Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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In 2013, Moore was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon (720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(a) stemming from a traffic stop in Joliet. His prior felony was a 1990 murder conviction. The appellate court affirmed, rejecting an argument that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to stipulate to Moore’s felon status, thereby allowing the jury to consider highly prejudicial evidence that Moore’s prior conviction was for murder. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed and remanded. This type of prior conviction evidence generally has little probative value and creates a high risk of unfair prejudice to the defendant. The jury was faced with two plausible versions of events that depended on witness credibility. The evidence was closely balanced, so informing the jurors that the defendant was previously convicted of murder made Deputy Hannon’s version more plausible and tipped the scales against Moore. There was a reasonable probability of a different result, had defense counsel prevented the jury from being informed of the nature of the prior felony conviction. There was sufficient evidence that the jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, so double jeopardy does not preclude a new trial. View "People v. Moore" on Justia Law

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Roddis was convicted of aggravated domestic battery and sentenced to six years in prison. The trial court dismissed as untimely Roddis’s pro se motion for reduction of his sentence that also alleged ineffectiveness of trial counsel. The appellate court upheld the conviction and sentence but remanded for a “Krankel” hearing. On remand, the trial court conducted a “pre-inquiry Krankel hearing” to determine if the allegations of ineffective assistance were founded, at which point the court would appoint separate counsel and proceed to a “full-blown” Krankel hearing. The court conducted a hearing with Roddis and his previous counsel, giving Roddis the opportunity to elaborate on his allegations and allowing counsel to respond. The court ruled that the allegations did not establish ineffective assistance. The appellate court, finding that the trial court should not have decided the merits at that initial hearing, remanded. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the trial court judgment. Even in preliminary Krankel inquiries, a trial court must be able to consider the merits in their entirety when determining whether to appoint new counsel on a pro se posttrial claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. This serves both the ends of justice and judicial economy. After scrutinizing the record, the court found that Roddis received effective assistance and was not prejudiced by his attorneys’ performance. The court rightfully exercised its discretion to decline to appoint new counsel to address his pro se posttrial claims. View "People v. Roddis" on Justia Law

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Ashley was convicted of stalking (720 ILCS 5/12-7.3(a)(2), (c)(1) and was sentenced to serve 18 months’ imprisonment. The appellate court and the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting his arguments that the provisions of the stalking statute under which he was convicted are facially unconstitutional in violation of the first amendment and substantive due process guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. The statute is not unconstitutionally overbroad; it does not criminalize protected speech consisting of threats to engage in lawful, nonviolent behavior. The amended statute requires two or more threats that the defendant knows or should know would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress; the legislature intended that the term “threatens” refers to “true threats” of unlawful violence such as bodily harm, sexual assault, confinement, and restraint, as set forth in other subsections. The statute that the accused be consciously aware of the threatening nature of his speech and the awareness requirement can be satisfied by a statutory restriction that requires either an intentional or a knowing mental state. The term “threatens” is readily susceptible to a limiting construction and does not cover negligent conduct. The statute is not susceptible to arbitrary enforcement. View "People v. Ashley" on Justia Law

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The Department of State Police revoked Johnson’s Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card under the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act (430 ILCS 65/8(n) due to her conviction for a misdemeanor involving domestic violence. That conviction prohibited her from possessing firearms under federal law. Johnson sought judicial relief. The circuit court held that section 922(g)(9) of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9), and several provisions of the FOID Card Act, which incorporate that federal statute, were unconstitutional as applied to Johnson. The court ordered the Department to reissue Johnson’s FOID card. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the judgment on different grounds, vacating the circuit court’s findings that the state and federal statutes are unconstitutional as applied to Johnson. Under the federal Act, “civil rights” include firearm rights and Johnson fits an exemption for those who have had their “civil rights restored” following a conviction for misdemeanor domestic violence. Illinois’s regulatory scheme (430 ILCS 65/10(c)(1)-(3), which affirmatively provides for a “status-altering dispensation” under section 10 of the FOID Card Act sufficiently fulfills Congress’s intent to “defer to a State’s dispensation relieving an offender from disabling effects of a conviction.” Granting Johnson relief is not contrary to federal law. View "Johnson v. Department of State Police" on Justia Law

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Convicted of the 2014 first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) of his wife, Kathleen, King was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Kathleen’s body was found on railroad tracks near the family’s home. The appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial, finding that King’s motion for substitution of the judge was properly denied after the judge had made a substantive ruling; that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, such that retrial would not violate double jeopardy principles; that the testimony of a crime scene analyst (Safarik) was inadmissible in its entirety because the opinions he rendered were either beyond his qualification or involved conclusions that the jurors easily could draw for themselves without any expert assistance; that portions of other testimony were unduly inflammatory; and that the state’s comments in closing argument about the reasonable doubt standard were improper. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed in part. The motion for substitution was untimely, coming after the judge ruled on a motion to obtain cell phone records. Safarik’s inadmissible testimony was not harmless. The trial court should have excluded some brief foundational testimony by a friend about the closeness of her relationship with Kathleen and the state improperly attempted to define and dilute its burden of proof during its closing argument. View "People v. King" on Justia Law

