Our panel of leading appellate attorneys reviews the three civil and six criminal opinions handed down Thursday, March 21, 2024, by the Illinois Supreme Court.

People v. Gray, 2024 IL 127815

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

Demetrius Gray was arrested and charged with being an armed habitual criminal after a woman flagged down police officers on patrol and reported that a man in a parked vehicle had a gun. When the officers approached the vehicle, they observed Gray in the passenger seat with the door open, and they found a small chrome handgun in the open glove compartment. Gray said he found the gun a few days earlier and had been planning to turn it in for cash.

As charged here, the offense of armed habitual criminal required proof that Gray possessed any firearm after having been “convicted” of two or more felonies as delineated in the statute. 720 ILCS 5/24-1.7. At Gray’s trial, the parties stipulated that he “ha[d] two prior qualifying felony convictions for the purposes of sustaining the charge of armed habitual criminal.” The stipulation did not specify the particular convictions, but the indictment listed a 2007 conviction of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and a 2002 conviction of manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance, both of which would satisfy the armed habitual criminal statute.

On appeal, Gray did not contest that he possessed the firearm in question. But, he argued that the State had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he had two qualifying predicate convictions. More specifically, Gray argued that because he was only 17 at the time of the 2002 offense, it was not a qualifying “conviction” for purposes of the armed habitual criminal charge brought in 2016 where, under the law as it existed in 2016, that charge would have been brought in juvenile court not in adult criminal court. That is, even though Gray had been prosecuted in criminal court at the time of his 2002 conviction, the 2014 amendments to the Juvenile Court Act raised the age for juvenile jurisdiction to 17, meaning his 2002 conviction no longer qualified as a “conviction.” Gray relied on People v. Stewart, 2022 IL 126116, in support of his argument (2013 offense committed when defendant was 17 and prosecuted in adult court was not a qualifying prior conviction for Class X recidivist sentencing in 2016).

The appellate court agreed with Gray and held that the State failed to prove that his 2002 conviction was a qualifying offense based on the subsequent amendment to the Juvenile Court Act. The Supreme Court disagreed, albeit on a basis that had not been asserted by the State in the appellate court. Specifically, the Supreme Court found Gray’s stipulation dispositive. That stipulation obviated the need for the State to present any evidence of the facts of the underlying convictions, and thus Gray could not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence of the stipulated facts on appeal.

The Court also noted that Gray might argue ineffective assistance of his trial counsel for entering into the stipulation where there was a potential challenge to the 2002 predicate conviction. But, an essential component of an ineffective assistance claim is prejudice, and such a claim would fall short on that basis here where the record showed that Gray also had a 2008 conviction which would have qualified as an appropriate predicate and could have been relied upon had counsel challenged the 2002 predicate. Accordingly, Gray could not establish the likelihood of a different outcome even if trial counsel had not entered into the stipulation here.

People v. Logan, 2024 IL 129054

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

During the investigation into the death of Jessica Logan’s 19-month-old son, Logan performed a video re-enactment of her discovery of the child’s death, which had occurred in his bed. Logan was subsequently arrested and charged with first degree murder in the child’s death. Prior to trial, Logan filed a motion to suppress the video recording of the re-enactment, arguing that it amounted to a custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings having been provided.

At a hearing on the motion, DCFS investigator Leandra Tate testified that she arranged for Logan to attend the re-enactment, telling her, “we need to do a re-enactment. We do that in all of our own child death cases.” Logan was upset about having to go back to the apartment where her son died and did not want to do it, but she didn’t outright refuse. Detective Eric Matthews testified that the re-enactment was arranged at the request of the pathologist who performed the child’s autopsy, Dr. Scott Denton. When Logan arrived at the apartment for the re-enactment, she was accompanied by Hope Taylor, the grandmother of Logan’s other son. Taylor was told to wait outside.

