Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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Hatter was charged with nine counts of criminal sexual assault based on three acts involving F.T., his live-in girlfriend’s 13-year-old daughter. In return for the recommendation of four-year consecutive sentences and an agreement to nol-pros the remaining charges, he pled guilty to counts alleging that he knowingly made contact between his penis and F.T.’s vagina and inserted his finger into F.T.’s vagina while she was a minor and Hatter was her “family member,” as the live-in boyfriend of her mother. The court stated that each charge was punishable by a sentence of four-15 years’ imprisonment, with the potential for an additional 30 years if there were aggravating factors. The court found that he understood the nature of the charges, the possible penalties, and his rights; he was pleading guilty freely and voluntarily and his guilty plea was supported by a factual basis. The court imposed two consecutive four-year prison terms. Hatter did not appeal. Because of an error with respect to supervised release, at a later hearing, Hatter had an opportunity to vacate his guilty plea. He instead agreed to an amendment of the sentence to provide for the correct mandatory supervised release term.A year later, Hatter filed the pro se post-conviction petition, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney did not argue that F.T. was not a family member. The trial court summarily dismissed the petition as patently without merit. The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Hatter’s factual allegations do not establish an arguably reasonable probability that he would have decided to plead not guilty, absent counsel’s alleged errors in failing to discover and present the defense to three of the nine alternative charges. View "People v. Hatter" on Justia Law

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Bochenek was convicted of identity theft for the knowingly unauthorized use of another person’s credit card information to purchase cigarettes. Before trial, Bochenek argued that the venue provision pertaining to identity theft, 720 ILCS 5/1-6(t)(3), which allows for proper venue in the county in which the victim resides, was unconstitutional. Bochenek maintained that the acts constituting the offenses occurred at a gas station in Lake County and not where the victim resides, in Du Page County.The circuit and appellate courts and the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the provision. Based on the nature of the crime, the constitutional mandate that criminal trials occur in the county in which the offense is alleged to have been committed is satisfied. The offense of identity theft may be deemed to have been committed where the physical acts occurred as well as where the intangible identifying information is “located,” namely the victim’s residence. View "People v. Bochenek" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Johnson agreed to plead guilty to unlawful restraint. The court informed him that unlawful restraint is a Class 4 felony, punishable by one to three years’ imprisonment, and stated that he would be subject to mandatory supervised release. Johnson entered his plea. The factual basis for the plea indicated that Johnson and another threatened the victim with a gun, detained him, and rummaged through his pockets but did not specify the victim’s age. The court did not inform Johnson that a conviction of unlawful restraint committed against a victim under the age of 18 would trigger a requirement to register under the Child Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registration Act, 730 ILCS 154/1. The court accepted the plea and imposed a two-year sentence. In 2016, Johnson sought leave to file a late post-conviction petition. He had discharged his sentence for unlawful restraint but was in prison for failing to register under the Act.The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the summary dismissal of the petition as patently without merit. Johnson lacked standing to seek postconviction relief from the unlawful restraint conviction because he was no longer “imprisoned in the penitentiary” for that offense. Under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act, if a petitioner clearly lacks standing, the petition is necessarily patently without merit. Where there is no dispute that a petitioner’s liberty is not actually restrained due to the conviction, no further inquiry into his standing is necessary. The obligation to register under the Violent Offender Act was a collateral consequence of the unlawful restraint conviction and did not confer standing to challenge that conviction. View "People v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Palmer’s conviction for first-degree murder based on a 1998 Decatur killing was vacated in 2016, based on DNA evidence. He sought a certificate of innocence under 735 ILCS 5/2-702. The state argued that the new forensic evidence did not establish Palmer’s innocence by a preponderance of the evidence: the new evidence established he was not the primary assailant who killed the victim but did “nothing to refute the argument that petitioner may be guilty of the victim’s murder as an accessory or as a participant in a felony murder.” The circuit court rejected Palmer’s contention that the state was limited to arguing that he was guilty of first-degree murder as charged at trial. The appellate court affirmed, holding that Palmer had to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was neither the principal nor an accomplice to the charged offense because “[t]he principal and the accomplice are, in the eyes of the law, one and the same,” rejecting Due Process and judicial estoppel arguments.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. A petitioner seeking a certificate of innocence needs to prove that he was innocent of the offense only as it was originally charged, not that he was innocent of every conceivable theory of criminal liability for that offense. View "People v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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During a routine traffic stop, officers ran a name check on Bass, a passenger, which returned an investigative alert issued by the Chicago Police Department for an alleged sexual assault. Bass was arrested and made incriminating statements to investigators. The court denied a motion to suppress those statements and found him guilty of criminal sexual assault. The appellate court reversed, holding that the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment because it was unlawfully prolonged, that Illinois Constitution article I, section 6, provides greater protections than the Fourth Amendment, and that arrests based on investigative alerts, even those supported by probable cause, violate the Illinois Constitution.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the reversal of Bass’s conviction, relying solely on the Fourth Amendment, without addressing investigatory alerts or the state constitution. The state failed to meet its burden of showing that the stop was not unlawfully prolonged. Officers cannot lawfully pursue unrelated investigations after quickly completing the mission by claiming that the overall duration of the stop (here, about eight minutes) remained reasonable, nor by waiting to resolve the mission (by writing a ticket or giving a verbal warning) until unrelated inquiries are completed. The name check was unrelated to resolving the red light violation; the officers resolved the traffic violation and then waited to issue the verbal warning so that they could engage in on-scene investigations into other crimes by checking names until they found something worth investigating. View "People v. Bass" on Justia Law