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A pedestrian, was killed by a hit-and-run driver near a Chicago intersection; her six-year-old son was seriously injured. A jury convicted Eubanks of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2)), failure to report an accident involving death or injury (625 ILCS 5/11-401(b), (d)), and aggravated driving under the influence (DUI) (section 11-501(a)(6), (d)(1)(C), (d)(1)(F). Before trial, Eubanks had unsuccessfully moved to suppress the results of blood and urine testing. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s holding that section 11-501.2(c)(2) was facially unconstitutional, holding that it is unconstitutional as applied to this case. The statute includes the type of general rule that the Supreme Court held will almost always support a warrantless blood test but that rule does not apply in this case. The state conceded that exigent circumstances were lacking and that the police never attempted to secure a warrant. The police told Eubanks that the law required him to give blood and urine samples, but they were not facing an emergency and dissipation was apparently not an issue. Seven hours passed between his arrest and his blood sample, and nearly 8.5 hours passed before he gave the urine sample. It “defies belief that the police could not have attempted to gain a warrant without significantly delaying" the testing. Because the state cannot prove the aggravated DUI charge without the evidence that should have been suppressed, the court upheld the reversal of that conviction and the remand for a new trial on the murder charge. The court reversed the appellate court’s judgment reducing the classification of the failure-to-report conviction. View "People v. Eubanks" on Justia Law

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The prosecution alleged that on September 19, 2011, Bates entered A.P.’s home and, armed with a knife, sexually assaulted her; on October 6, 2011, he entered C.H.’s home, armed with a knife, and sexually assaulted her. The State elected to try him for the assault of A.P. first and moved to introduce other crimes evidence of the assault of C.H. (725 ILCS 5/115- 7.3(b)). After that motion was granted, Bates retained private counsel for the A.P. trial. The public defender continued to represent Bates regarding the C.H. assault. The court authorized payment for DNA testing and granted the defense a continuance but allowed C.H. to testify about her assault, despite a defense argument that counsel “couldn’t possibly do as good a job in defending my client since it wasn’t my case.” During closing argument, defense counsel asked the jury not to put much weight on the “case within a case,” stating that “[t]here’s been no review by any DNA experts.” The jury found Bates guilty. In an unsuccessful motion for a new trial, counsel claimed that he was surprised at the depth of the evidence introduced regarding the other crimes and that counsel would have had that evidence tested by his own experts had he known the depth. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting an argument that counsel’s statements constituted an admission that he neglected Bates’s case, such that a Krankel hearing was warranted. A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must come from the defendant. An attorney may raise his own ineffectiveness only if he does so clearly and at the defendant’s direction and informs the court that the defendant has instructed him to make such a claim. View "People v. Bates" on Justia Law

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Morger, convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and criminal sexual abuse of his teenage sister, challenged, as overbroad and facially unconstitutional, the probationary condition set forth in the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5- 6-3(a)(8.9). He argued that the section’s “complete ban on accessing ‘social networking websites’ as a condition of probation is unreasonable and unconstitutional under the First Amendment.” The condition applies to all probationers who are convicted of a sex offense, whether or not a minor was involved and whether or not the use of social media was a factor in the commission of the offense. The appellate court rejected that argument. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, finding the condition overbroad. The court noted the absolute nature of the ban. Morger could not, without violating his probation, even access or use a device with Internet capability without the prior approval of his probation officer. Applying intermediate scrutiny, the court examined the nature of Morger’s offenses; whether the condition reasonably relates to the rehabilitative purpose of the legislation; and “whether the value to the public in imposing this condition of probation manifestly outweighs the impairment to the probationer’s constitutional rights. View "People v. Morger" on Justia Law

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Abdullah was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 40 years for first-degree murder and 20 years for attempted first-degree murder. In a subsequent motion, the prosecution argued that consecutive sentences were mandatory and sought a term of at least 45 years on the murder conviction: the 20-year minimum term for that offense plus a 25-year firearm enhancement. The indictment did not charge firearm enhancements. The state moved to dismiss Abdullah’s notice of appeal, arguing that Abdullah could not bring an appeal until valid sentences were imposed. The court resentenced Abdullah, imposing consecutive prison terms of 50 years for murder and 31 years for attempted murder, including a 25-year firearm enhancement for both. Abdullah unsuccessfully argued that once his notice of appeal was filed, the court lacked jurisdiction to increase his sentences. On Abdullah’s motion to reconsider, the court reduced the consecutive term for attempted murder to 26 years: the 6-year minimum for that offense plus a 20- year firearm enhancement. The appellate court affirmed. The trial court dismissed Abdullah’s post-conviction petition. Years later, Abdullah sought relief under 735 ILCS 5/2-1401, arguing that the addition of the firearm enhancements violated ex post facto laws because it was unconstitutional at the time of his offense as violating the proportionate penalties clause of the state constitution (the “Morgan” decision was subsequently overturned) and that the enhancements were based on facts not alleged in the charging instrument and not submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The Illinois Supreme Court held that Abdullah’s original concurrent sentences must be reinstated. The prosecution’s post-sentencing motion to modify Abdullah’s sentences was not authorized by statute or by rule and could not be used to delay or circumvent Abdullah’s right to appeal. View "People v. Abdullah" on Justia Law

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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