The re-enactment lasted a little more than half an hour and consisted largely of Detective Matthews asking Logan questions about what occurred on the night of the child’s death. In addition to Detective Matthews and Investigator Tate, two additional police officers and an additional DCFS investigator were present in the apartment. Matthews considered Logan a suspect at the time. He denied telling Logan that she was required to participate, but Logan testified that she did not believe she had a choice. Logan was permitted to leave with Taylor after the re-enactment. She was not charged and arrested until several days later. The trial court ultimately denied the motion to suppress, finding that the encounter was not custodial and therefore did not require Miranda warnings be given. In reaching this conclusion, the court acknowledged that it was “somewhat troubled by the process.”

Following a jury trial, Logan was convicted of murder in the death of her son. Evidence at the trial included the video re-enactment and testimony from the pathologist that the child’s death was due to asphyxia by compression and smothering and not the result of the child having become entangled in his bedding as had been suggested in the re-enactment. Further evidence was that Logan told the police she had been planning to get up during the night to give the child albuterol breathing treatments for a cold, as she had been doing for the previous four nights, but no albuterol vials, either empty or full, were found during a search of the home; only an empty albuterol box was located in a hall closet. Additional evidence at trial tended to suggest that Logan was having financial problems at the time of the child’s death, that she had taken out a $25,000 life insurance policy on the child several months prior to his death, and that she contacted her insurance agent to file a claim on the morning after the child’s death. Finally, data extracted from Logan’s phone revealed that someone had searched, “how do you suffocate” on her phone on the morning before the child’s death, though Logan testified that she had performed that search after the child died.

In the appellate court, Logan argued that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress based on the absence of Miranda warnings at the video re-enactment. The appellate court concluded that the circumstances surrounding the re-enactment were “troubling,” but ultimately agreed with the trial court’s determination that the encounter was not custodial. The court also rejected Logan’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to challenge her recorded statements as involuntary under the fifth amendment and the product of an unlawful seizure under the fourth amendment.

The Supreme Court affirmed the Miranda-based challenge, but on different grounds than the appellate court. The Court first found that Logan had forfeited her Miranda argument by failing to include it in her post-trial motion. The Court noted, though, that a forfeited issue may be reviewed under the plain-error doctrine (1) where the evidence is so closely balanced that the error alone threatened to tip the scales of justice against defendant, regardless of the seriousness of the error, or (2) where the error was so serious that it affected the fairness of defendant’s trial and challenged the integrity of the judicial process, regardless of the closeness of the evidence.

Under either prong of the plain error test, the Court first looks to whether an error even occurred. And, here, the Court found that it had. Specifically, the Court found that the video re-enactment was a custodial interrogation. The police chose the time and location for the re-enactment, a location which was upsetting to Logan. Further, Logan was told that she had to participate and was never told she was free to leave or refuse to answer questions. Several additional law enforcement officers were present, and Logan’s child’s grandmother, whom she described as a “mother figure” to her, was forced to wait outside. And, the re-enactment was a police-dominated environment where Detective Matthews did all of the questioning and directed Logan’s actions in re-enacting the events under investigation. Additionally, the videotaping of the encounter contributed to the atmosphere of formality. Thus, Logan’s motion to suppress should have been allowed.

But, the Court concluded that the error did not amount to plain error under either prong of the plain-error doctrine. First, the court found that the evidence was not closely balanced where the pathologist testified that the death was caused by smothering and compression and was not accidental, Logan was having financial problems and had taken out a life insurance policy on the child, and Logan’s phone data showed a search about suffocation on the morning before the child’s death. And, the court found that Miranda violations are generally subject to harmless error review and thus do not rise to the level of “structural error” required to meet the second prong of the plain error test.

The Court went on to hold that Logan was not denied effective assistance of counsel because, even if counsel’s performance was deficient, Logan could not demonstrate prejudice. More specifically, the Court held that even if the challenged evidence had been excluded, it would not have changed the outcome at trial because the remaining evidence of guilt was overwhelming.

