Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Illinois Supreme Court
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Defendant was driving a van owned by Chattic when a marked police squad car pulled alongside at a stop sign. The police officer followed defendant for several minutes before activating the squad car’s lights. The defendant had not violated any traffic laws. The citations he received were unrelated to the movement or condition of the van. The officer testified that “It appeared that the registration on the vehicle had expired.” He checked its registration and learned that the registration was valid, but that the owner, Chattic, was wanted on a warrant. He was unable to determine whether the driver was a woman. After he determined that the driver was a man, the officer asked the defendant for a driver’s license and proof of insurance and explained why he stopped the van. The defendant had no license and received a citation for driving while license suspended, 625 ILCS 5/6-303(d), a Class 4 felony. According to the officer, asking for a license and proof of insurance is “standard operating procedure. The trial court granted a motion to suppress. The appellate court affirmed, stating “Except where there is articulable and reasonable suspicion that a motorist is unlicensed or the vehicle is unregistered, or that either the motorist or vehicle is in violation of the law, stopping and detaining a motorist in order to check his credentials is unreasonable under the fourth amendment.” The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Unless a request for identification is related to the reason for the stop, it impermissibly extends the stop and violates the Constitution. View "People v. Cummings" on Justia Law

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In 1990, defendant, then 14 years old, was arrested for two fatal shootings. Following a discretionary hearing under the Juvenile Court Act, the court allowed defendant to be prosecuted under the criminal laws. He was convicted of two first degree murders, attempted first degree murders of two others, and home invasion. Because defendant was convicted of murdering more than one victim, the Unified Code of Corrections, 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c), required a term of natural life imprisonment, with parole not available. He was also sentenced to 30 years for each attempted murder and home invasion, all to run concurrently. The appellate court affirmed. In 1996-1998 defendant filed three post-conviction petitions. All were dismissed; the appellate court affirmed the dismissals. In 2002, defendant filed another petition, arguing that the natural life sentence was unconstitutional because defendant did not actually participate in the act of killing; that the sentence violated the Eighth Amendment; and that the statute requiring a mandatory life sentence violated the Illinois Constitution as applied to a 14-year-old. The circuit court dismissed, noting that defendant carried a weapon and actually entered the abode where the murders occurred. The appellate court affirmed. Defendant another petition in 2011, arguing violation of the Eighth Amendment in light of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision, Graham v. Florida, and ineffective assistance because counsel failed to interview an eyewitness before the juvenile hearing. The court denied the petition. While appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided in Miller v. Alabama (2012), that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishments.’ ” The appellate court concluded that Miller applies retroactively on post-conviction review and remanded for a new sentencing hearing, but upheld denial of the ineffective assistance claim. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. View "People v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Chicago Officers testified that: Officer Watson was working undercover narcotics surveillance, seated in a covert vehicle, and saw defendant exit a Nissan and walk in front of his car. Watson observed defendant pull a weapon from his coat pocket, start to shoot, running toward a pedestrian. The individual turned and ran, grabbing his side. Defendant fired six shots, then returned to the Nissan. Watson radioed his team with a description of defendant and the vehicle and followed the vehicle. Officer Humpich also followed the Nissan for five blocks. The Nissan stopped. Jackson exited and began to run. Officer Utreras also pursued the vehicle and saw defendant exit the Nissan and start to run. Utreras exited his vehicle and identified himself. Defendant stopped running and said, “I didn’t shoot nobody. I just picked up the gun.” Utreras had not asked about the shooting. Utreras recovered a handgun from defendant’s coat pocket and six spent shell casings. Defendant had a prior conviction for unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. Defendant testified that he was a passenger in the Nissan, driven by Williams, and that Williams fired the shots. Defendant stated that he did not have a gun, that he never touched the gun, and that “[he] did not have nothing to say to the police.” Defendant was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and sentenced to nine years in prison. The appellate court agreed with defendant’s argument, raised for the first time, that the state charged him with the offense of unlawful use of a weapon as a felon without providing notice that it intended to charge him with an “enhanced” Class 2 offense, so that his sentence violated section 111-3(c) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed that holding, but affirmed the appellate court’s holding that defendant’s sentence did not constitute improper double enhancement. View "People v. Easley" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with computer tampering in an unrelated case. The docket sheet, the judge’s half sheet, and the court call sheet for the arraignment date indicate that defendant was not in court and that the arraignment did not take place. Defendant’s efforts to have a court reporter change the transcript were unsuccessful. The court reporter referred defendant to her supervisor, Taylor. In a telephone conversation, Taylor explained that any dispute over the accuracy of a transcript should be presented to the judge. Defendant surreptitiously recorded three telephone conversations with Taylor and posted recordings and transcripts of the conversations on her website. Defendant eventually obtained a fraudulent court transcript. Defendant was charged with eavesdropping, (720 ILCS 5/14-2(a)(1), and using or divulging information obtained through the use of an eavesdropping device, 720 ILCS 5/14-2(a)(3). Defendant claimed am exception for “reasonable suspicion that another party to the conversation is committing, is about to commit, or has committed a criminal offense against the person … and there is reason to believe that evidence of the criminal offense may be obtained.” The state argued that the exception did not apply because the reporter accused of creating a forged transcript was not a party to the recorded conversations. After a mistrial, the court found the statute facially unconstitutional and unconstitutional as applied to defendant. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, applying intermediate scrutiny and finding the statutes overbroad as criminalizing a range of innocent conduct. The eavesdropping statute does not distinguish between open and surreptitious recording and burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to serve a legitimate state interest in protecting conversational privacy. The language of the recording statute criminalizes the publication of any recording made on a cellphone or other such device, regardless of consent. View "People v. Melongo" on Justia Law

