The appellant in People v. Taliani, 2020 IL App (3rd) 170546, appealed the decision of the trial court denying his motion for leave to file a second successive post-conviction petition, arguing on appeal that he set forth a colorable claim of actual innocence based on the affirmative defense of involuntary intoxication. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed.

Steven Taliani was charged and convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. At his jury trial, Taliani relied on an insanity defense supported by forensic psychiatrist testimony that he had a major affective disorder, or depression with suicide ideation, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Id. at ¶ 3-5. The psychiatrist further testified that appellant’s depression “severely impacted his ability to appreciate the criminality of his conduct” and that his victim–his girlfriend–had encouraged his homicidal and suicidal ideations Id. at ¶ 5.

The jury found Taliani guilty on both charges, and the court sentenced him to consecutive terms of 70 years imprisonment for the first-degree murder conviction and 30 years’ imprisonment for the aggravated battery conviction. Id. at ¶ 6. The conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. Id. at ¶ 8. Taliani then filed a pro se post-conviction petition raising several claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, which was summarily dismissed by the trial court and affirmed by the appellate court. Id. at ¶ 9.

Taliani then filed a pro se petition for relief from judgement pursuant to section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which was denied and affirmed by the same courts. Id. at ¶ 10. Another pro se petition for relief from judgement was filed and then re-characterized as a successive post-conviction petition. Counsel was appointed, who filed an amended petition and raised several claims. This petition was dismissed, as it failed to establish cause-and-prejudice. The appellate court affirmed this dismissal. Id. at ¶ 11.

Fifteen years later, Taliani filed a motion for leave to file a second successive post-conviction petition that was the subject of this appeal. The petition raised a claim of actual innocence based on the affirmative defense of involuntary intoxication from the unwarned side effects of prescription medications that he was taking at the time of the offense. Id. at ¶ 12. Taliani alleged that the defense was not available until the supreme court issued its decision in People v. Hari, 218 Ill. 2d 275 (2006), which was decided ten years after his trial.

The motion alleged that Taliani’s physician had failed to warn him that Buspar and Desyrel, medications appellant was taking at the time of offense, could combine to cause serotonin syndrome if taken together. The motion alleged that Taliani was suffering from such a syndrome at the time of offense, resulting in suicidal ideations, heightened irritability, and altered consciousness. Id. at ¶ 13. The motion further alleged that this syndrome was a contributing factor in the diagnoses and testimony presented at trial. Reports indicating the potential for serotonin syndrome in users of both medications, appellant’s diagnoses depression, and appellant’s suicidal ideations while incarcerated were attached to the motion. Id. at ¶ 14-19. The circuit court denied the motion. This appeal followed.

In reviewing the arguments made by Taliani, the appellate court noted that in Hari, the scope of the defense of involuntary intoxication was broadened beyond the plain language of the statute and is not an application of existing precedent on such defense. Id. at ¶ 24. Further, the courts have since held that the new rule should be given the full retroactive effect because it is tantamount to a rule that limits the conduct prescribed by the criminal statute.

Taliani contended that the evidence in support of his involuntary intoxication defense should be considered “newly discovered” due to the change in the law, despite the fact that it was known at the time of his trial that he was taking the medications. Id. at ¶ 25. The court found that, even considering the evidence in support of appellant’s claim, the circuit court did not err in denying the motion for leave. Id. at ¶ 25.

The appellate court noted that leave of court should only be granted when the petitioner’s supporting documentation raises the probability that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted the petitioner in light of such evidence. Id. at ¶ 26. The court held the supporting documents failed to demonstrate that Taliani was intoxicated to such a degree so as to lack substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or conform his conduct to the requirements of law. Id. at ¶ 28. Specifically, while acknowledging the potential for Taliani to have been suffering from serotonin syndrome, the court noted that “it is not apparent that increased thoughts of suicide would deprive [appellant] of the capacity to appreciate the criminality of shooting victims.” Id. at ¶ 29.

The Third District Appellate Court affirmed.