Miller v The Department of Agriculture, , 2024 IL 128508

By Michael T. Reagan, Law Offices of Michael T. Reagan

The Grain Code recites that “the Illinois grain industry comprises a significant and vital part of the State’s economy and as such can function to its fullest competitive and profitable potential, thus contributing to the economic health of this State, when it operates under a coordinated and integrated regulatory structure. Thus, a further purpose of this Code is to provide a single system of governmental regulation of the Illinois grain industry.” The same section of the Grain Code states that  “It is the primary purpose of this Code to promote the State’s welfare by improving the economic stability of agriculture through the existence of the Illinois Grain Insurance Fund in order to protect producers in the event of the failure of a licensed grain dealer or licensed warehouseman and to ensure the existence of an adequate resource so that persons holding valid claims may be compensated for losses occasioned by the failure of a licensed grain dealer or licensed warehouseman.” 240 ILCS 40/1-5 This case involves a disputed claim made by the plaintiff  grain producer Robert Miller for compensation from that Fund upon the failure of the licensed grain dealer SGI Agri-Marketing to which plaintiff had delivered grain for sale.  That failure occurred when SGI’s license was revoked by the Department of Agriculture after Miller had delivered the grain at issue here.

The grain was delivered pursuant to a “price later contract,” which, grossly stated, provides that title to the grain passes to the dealer at delivery, but the purchase price is established later, by a formula established by the contract, or at times by operation of the Code, at least for purposes of a claim against the Fund, depending on the timing of events set out in the Code.  One of the issues in this case is whether a mandatory pricing provision in the Code controlled when  the parties delayed in signing a contract. When the grain is priced under that Code provision, the dealer is required to send a notice to the selling grain producer within 10 days, setting out the economic details of the transaction as well as a notice that the “Grain Insurance Fund shall provide protection for a period of only 160 days from the date of pricing of the grain.”

The statutory contentions of the parties and the necessary details of the Code cannot possibly be compressed into the format of this summary. It hopefully broadly suffices to say that plaintiff argued that the grain was priced when he signed a purchase confirmation less than 160 days before the failure, and the Department contended that the grain was automatically priced by operation of law more than 160 days before the failure, precluding recovery from the fund. It was undisputed that SGI did not send the required notice, which is intended to alert sellers that pricing the grain opens the fund’s protection window. Plaintiff argued that that failure negated the automatic pricing, and additionally that a contrary construction of the statute resulted in an inequitable unfairness. The court disagreed, holding that the pricing and notice provisions operate independently of each other.

Plaintiff’s claim with the Department for compensation from the Fund was assigned to an ALJ, who ruled for plaintiff.  The Department successfully petitioned for reconsideration, resulting in denial of the claim.  Plaintiff’s complaint for administrative review resulted in affirmance of the denial of the claim, but the appellate court reversed.  A primary contention at each level was the date on which the grain was to be regarded as being priced. The Department’s petition for leave to appeal was granted by the Supreme Court, which here reversed the appellate court and affirmed the circuit court, thus affirming the denial of plaintiff’s claim. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the dealer did not comply with its obligation to provide notice, and that “plaintiff is left without compensation for his losses.” The Court recognized that despite the statutory requirement that the Code is to be liberally construed in favor of claimants, “our decision results in an unfortunate outcome for plaintiff.  But our restrictive interpretation  of (the) pricing provision gives effect to the legislature’s intent to stabilize grain markets.”

Kopf v. Kelly, , 2024 IL 127464

By Joanne R. Driscoll, Forde & O’Meara LLP

This case concerns the constitutionality of section 11-9.3(b-10) of the Criminal Code of 2012 (Criminal Code) (hereinafter Residency Restriction) (720 ILCS 5/11-9.3(b-10) (West 2018)), which prohibits “child sex offender[s]” from living within 500 feet of a “day care home,” along with other statutory prohibitions and requirements for sex offenders in Illinois. The circuit court held that section 11-9.3(b-10) violated “substantive due process and equal protection.” It dismissed the remaining claims brought by the plaintiff. This direct appeal by the Director of the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Attorney General, and the Kane County State’s Attorney and plaintiff’s cross-appeal followed.

