Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois, the court deliberated on the admissibility of hearsay evidence under the forfeiture by wrongdoing exception. The defendant, Micheal D. Chatman, was charged with four counts of first degree murder in relation to the shooting death of Ricky Green. The State sought to introduce statements made by Dominique “Dee” Collins, who was unavailable for trial, under the forfeiture by wrongdoing exception to the hearsay rule and the sixth amendment confrontation clause. The lower court allowed Collins’s statements to be introduced, ruling him unavailable and that the State had made reasonable, good-faith efforts to secure his presence at trial. The defendant was subsequently found guilty of felony murder and sentenced to prison. The appellate court affirmed the decision. The defendant appealed, arguing the State failed to demonstrate good faith efforts to procure Collins’s presence at trial.The Supreme Court of the State of Illinois affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court held that when the State seeks to introduce hearsay under the forfeiture by wrongdoing exception, the State must demonstrate that the witness is unavailable and that reasonable, good-faith efforts were made to procure the witness’s attendance by a preponderance of the evidence. In this case, despite Collins's intention not to be found, the court found that Detective Christian utilized the information available to him in an ongoing attempt to locate Collins, thus meeting the requirement of reasonable, good-faith efforts. Therefore, the court found no error in the admission of Collins’s statements. View "People v. Chatman" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's decision, affirming the trial court's decision to allow the postconviction counsel to withdraw and to dismiss the postconviction petition. The defendant, Russell A. Frey, was convicted of three counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Frey filed a pro se postconviction petition, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel and a proportionate penalties claim. The trial court appointed counsel for Frey, who later moved to withdraw, arguing that Frey had no meritorious claims. The trial court granted the motion to withdraw and dismissed the petition. On appeal, the appellate court vacated and remanded the case, holding that postconviction counsel did not provide reasonable assistance when he failed to address one of Frey's claims. However, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that Frey failed to rebut the presumption of reasonable assistance arising from counsel's Rule 651(c) certificate, and therefore, the motion to withdraw was not deficient. As such, the Supreme Court of Illinois reversed the appellate court's judgment and affirmed the trial court's orders allowing postconviction counsel to withdraw and dismissing Frey's postconviction petition. View "People v. Frey" on Justia Law

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During a bench trial, the defendant Santana Grayer was found guilty of attempted vehicular hijacking. On appeal, Grayer argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because he was voluntarily intoxicated at the time of the incident. The appellate court affirmed the conviction, reasoning that evidence of voluntary intoxication is no longer relevant to the issue of intent, as the legislature had removed voluntary intoxication as an affirmative defense. However, it also noted that even if voluntary intoxication remained relevant, the evidence failed to establish that Grayer’s state of intoxication was so extreme that he was unable to form the requisite intent.On review, the Supreme Court of Illinois also affirmed Grayer’s conviction, but for different reasons. The court clarified that while voluntary intoxication is no longer recognized as an affirmative defense in Illinois, it can still be considered relevant evidence at trials for specific-intent offenses like attempted vehicular hijacking. This is because a defendant's state of voluntary intoxication might affect their mental state, which is a crucial element in specific-intent crimes. However, in this case, the court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Grayer had the specific intent to commit the offense of attempted vehicular hijacking, despite his state of voluntary intoxication. The court particularly relied on the defendant's behavior during the incident, including his threats to the victim, his refusal to leave the scene, and his actions suggestive of an attempt to take control of the victim's vehicle. View "People v. Grayer" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Justin Devine, was convicted in the circuit court of Kane County of nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images. He appealed to the appellate court arguing that the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The appellate court agreed with Devine and reduced his conviction to disorderly conduct. The State appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Illinois.The key issues before the Supreme Court of Illinois included whether Devine "disseminated" the images when he sent them to himself and whether the victim was identifiable from the images. The court held that Devine did disseminate the images when he texted them from the victim's phone to his own, rejecting the reasoning of the appellate court that Devine did not make the images "more widely known" because he already had knowledge of them. The court reasoned that the statute prohibits dissemination of images, not knowledge of images, and that Devine's act of sending the images to himself was an act of dissemination.However, the Supreme Court of Illinois agreed with the appellate court that the victim was not identifiable from the images. The images were close-ups of female genitalia and did not contain any distinctive identifiers. The court concluded that the fact the victim was wearing red nail polish on the day she went to the store or that the images were on her phone did not make her identifiable from the images.Thus, the court affirmed the appellate court's judgment in reducing Devine's conviction to disorderly conduct. View "People v. Devine" on Justia Law

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Sergeant Albee saw a truck pulling a partially loaded car hauler semitrailer with no driver’s side markings indicating the company name or the DOT number required by federal regulations. The hauler was only partially loaded, which Albee found unusual; no registration was displayed on the trailer. During the subsequent traffic stop, Webb displayed “a state of panic” and had no organized documentation. He volunteered that he had been stopped several times and that the vehicle had been checked for drugs. Albee found that statement “bizarre.” Webb gave Albee a cab card that was Illinois apportioned, but the displayed license plate was from California. Albee performed a free air sniff test with his canine partner. After a positive alert on the trailer, a search revealed an unlicensed firearm and 2736 grams of cannabis–street value $40,000.Webb was convicted of cannabis trafficking, possession of cannabis with intent to deliver, and possession of cannabis. The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting Webb’s argument that his counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress the cannabis on the basis that the positive canine alert, without more, was not sufficient to establish probable cause following changes to Illinois cannabis legislation. Albee relied on more than the dog sniff. The totality of the facts and circumstances justified a reasonable person in believing that the vehicle contained contraband or evidence of criminal activity. View "People v. Webb" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Bush was involved in a neighborhood dispute involving two families that culminated in Bush firing the shots that killed Jones and injured Gulley. Bush was convicted of felony murder, second-degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, two counts of mob action, reckless discharge of a firearm, and unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon.The appellate court reversed the aggravated battery with a firearm conviction, vacated the jury’s finding of guilty of reckless discharge of a firearm, and affirmed the convictions and sentences of felony murder and unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting Bush’s arguments that the prosecution did not prove that he engaged in the predicate felony of mob action; that mob action could not serve as the predicate felony for felony murder because there was no “independent felonious purpose”; and that the court erred in denying his motion in limine to admit a rap video to establish prior inconsistent statements by a witness and in allowing a juror to remain on the jury after the juror revealed an implied bias. The jury could rationally infer that Bush was actively engaged in carrying out a common plan to use force or violence to avenge an earlier beating. View "People v. Bush" on Justia Law

