Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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Defendant and Matthew lived together along with her children and shared an iCloud account. Matthew was aware of this data-sharing arrangement but did not disable it. Text messages between Matthew and the victim, who was a neighbor, appeared on defendant’s iPad. Some of the text messages included nude photographs of the victim. Matthew and the victim were aware that defendant had received the pictures and text messages. Defendant and Matthew broke up. Defendant wrote a letter detailing her version of the break-up and attached four of the naked pictures of the victim and copies of the text messages. Matthew’s cousin received the letter and informed Matthew., Matthew contacted the police. The victim stated that the pictures were private and only intended for Matthew but acknowledged that she was aware that Matthew had shared an iCloud account with defendant. Defendant was charged with nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images, 720 ILCS 5/11-23.5(b). The circuit court found section 11-23.5(b) an unconstitutional content-based restriction. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The court declined to find “revenge porn” categorically exempt from First Amendment protection, concluded that the statute is a content-neutral time, place, and manner restriction, and applied intermediate scrutiny. Stating that First Amendment protections are less rigorous where matters of purely private significance are at issue, the court found that the statute serves a substantial governmental interest in protecting individual privacy rights and does not burden substantially more speech than necessary. View "People v. Austin" on Justia Law

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Murray was convicted of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2)) and unlawful possession of a firearm by a street gang member (section 24-1.8(a)(1)). He was sentenced to consecutive terms of 50 years and 10 years respectively. The appellate court affirmed defendant’s conviction, rejecting an argument that the state failed to prove that the Latin Kings are a “street gang” as defined by the Illinois Streetgang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act, 740 ILCS 147/10, finding that a detective’s testimony about the organizational structure of street gangs in general, and the Latin Kings in particular, and that the Latin Kings are a street gang within the meaning of Illinois law was sufficient. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The prosecution did not present evidence that established the elements codified in the statute. There was no “course or pattern of criminal activity” testimony that the Latin Kings were involved in two or more gang-related criminal offenses; that at least one such offense was committed after January 1, 1993; that both offenses were committed within five years of each other; and that at least one offense involved the solicitation to commit, conspiracy to commit, attempt to commit, or commission of any offense defined as a felony or forcible felony. View "People v. Murray" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Burtner, a 65-year-old veteran, went to deposit VFW receipts at a Midlothian bank. A teller saw Burtner approach and saw a man in a hooded sweatshirt walk quickly behind him. After briefly losing sight of both men, she saw the hooded man run in the opposite direction, carrying something. The man (Smith) got into the passenger seat of a black car driven by Brown; the car sped off. A bank employee found Burtner lying on the ground. After a high-speed police chase, the car crashed. Smith and Brown ran in opposite directions. Police found Brown minutes later hiding underneath a car and recovered $1200 in cash from his pocket; they recovered the bank deposit bags and money from inside the car. DNA evidence linked the car to Smith. Three days later, Burtner died. The medical examiner reported that the cause of death was a heart attack and that the assault was a significant contributing factor. After separate trials, the court acquitted defendants on a felony murder charge but convicted them of robbery and aggravated battery of a senior citizen in which they caused great bodily harm, after merging the other aggravated battery counts. The court imposed consecutive sentences based on the nature of the crimes and defendants’ lengthy criminal histories. The appellate court vacated their convictions for aggravated battery of a senior citizen, citing the one-act, one crime rule. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The convictions were based on separate acts and are not lesser-included offenses. Not all the elements of aggravated battery of a senior citizen are included in the offense of robbery, and the aggravated battery offense contains elements that are not included in robbery. View "People v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Custer had already been convicted of several crimes when entered an open plea of guilty to unlawful possession of a controlled substance in 2010. Before his sentencing hearing, Custer was arrested again after an attack on a police officer and for possession of a knife while threatening people at a bar. Based on his many convictions involving “crimes of violence,” and being the subject of “a multitude” of protective orders sought by different women, the court sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment for the drug crime. In 2013, Custerer entered a negotiated guilty plea to the charges of aggravated battery of a police officer and unlawful possession of a weapon; the court imposed consecutive sentences of 4½ years and 5 years in prison and dismissed the remaining charges. Custer filed a pro se post-conviction petition, alleging that his private counsel in the 2010 drug case, Hendricks, was ineffective for failing to appeal or move to withdraw his guilty plea as requested. Appointed post-conviction counsel (Snyder) filed a supplemental petition, with four affidavits from Custer and his girlfriend, Colvin. Hendricks acknowledged telling Custer he had a “good chance” of receiving no more than four years in prison but he had explained that entering an open plea would make it difficult to challenge his sentence. He denied that Custer expressed a desire to appeal or withdraw his plea. Before the court entered an order, Custer sent the judge a letter claiming that Snyder failed to provide adequate representation by refusing to call Colvin as a witness. Stating that it found Custer’s testimony totally unbelievable, the court denied relief. After a hearing for which Custer was absent and Snyder appeared but did not present argument, the court denied a motion to reconsider. Custer filed a second post-conviction appeal, arguing the court erred in denying his reconsideration request without conducting a Krankel hearing. The appellate court acknowledged that Krankel has never been extended to post-conviction proceedings, but remanded. The state appealed. The Illinois Supreme Court declined to expand its holding Krankel, which established procedures to protect a pro se criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of trial counsel. Extending those procedures to similar claims of unreasonable assistance by post-conviction counsel in statutory proceedings commenced under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act would be an unwarranted drain on judicial resources. View "People v. Custer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Illinois reversed the appellate court's reversal of defendant's conviction of burglary. The court held that the appellate court erred in its analysis of the limited-authority doctrine and in holding as a matter law that there was not sufficient evidence to support the element of the burglary statute that requires a defendant's entry to be "without authority." In this case, the evidence showed that defendant and an accomplice placed two backpacks on a coin-exchange machine in the Walmart vestibule, entered the store proper, and a short time later returned to retrieve the backpacks in order to stuff merchandise into them. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "People v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Clark pled guilty to charges of burglary and unlawful use of a credit card and was released on bond pending the imposition of sentence. While awaiting sentencing, Clark was found guilty of violating 720 ILCS 5/31-6(a) for knowingly failing to report to the Whiteside County Jail after leaving a substance abuse treatment center, as required by her bail bond. Section 31-6(a) has two independent clauses: one contains an escape from custody provision and the other contains a knowing failure to report provision. The appellate court found that Clark's failure to report did not constitute an escape because she was not in custody while on bond awaiting sentencing. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the judgment of the circuit court. The plain and unambiguous language of the knowing failure to report provision of section 31-6(a) does not contain a “custody” element; the statute is violated when two elements are proved: a person is convicted of a felony, and the person knowingly fails to report to a penal institution or to report for periodic imprisonment. View "People v. Clark" on Justia Law

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In 2014, the defendant was charged with four counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against a nine-year-old girl. During deliberations, the judge indicated on the record that she had received a note from the jury: “After deliberating for five hours, and despite our best efforts, we are at an impasse.” The judge explained that the jury had also, earlier, informed the bailiff that they were at an impasse. The judge questioned the foreperson in open court in the presence of the jury. After the judge conferred with the attorneys, the judge discharged the jurors and the court declared a mistrial. The prosecution announced its intention to retry defendant. The court notified the parties, without objection that the matter was continued to reset for trial. Thereafter, defendant unsuccessfully moved to bar further prosecution based on double jeopardy principles, arguing that there had been no manifest necessity to declare a mistrial. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the denial of that motion. When a mistrial is declared, a retrial may proceed without offending double jeopardy principles if the defendant consents or there is a manifest necessity for the mistrial. Manifest necessity was evidenced by two statements from the jury indicating. The judge initially urged the jurors to continue and subsequently took care to clarify where the jury stood with respect to the deliberative process. The judge specifically asked the foreperson whether additional time would be helpful and expressed concern about coercion. View "People v. Kimble" on Justia Law