In a unanimous decision written by Justice Overstreet (Justice Neville took no part), the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the portion of the circuit court’s order finding the Residency Restriction unconstitutional as applied to plaintiff and reversed the portion of the circuit court’s order finding the Residency Restriction facially unconstitutional. It affirmed the circuit court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s remaining claims.

Initially, the Court explained the difference between facial and as-applied constitutional challenges and the effect of each. An as-applied constitutional challenge is dependent on the particular facts and circumstances of the individual bringing the challenge whereas a facial challenge must establish that the statute is unconstitutional under any possible set of facts. Because the circuit court did not hold an evidentiary hearing regarding plaintiff’s as-applied challenge to the Residency Restriction, the Supreme Court vacated that portion of the circuit court’s ruling and remanded that cause for hearing.

Addressing the question of law as to whether the Residency Restriction was facially unconstitutional, the Court rejected plaintiff’s arguments that the provision infringed upon the interests of a child sex offender to raise and care for his children, to enjoy his current or future properties, and to engage in intrastate travel, all of which, according to the plaintiff, were fundamental liberty rights that required the more stringent strict scrutiny analysis. The Court disagreed that fundamental rights were at issue and, thus, applied the rational basis test under which a court determines whether there is a legitimate state interest for the legislation and whether there is a reasonable relationship between that interest and the means the legislature chooses to pursue it.

The Court found that the Residency Restriction bore a reasonable relationship to furthering the State’s public interest in protecting children from neighboring child sex offenders and in reducing the opportunity for such offenders to commit offenses against children. The Court rejected plaintiff’s arguments that the Residency Restriction was unreasonable because it was limited to certain situations and not others. As the Court noted, a statute need not be the best method of accomplishing a legislative goal so long that it is reasonable.

Turning to plaintiff’s equal protection claim, the Court instructed that due process and equal protection challenges involve the same rational basis analysis when no fundamental right is at issue. The Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the Residency Restriction was not rational because it allowed child sex offenders to live in homes within 500 feet of a day care home if the offender’s home was purchased before August 14, 2008, but not after that date. As the Court explained, the rational basis test is satisfied even if it applies to some, but not all, child sex offenders, so long as those sex offenders are not similarly situated. Here, the offenders who purchased their homes before 2008 were not similarly situated because their purchases were made in reliance on a previously existing law that had no such prohibition. Accordingly, the circuit court’s finding that the Residency Restriction facially violated equal protection was reversed.

The Court then addressed plaintiff’s cross-appeal that challenged the circuit court’s dismissal of his other substantive due process, procedural due process, and ex post facto claims. Plaintiff challenged as a violation of substantive due process other “presence restrictions” that applied to sex offenders (720 ILCS 5/11 9.3 (West 2018)), the Registration Act (730 ILCS 150/1 et seq. (West 2018)), the Notification Law (730 ILCS 152/101 et seq. (West 2018)), and section 5-5-3(o) of the Criminal Code (id. § 5-5-3(o) (requiring individuals convicted of sex offenses to annually renew their driver’s licenses)). Referring to its earlier reasoning that applied the rational basis test to the Residency Restriction, the Court rejected plaintiff’s argument that fundamental rights were at issue and then held that each provision identified by plaintiff was rationally related to the State’s legitimate goal to protect children and, thus, passed constitutional muster, both as applied and facially. The Court’s opinion should be viewed for a more detailed analysis of each statutory provision.