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Officer Salgado attempted to stop a man (Gonzalez) he saw breaking into a car. Gonzalez fired several shots at Salgado, who returned fire. Gonzalez jumped into the car driven by Fernandez. The two escaped the scene. Salgado later identified Fernandez and Gonzalez from a photo lineup. Fernandez returned home, bleeding from a gunshot to his hand. The vehicle he was driving, which belonged to his sister, was found and had bullet holes in several places. Gonzalez also had a gunshot wound. Fernandez was found guilty by accountability of one count of burglary, 720 ILCS 5/19-1(a), and two counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm in the direction of a peace officer, 720 ILCS 5/24-1.2(a)(3)). The trial court merged the convictions into a single count of aggravated discharge of a firearm in the direction of a peace officer and sentenced him to 12 years in prison. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court held that the evidence supported the aggravated discharge of a firearm conviction. View "People v. Fernandez" on Justia Law

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James, a 60-year old with a lengthy criminal record and a history of psychiatric hospitalizations, has been held involuntarily at the Chester Mental Health Center since 2003, under successive involuntary commitment orders entered after he had reached the mandatory parole date on his criminal sentences. As the most recent order was about to expire, the Chester facility filed a petition under the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-813) alleging that James continued to be subject to involuntary admission, with certificates from a psychiatrist and a psychologist, stating that James was “[a] person with mental illness who, because of his illness is reasonably expected to inflict serious physical harm upon himself or another in the near future … is unable to provide for his basic physical needs so as to guard himself from serious harm.” The petition was filed on April 29, 2010. The court set the matter for May 5, 2010. James’s attorney appeared on that date and obtained an order for independent evaluation. The independent doctor was prepared to testify that James should remain at Chester; on May 19 James’s attorney advised the court that his client had elected to have a jury. James agreed to wait unit the first available jury date in August. At trial on August 23, James expressed surprise that he had a court date and stated that he was not feeling any better. The jury returned a unanimous verdict that James was subject to involuntary admission. The appellate court held that under these particular circumstances, the delay between the jury request and the actual hearing was significant enough to be prejudicial to the patient and reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, stating that, given all of his circumstances, the delay following James’s request for a jury trial did not cause him any prejudice. View "In re James W." on Justia Law