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Fillmore, an inmate at the Sumner, Illinois Lawrence Correctional Center, sued three Corrections officers for failing to follow mandatory legal procedures before imposing discipline upon him for violating prison rules relating to “unauthorized organizational activity” by “intimidation or threats” on behalf of the Latin Kings gang. Fillmore claimed violations of Illinois Administrative Code provisions relating to the appointment of Hearing Investigators to review all major disciplinary reports; service of the report no more than eight days after the commission of an offense or its discovery; provision of a written reason for the denial of his request for in-person testimony at his hearing; not placing him under investigation; failing to independently review notes, telephone logs, and recordings; denial of his requests to see the notes he had allegedly written; and lack of impartiality and improper refusal to recuse. Fillmore alleged he made a timely objection to the committee members’ lack of impartiality, but the committee failed to document that objection. The circuit court dismissed the complaint. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed that Fillmore failed to state a claim for mandamus or common-law writ of certiorari for alleged violations of Department regulations. Department regulations create no more rights for inmates than those that are constitutionally required. The court reversed with regard to his claim that defendants violated his right to due process in revoking his good conduct credits View "Fillmore v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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A jury found defendant guilty of four counts of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2)), and specifically found that defendant, age 16 at the time of the crime, personally discharged a firearm that caused the victim’s death. Defendant was sentenced in 2010. Illinois law then prescribed a sentencing range of 20-60 years for first-degree murder (730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-20(a)) and mandated a minimum 25-year additional term for personally discharging a firearm that caused the victim’s death. The court stated that it “considered all of the relevant statutory requirements," merged the counts, and sentenced defendant to 25 years on the murder conviction and 25 years for the mandatory firearm add-on. While defendant’s appeal was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court held (Miller v. Alabama) that imposing on a juvenile offender a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole, without consideration of the defendant’s youth and its attendant characteristics, violated the Eighth Amendment. The appellate court denied defendant leave to file a supplemental brief, then affirmed defendant’s conviction and sentence. The Illinois Supreme Court subsequently held that Miller applied retroactively to cases on collateral review. Defendant filed a pro se postconviction petition, which the circuit court summarily dismissed as frivolous. While defendant’s appeal was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Miller applied retroactively to cases on collateral review; the Illinois Supreme Court extended Miller’s holding to mandatory de facto life sentences. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed a remand for resentencing. Defendant’s sentence was greater than 40 years and constituted a de facto life sentence. The circuit court failed to consider defendant’s youth and its attendant characteristics in imposing that sentence. View "People v. Buffer" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with aggravated battery of a child, heinous battery, and aggravated domestic battery. The indictments alleged that defendant immersed his six-year-old stepson, J.H. in hot water. The court admitted J.H.’s out-of-court statement to his nurse at Stroger Hospital. The state also offered expert testimony from Dr. Fujara, a specialist in child abuse pediatrics and from White, a retired investigator with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Defendant acknowledged that he falsely identified himself at the hospital. The trial court found him guilty. The appellate court held that the trial court erred in admitting J.H.’s statement identifying defendant as the offender under the hearsay exception for statements made for the purpose of medical diagnosis and treatment and held that the double jeopardy clause barred retrial because the evidence was insufficient to prove defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, reasoning that J.H.’s hearsay statement was the only identification evidence placing defendant in the bathroom when the injury occurred. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the double jeopardy clause does not bar retrial. Dr. Fujara offered persuasive expert testimony that J.H.’s burns resulted from forcible immersion in hot water, ruling out alternative causes and rebutting defendant’s argument that J.H. may have been burned accidentally as a result of a faulty water heater. Defendant was the only adult present in the house at the time J.H. was injured and did not seek prompt treatment. View "People v. Drake" on Justia Law