Plaintiff’s procedural due process argument contended that the provisions he identified created an “irrebuttable presumption” that sex offenders remained a grave danger to society and provided no process for judicial review to measure individual risk of recidivism. Rejecting this argument, the Court found persuasive the reasoning of the appellate court in People v. Avila-Briones, 2015 IL App (1st) 132221, and the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court in Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1 (2003). Both cases rejected procedural due process challenges to sex offender statutes involving residency, employment, or presence restrictions. Each found a rational relationship to the goal of protecting the public from the possibility that sex offenders will commit new crimes. Following the reasoning of these decisions, the Court held that the provisions in question were triggered by the offender’s initial conviction. The offender’s dangerousness or likelihood to reoffend was irrelevant and, thus, the plaintiff did not have a due process right to a hearing to establish recidivism. According to the Court, any change in the statutes should come from the legislature.

Plaintiff’s ex post facto constitutional claims argued that since he pleaded guilty to his crime, later amendments to the statutory schemes involving registration, notification, presence, and residency included more burdensome requirements and constraints that were retroactive in nature and constituted punishment. The Court rejected this argument in a lengthy discussion examining whether as to each statutory scheme the legislature intended to punish or unintentionally enacted punitive civil schemes. Ultimately, the Court found that the statutory schemes involving sex offenders and child sex offenders had the nonpunitive purpose of public safety. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the circuit court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s ex post facto constitutional claims.

Project44, Inc. v. FourKites, Inc., 2024 IL 129227

By Karen Kies DeGrand, Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC

Recognizing a corporation’s interest in protecting its reputation among its employees, as well as the public at large, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of a corporation’s defamation per se lawsuit against a competitor. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Holder White, the court found that defamatory statements made only to the corporation’s high-level employees may constitute “publication” under the law of defamation.

The parties, plaintiff project44, Inc., and defendant FourKites, Inc., are Chicago-based companies in the field of shipping logistics. The lawsuit arises from emails directed to project44’s chief revenue officer and two members of the company’s board of directors. After they received emails with allegations of an affiliation of the corporation with “the Chicago mafia,” of “Ponzi schemes,” and of “rampant accounting improprieties,” project44 employed Supreme Court Rule 224(a), which facilitates pre-suit discovery, to discover the sources of the emails, apparently sent by individuals using aliases. project44’s investigation uncovered documents indicating that individuals associated with FourKites sent the emails.

Claiming the emails contained statements amounting to accusations of criminal conduct, project44 sued FourKites for defamation per se. In the trial court, FourKites succeeded in moving to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis it had published the statements only to individuals with the authority to bind the corporation and through whom the corporation acted; thus, the communications amounted to communications with project44 and were not published to a third party. After the appellate court reversed the dismissal order and the Supreme Court accepted FourKites’ petition for leave to appeal, it continued to argue that project44 failed to properly allege the element of “publication” and characterized the officer and directors who received the emails as “the human embodiment” of the corporation.

The Illinois Supreme Court rejected FourKites’ argument that because the emails were sent only to project44’s senior agents, the emails were published only to project44. The Court recounted other jurisdictions’ treatment of whether a “publication” for defamation purposes may occur when a communication is made to a corporation’s leadership-level employees. The Illinois Supreme Court joined the majority view, which adheres to the “intracorporate publication” rule, a principle consistent with the Restatement of Torts (Second), Section 577: managers and employees of a corporation can have separate identities from the corporation in assessing publication. The supreme court adopted this approach, reasoning that “spread of injurious falsehoods” may affect executive-level employees as well as other employees. In the Court’s view, a corporation has an interest in protecting its reputation among its management-level employees; their reputations are distinct.

Nor did FourKites succeed in arguing that the intracorporate publication rule eliminates the element of reputational harm from defamation claims involving corporate parties. The Court noted that a plaintiff, like project44, suing on a defamation per se theory need not prove actual damages. That requirement remains part of a defamation per quod case. The Court declined to address FourKites’ final challenge raising the interplay of the publication element and a qualified privilege defense under circumstances similar to the facts alleged. Having only addressed the sufficiency of the pleadings, the Court found it need not address the defense that this juncture.

