The petitioner in People v. Baller, 2018 IL App (3d) 160165 filed a pro se motion for leave to file successive post-conviction petition. When a petitioner is filing a second or subsequent post-conviction petition, he must be granted permission, or leave, from the trial court in order to do so. In order to be granted leave to file a successive petition, the petitioner must allege actual innocence or satisfy the “cause and prejudice” test set forth in the Act. The “cause and prejudice” test is essentially an explanation why the petitioner did not bring the claim in his previously filed petition.
Under the Act, the trial court is to consider the motion for leave without input from the State. Here, the State filed a written objection to Baller’s motion for leave prior to the trial court deciding it. The court, referencing the State’s written objection, denied Baller’s motion for leave. Baller appealed.
The State conceded on appeal that it was error for the trial court to have considered the State’s input before ruling on the motion. However, it argued that remand was unnecessary because Baller did not sufficiently set forth in his motion for leave why his claim satisfied the cause and prejudice test.
Generally, the appellate court can affirm a lower court’s decision for any reason apparent in the record. In other words, the appellate court can come up with its own reason that the motion for leave should have been dismissed, even if it was not the same reason that the trial court used. The State argued on appeal that remand was unnecessary because Baller did not meet the cause and prejudice as matter of law, even if the court had considered the State’s input. Therefore, the argument went, because the motion was deficient, the appellate court could affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion because it would have been a reason apparent from the record.
However, the majority held that “the procedural posture of the instant case creates an exception to the general principle that an appellate court may affirm on any basis found in the record.” Id. at ¶ 16. The majority determined that “The only way to honor these holdings [that motions for leave must be decided without input from the State] is to reset the scales of justice and remand the matter to the trial court for an independent evaluation of defendant’s motion by expressly ignoring the State’s input as expressed both in this court and the trial court.” Id.