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An officer stopped a van, driven by Wise, for speeding. There was a passenger in the front seat and another in the “very back” seat. As the officer spoke with Wise, he detected the odor of burnt cannabis and called for backup. Two officers conducted a probable cause search of the vehicle; one found a firearm and ammunition “in the rear passenger compartment [in] kind of like [a] little cupholder armrest, inside a glove.” The gun was not in plain view. Searching Wise’s handbag, the officer found a large number of prescription pills. Wise, who had a 1995 Iowa conviction for first-degree burglary, was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, 720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(a) and unlawful possession of a substance containing oxycodone, 720 ILCS 570/402(c). An officer testified that Wise had told the officer that his brother owned the van, that he knew the gun was present, and that the gun belonged to a friend who also borrowed the van from Wise’s brother. Both passengers stated that the gun did not belong to Wise. The officer estimated that the gun was five to 10 feet away from Wise while he was driving.The Illinois Supreme Court vacated Wise's conviction. The state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wise exercised immediate and exclusive control over the area where the firearm was found; his conviction for unlawful possession of a weapon under section 24-1.1(a) on a theory of constructive possession cannot stand. View "People v. Wise" on Justia Law

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Burge, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) formerly employed as a home health care provider, pled guilty to theft, a Class A misdemeanor after stealing $280 from a client. Days later, Burge moved to withdraw her guilty plea and vacate the judgment, claiming that her plea was not voluntarily entered. The circuit court of Champaign County denied her motion. The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Burge’s motion. No manifest injustice occurred because she pled guilty under the misapprehension that she would not automatically lose her employment as a direct result of pleading guilty. Code of Criminal Procedure, 725 ILCS 5/113-4(c), which provides that “[i]f the defendant pleads guilty such plea shall not be accepted until the court shall have fully explained to the defendant” the various collateral consequences of pleading guilty does not apply when a defendant pleads guilty other than at arraignment. The legislature determined that only at arraignment, prior to the appointment of counsel, must a trial court admonish a defendant of the collateral consequences of pleading guilty; here, the defendant pled guilty after arraignment with defense counsel appointed and was properly admonished under Rule 402. View "People v. Burge" on Justia Law

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Birge was convicted of burglary and arson, both Class 2 felonies carrying mandatory class X sentencing based on his criminal history, 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-95(b). The Livingston County circuit court sentenced Birge to 24 years and 6 months’ imprisonment and to pay the victim $117,230 in restitution.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the convictions but vacated Birge’s sentence. In admonishing the jury under Rule 431(b) the trial court properly grouped the principles of presumption of innocence, reasonable doubt, the state’s burden of proof, and the defendant’s right to not testify into one broad statement of law. The prospective jurors expressed their understanding and acceptance of the principles by a show of hands; nothing suggests that the jurors were confused by the court’s presentation and the defense counsel asked follow-up questions. The restitution order, however, lacked a sufficient evidentiary basis for the amount imposed (730 ILCS 5/5- 5-6(f). The trial court must determine the amount of restitution based on such factors as “actual out-of-pocket expenses, losses, [and] damages. View "People v. Birge" on Justia Law

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Based on a 2001 gang-related shooting Jackson was convicted in Cook County of first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. After his direct appeal and an initial post-conviction petition were unsuccessful, he sought leave in the circuit court to file a successive post-conviction petition, arguing that his constitutional right to due process of law was violated at trial by the state’s use of witness statements that were the product of police intimidation or coercion and that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. Jackson attached documents that purport to show a pattern and practice of witness intimidation in other cases by the police detectives who obtained the witness statements, as well as exculpatory affidavits.The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the petition. The material regarding police misconduct attached to Jackson’s petition is not relevant to establishing a pattern and practice of witness intimidation by the interviewing detectives in this case, so Jackson has not satisfied the “prejudice” prong of the cause-and-prejudice test. Jackson cannot set forth a colorable claim of actual innocence because his supporting affidavits are not new; principles of “fundamental fairness” do not require additional proceedings. View "People v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Knapp and Rodriguez were charged with attempted first-degree murder, mob action, and aggravated battery in connection with the stabbing of Avitia, who survived the attack and identified the assailants. At a McHenry County jury trial, the prosecution argued that the defendants were members of the Norteños street gang and that they attacked Avitia based on his alleged association with a rival street gang. At the state’s request, the court admonished Knapp concerning his right to testify. Knapp acknowledged that he had discussed the issue with his attorney and made a choice not to testify.On appeal, Knapp unsuccessfully argued that his counsel was ineffective because counsel “elicited inadmissible other crimes evidence that was similar to the charged offense and also false” and failed to “pursue a ruling on the State’s motion to introduce gang evidence or renew his objection to the admission of such evidence.” Knapp then filed a pro se post-conviction petition, raising claims of actual innocence, involuntary waiver of his right to testify, and ineffective assistance.The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the summary dismissal of the petition. While a pro se petitioner is not required to use precise legal language alleging a “contemporaneous assertion of the right to testify” to survive first-stage summary dismissal, summary dismissal is warranted when the record positively rebuts the allegations. The record contains nothing to suggest that Knapp ever alerted the court of his desire to testify, that he had any questions about that right, or that he otherwise was unsure about waiving his right to testify. View "People v. Knapp" on Justia Law