People v. Marcum, 2024 IL 128687

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

Clayton Marcum was charged with aggravated battery in September 2019. More than nine months later, in July 2020, the State dismissed that charge and instead filed two counts of aggravated domestic battery arising out of the same incident. Marcum ultimately was convicted of both charges and sentenced to consecutive seven-year terms of imprisonment. On appeal, the appellate court agreed with Marcum that the State’s evidence was insufficient to sustain the “dating-relationship” element of the charges and reduced his convictions to aggravated battery. But, the court rejected the other issues raised by Marcum, including a speedy-trial challenge and a claim that his counsel waiver was not knowingly made. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed.

It has long been held that the statutory speedy trial right under 725 ILCS 5/103-5 implements the constitutional right to a speedy trial, but the two are not coextensive. With regard to Marcum’s speedy-trial claim, the Court first agreed that Marcum’s statutory speedy-trial right was violated. But, the Court held that Marcum had waived his right to a speedy trial where he failed to file a written motion in the trial court seeking discharge on that basis, as required by 725 ILCS 5/114-1. Marcum conceded that he had not filed such a motion, but argued that the issue should be reached as a matter of second-prong plain error because the violation of his speedy trial right was “so serious that it affected the fairness of his trial and challenged the integrity of the judicial process.”

The Illinois Supreme Court rejected that argument and held that a statutory speedy trial violation does not alone constitute plain error. In the process, the Court overruled a line of appellate court cases which had found second-prong plain error from such a violation, including People v. Gay, 376 Ill. App. 3d 796 (2007), People v. McKinney, 2011 IL App (1st) 100317, and People v. Mosley, 2016 IL App (5th) 130223, and People v. Smith, 2016 IL App (3d) 140235. The Court explained that the legislature would not have provided for wavier of the statutory speedy-trial right in Section 114-1 (the statute requiring a motion for discharge) if a violation of Section 103-5 by itself resulted in an unfair trial or challenged the integrity of the judicial process.

The Court went on to consider Marcum’s claim that he did knowingly waive his right to counsel because the trial court’s admonishments at the time of the waiver did not substantially comply with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 401(a). For an effective waiver of counsel under Rule 401(a), the court must advise the defendant of the nature of the charge, the minimum and maximum sentence, and that he has a right to counsel and can have counsel appointed if indigent. Marcum noted that the court gave erroneous sentencing admonishments, including telling him that he was eligible for an extended-term sentence when he was not, failing to explain that he could receive a prison sentence on each conviction or that such terms could be ordered to be served consecutively, and misinforming him of the applicable term of mandatory supervised release that would apply.

Strict compliance with Rule 401(a) is not required. It is enough that the court substantially comply with the admonishment requirement so long as the record indicates a knowing and voluntary waiver and demonstrates that the defendant was not prejudiced by any defect in the admonishments. Such was the case here where Marcum was informed he could receive a prison sentence as high as 14 years, but he was actually eligible for, and ultimately received, a maximum of two consecutive 7-year terms. Similarly, Marcum was advised that the MSR term would be 4-years-to-life, but the actual MSR term was 4 years. On these facts, where the court accurately stated the maximum prison sentence and overstated the applicable MSR term, Marcum could not have been prejudiced by the technically defective admonishments. Further, the record indicated that Marcum’s waiver of counsel was otherwise knowing and voluntary. Given that the trial court substantially complied with Rule 401(a), there was no reversible error here.

People v. Griffin, 2024 IL 128587

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

Shemar Griffin pled guilty to first degree murder in exchange for a 35-year sentence and dismissal of other charges. Years later, Griffin sought leave to file a successive post-conviction petition alleging he was actually innocent. The trial court denied leave to file, concluding that Griffin’s guilty plea precluded a later claim of actual innocence. The appellate court reversed, noting that such a claim is viable in light of People v. Reed, 2020 IL 124940, and holding that Griffin made a colorable claim of innocence under the standard set out in People v. Robinson, 2020 IL 123849.