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Police officers testified that they received a tip that Cregan would arrive by train on November 3, 2009, and that he had an active warrant for his arrest. They learned that he was a member of the Satan Disciples gang and that a civil warrant sought his arrest for failure to pay child support. Officers waited at the train station, approached Cregan, placed him under arrest, and searched his bags. An officer testified that he intended to bring the bags into custody, as Cregan was alone, and that he intended to conduct an inventory search of the bags, pursuant to department policy. Cregan asked if his bags could be turned over to his friend Collins, but the officer told him the bags had to be searched first. Another officer testified that gang members are “known to carry weapons,” so the officers had safety concerns. Cregan testified that when he exited the train Collins was waiting to give him a ride and that he greeted Collins before the officers approached. Officers found a jar of hair gel in the bags. Its appearance was not noteworthy. Opening it, they found a bag containing powder cocaine. Cregan was charged with unlawful possession of less than 15 grams of cocaine, a controlled substance. The court denied his motion to suppress; Cregan was convicted. The appellate court held that the search was valid incident to the arrest, because the bags were immediately associated with his person and was not limited to a brief search for weapons. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, finding the search lawful incident to the arrest. View "People v. Cregan" on Justia Law

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Defendant entered an open plea of guilty to unlawful delivery of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/401(d) and unlawful possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/401(c)(1) (count II). The circuit court merged the counts, entered a conviction on count II, and sentenced defendant to 12 years’ imprisonment. Defense counsel filed a motion to reconsider the sentence, alleging it was “excessive” and a certificate pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 604(d). At the hearing, defendant asked that his sentence be reduced to seven years so he would be immediately eligible for a drug treatment program. The circuit court denied the motion. The appellate court noted that while the 604(d) certificate stated that counsel consulted with defendant about defendant’s contentions of error in the sentence, it did not state that counsel consulted with defendant about defendant’s contentions of error in the guilty plea. The court remanded for a new post-plea motion and hearing. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Rule 604(d) requires counsel to certify that he consulted with the defendant regarding defendant’s contentions of error in the sentence and the guilty plea, not only regarding contentions of error relevant to the defendant’s post-plea motion. View "People v. Tousignant" on Justia Law

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A 17-year-old defendant pled guilty to criminal sexual abuse involving his 16-year-old girlfriend. He was sentenced to pay a $100 fine and serve 300 days in the county jail, with credit for time served. Asked whether there was “any sentence regarding [sex offender] registration?” the trial judge responded, “No.” More than three years later, the defendant moved to vacate the plea and sentence, arguing they were void because the court was required to order him to register. The trial judge denied the motion on the merits. The appellate court majority dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, reasoning that the prosecution opposed alteration of the prior judgment, precluding the trial court from reacquiring jurisdiction over defendant’s case under the doctrine of revestment. The court should have dismissed defendant's post-judgment motion to vacate his plea and sentence for lack of jurisdiction. View "People v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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Elliott was arrested for driving under the influence, 625 ILCS 5/11-501 and given notice of the statutory summary suspension of his driver’s license. On September 1, 2009, he filed a petition to rescind the summary suspension. On October 11, the statutory summary suspension commenced. Two days later, on October 13, 2009, defendant was pulled over in another county and cited for driving on a suspended license, 625 ILCS 5/6-303. On October 19 the circuit court granted petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension. Four days later, the Secretary of State entered an order of rescission, removing the statutory summary suspension from Elliott’s driving record. Elliott sought dismissal of the pending citation for driving on a suspended license. The trial court rejected his arguments and he was found guilty of driving on a suspended license. The appellate court reversed, reasoning that rescinding the suspension is not simply terminating the suspension, but undoes the action so that it never existed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the conviction, holding that rescission of a statutory summary suspension is of prospective effect only. View "People v. Elliott" on Justia Law