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Fukama-Kabika was charged with criminal sexual assault, and criminal sexual abuse, unlawful restraint. The court advised him of the potential penalties if the jury were to find him guilty, including required terms of mandatory supervised release (MSR). Defense counsel confirmed the accuracy of the potential penalties. After conviction, the trial court did not mention the MSR terms during the sentencing hearing. That day, a written sentencing order was entered, stating an MSR term of “3 years” on counts I and IV and an MSR period of “1 year” on counts II and III. While an appeal was pending a record office supervisor requested an “amended order, issued nunc pro tunc to the original sentencing date” correcting the MSR. The prosecutor forwarded the letter to the trial court, noting that the court had the authority to amend the written sentencing order under Rule 472. That same day, apparently without providing notice to the parties, the court issued an amended order confirming that the MSR term on counts I and IV was “3 years to natural life.”After the rejection of his direct appeal, the appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Fukama-Kabika’s postconviction petition. The trial court was powerless to impose a term of MSR other than that provided by statute, three years to natural life and the misstatement of the MSR term on the written sentencing order was a clerical error. View "People v. Fukama-Kabika" on Justia Law

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Montanez was convicted based on the 2002 murder of Villalobos and Ramirez. The court sentenced him to mandatory natural life for two first-degree murder convictions, a 20-year consecutive sentence for an aggravated vehicular hijacking conviction, and a 27-year consecutive sentence for an aggravated kidnapping conviction.Montanez challenged the denial of his request for leave to file a successive postconviction petition. He sought to raise a claim that the prosecution violated “Brady” by failing to disclose evidence relevant to his defense that was stored in a file in the basement of the Chicago Police Department and was discovered after his convictions. Montanez claims that although he became aware of the file during his first postconviction proceedings (which included 46 constitutional claims) he was unable to obtain the file during those proceedings to establish that it contained material that would have been helpful to his defense.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the denial. In addition to failing to raise a Brady violation claim based on the entirety of the CPD file in his proposed successive petition, Montanez’s attempt to raise this claim on appeal was barred by res judicata. Montanez’s motion for leave to file a successive postconviction petition falls short of demonstrating that the procedural hurdles for filing a successive petition should be lowered in this case. View "People v. Montanez" on Justia Law

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Webster, 17 years old, fatally shot 15-year-old Gutierrez with a sawed-off shotgun while in the garage behind Webster’s home. Gutierrez sustained a wound to his hand, consistent with his arm having been in a defensive position, and two shotgun wounds to his face. Webster hid the shotgun, dragged Gutierrez’s body down the alley, and tried to clean the crime scene, depositing bloodstained items in neighboring garbage receptacles. In a video-recorded interview at the police station, Webster initially said that no one had been at his house that day and he had last seen Gutierrez about a month earlier. Eventually, Webster admitted that he shot Gutierrez, claiming that Gutierrez pulled out a shotgun, pointed it at Webster, and pulled one of the hammers and that Webster grabbed the shotgun from Gutierrez, “blacked out,” and shot Gutierrez twice to “finish him off.”Webster was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to a term of 40 years. The appellate court vacated the sentence and remanded for a new sentencing hearing. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the sentence. Absent a finding of error or abuse of discretion, the appellate court is without authority under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 615(b) to vacate a defendant’s sentence and remand for resentencing. The 40-year sentence is within statutory sentencing limits and is presumed proper. View "People v. Webster" on Justia Law

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Brusaw was charged with aggravated DUI and aggravated driving while his license was revoked. The case was assigned to Judge Jones. A pretrial hearing was set for October 25, 2017. On October 5, Brusaw filed a pro se motion for substitution of Judge Jones under 725 ILCS 5/114-5(a), which gives a defendant the right to an “automatic” substitution of a judge upon the timely filing of a proper written motion containing a good-faith allegation that the judge is prejudiced. After two continuances and at least one pretrial appearance, neither Brusaw nor his attorney brought the motion to Judge Jones’s attention. The judge never entered a ruling on the motion. None of the three posttrial motions mentioned the motion for substitution of judge. Judge Jones sentenced Brusaw to a nine-year prison term. Brusaw spoke at sentencing but did not mention the substitution motion.The appellate court reversed his convictions, reasoning that the “plain language of section 114-5(a)” establishes that a motion for substitution brought under that provision “is not subject to the common abandonment principle.” The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the convictions but vacated the sentence on other grounds. The common law waiver rule applies. Brusaw and his attorney had multiple opportunities to bring the motion to the court’s attention yet never did so. View "People v. Brusaw" on Justia Law