The State appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. Two issues were presented: (1) whether an actual-innocence claim is subject to a different standard at the leave-to-file stage depending on whether the defendant’s conviction resulted from a trial or from a guilty plea, and (2) whether each claim in a successive post-conviction petition must meet the applicable standard in order for a defendant to be granted leave to file that claim. In his successive petition, Griffin advanced both a claim of actual innocence and a claim that plea counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate an alternate suspect.

Generally, only one post-conviction proceeding is contemplated under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act. But, the Act allows for a successive petition to be filed where the petitioner can establish cause and prejudice for not raising a claim in an initial post-conviction petition or where the petitioner asserts a colorable claim of actual innocence.

Ultimately, to obtain relief on an actual innocence claim, the petitioner typically must show that the evidence in support of the claim is newly discovered, material, non-cumulative, and of such conclusive character as would probably change the result on retrial. In Reed, 2020 IL 124940, however, the Court set a higher standard for obtaining relief on a claim of actual innocence where the petitioner pled guilty rather than having been convicted at a trial. In the guilty plea context, the petitioner must show that the new evidence “clearly and convincingly” demonstrates that a trial would probably result in acquittal. This standard serves to balance the petitioner’s liberty interest against the State’s interest in maintaining the finality of plea agreements. Reed left open the question of whether a higher standard also applies to guilty plea defendants at the leave-to-file stage.

Here, the Court answered that question in the negative. When a petitioner seeks leave to file a successive petition, the court does not make credibility determinations but rather considers only whether the new evidence, if believed and not positively rebutted by the record, could lead to a different outcome on retrial. The “clear and convincing” standard would be difficult to apply in that context where the reliability of the new evidence is not yet at issue. Thus, the leave-to-file standard remains the same for all petitioners raising a claim of actual innocence, regardless of whether their conviction was the result of a plea or a trial. Chief Justice Theis authored a dissent and would have held that a higher standard does apply where a guilty plea petitioner seeks leave to file an actual innocence claim in a successive post-conviction petition.

Here, Griffin’s claim of actual innocence was supported by an affidavit from Lavonte Moore, who lived across the street from the scene of the shooting which led to Griffin’s conviction. Moore averred that he witnessed the incident and saw another man, Jerrell Butler, commit the offense. Moore did not come forward sooner because he was afraid of Butler. Additionally, Griffin’s claim was supported by an affidavit from Perrier Myles. According to Myles, the victim’s boyfriend, Cornell McWilliams, told him that Griffin was a “scapegoat” and that McWilliams and other eyewitnesses falsely identified Griffin as the shooter. The Court concluded that these affidavits were sufficient to make a colorable claim of actual innocence, and the circuit court should have granted leave to file that claim.

With regard to Griffin’s claim of ineffective assistance of plea counsel, the Court first agreed with the State that each claim in a successive post-conviction petition must meet the applicable standard in order for a defendant to be granted leave to file that claim. The successive-petition standards apply to each claim, not the petition as a whole. Accordingly, Griffin was required to make a showing of cause and prejudice for his failure to bring his ineffective assistance claim in his original post-conviction petition. The Court then remanded the matter to the appellate court to make that determination where it had not considered the cause-and-prejudice issue when the case was pending before it.

People v. Torres, 2024 IL 129289

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

At a jury trial, Ramon Torres was convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child against his daughter, J.T., occurring sometime between March 2012 and November 2013. The State’s evidence at trial included testimony that J.T. had reported an incident of abuse by her six-year-old cousin in November 2013, after which she had a medical examination and tested positive for chlamydia. A DCFS investigation was opened, but was subsequently closed without any charges because J.T. did not name a possible offender other than her young cousin. In 2016, J.T. again tested positive for chlamydia after a routine physical. She subsequently accused Torres of having committed an act of sexual penetration with her by putting his penis in her vagina while J.T. was visiting Torres during a period of time while her parents had been separated in 2012 or 2013.

