the evidence against Brown was “overwhelming.” Id. at ¶ 46. Further, the court determined that because the eyewitness descriptions and identifications presented at trial were positive and reliable, there is no probability that the result of the trial would have been different but for counsel’s failure to seek exclusion of specific testimony. Id. at ¶ 52. As such, the court held that the petition failed to set forth a substantial showing of a constitutional deprivation and that the trial court properly dismissed the petition. Id. at ¶ 52.

The Appellate Court affirmed.