The State also offered evidence that Torres tested positive for chlamydia in 2013 and again in 2016. Torres’ 2013 test was conducted when he sought medical treatment for his own symptoms. The 2016 test occurred after DCFS directed that both Torres and J.T.’s mother be tested after J.T.’s positive results were reported. Both Torres and J.T.’s mother were positive at that time. DCFS then learned that Torres had tested positive for chlamydia in 2013 when J.T.’s treating nurse practitioner discovered those results during her review of Torres’ medical history and reported them to DCFS. Additionally, a police investigator issued a grand jury subpoena for Torres’ medical records and received his 2013 chlamydia results in response.

On appeal, Torres argued that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the admission of his positive chlamydia test results, citing the physician-patient privilege statute, 735 ILCS 5/8-802. The appellate court rejected that argument, and the Illinois Supreme Court agreed.

Section 8-802 provides that no physician shall be permitted to disclose any information acquired “in attending any patient in a professional character” unless one of the enumerated exceptions apply. One of those exceptions, subsection (7), allows disclosure of privileged medical information “in actions, civil or criminal, arising from the filing of a report in compliance with the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act.”

Looking to the plain language of the statute, the Illinois Supreme Court first held that the privilege was “entirely irrelevant” to the 2016 results. Specifically, the 2016 test was not performed for purposes of attending defendant as a patient, but rather was the result of a DCFS order. The fact that Torres received treatment from J.T.’s nurse practitioner after testing positive was of no consequence. For medical information to be subject to the privilege, the healthcare provider must have acquired the information in attending the patient in a professional character. Here, the 2016 test results were acquired prior to treating Torres and was not covered.

With regard to the 2013 test results, the Court concluded that the physician-patient privilege applied but also that the exception contained in subsection (7), concerning “actions…arising from the filing of” a report of abuse, operated to allow admission of the results. Torres challenged the application of subsection (7), arguing that his test results did not arise from the 2013 report of abuse, relying on People v. Bons, 2022 IL App (3d) 180464. But, the Court disagreed. The statute speaks in terms of whether the “action” arose from the filing of a report of abuse, not whether the privileged medical information arose from such a report. And, here, the criminal charge against Torres arose from the report of abuse. Accordingly, Torres’ medical information was subject to admission under subsection (7). Because there was no error in the admission of Torres’ positive chlamydia test results, his trial attorney was not ineffective for failing to object to their admission.

People v. Wells, 2024 IL 129402

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

Emanuel Wells entered a negotiated guilty plea to a charge of unlawful possession of cannabis with intent to deliver in exchange for a six-year sentence, payment of a $100,000 street value fine, and the dismissal of additional charges, including a count of cannabis trafficking. At the plea hearing, the court stated that Wells would receive 54 days of credit for time spent in presentence custody. After recounting all of those terms, the judge asked Wells if that accurately stated his agreement, and Wells agreed that it did.

Subsequently, Wells filed a motion seeking additional presentence custody credit for time he had spent on home detention after posting bond, citing 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-100(b). The circuit court denied that motion, stating that Wells was given the correct credit. The appellate court affirmed, concluding that Wells’ fully negotiated guilty plea waived the right to any additional credit not provided for in the agreement.

The Illinois Supreme Court also affirmed. Wells’ negotiated plea, which included the specific term that he would receive 54 days of credit, was a “complete and final expression” of the agreement he had reached with the State. The Court recognized that Wells did not make a specific waiver of the home detention credit, and it was not clear whether the parties were even aware of that potential credit at the time of sentencing. On the face of the negotiated agreement itself, however, there was no ambiguity as to what the parties intended – a six year sentence with 54 days of credit.

The Court went on to hold that Wells could not now rely on a theory of “mutual mistake” to obtain the additional credit on the theory that it was simply an oversight. Where the State objected to the belated request, and nothing in the record suggested any agreement otherwise, there was no basis on which to find a mutual mistake here. And, to the extent there was an “uninduced mistake” on Wells’ part, his recourse was to seek withdrawal of his plea on the ground that it was unknowing and involuntary, a remedy Wells did not request.