The Bar News

Quick Takes on Thursday's Illinois Supreme Court Criminal opinions

Our panel of leading appellate attorneys review Thursday's top Illinois Supreme Court Criminal opinions in People v. Matthews and People ex rel. Alvarez v. Gaughan.

People v. Matthews

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

Following an unsuccessful direct appeal and post-conviction petition, Jerrell Matthews filed a petition for relief from judgment pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/2-1401, alleging that a State witness had committed perjury at his trial.  The circuit court dismissed the petition on the basis that it was untimely.

The proof of service that Matthews filed with the petition said that the petition was mailed to the State with “proper first-class postage”

attached.  Supreme Court Rule 105 provides that notice must be made by certified or registered mail.  At Matthews’s urging, the appellate court held that the circuit court’s dismissal was premature because the State had never been properly served with the petition.

In the Supreme Court, the State first urged that Matthews should be estopped from alleging that the court erred in ruling on his petition because the error in improper service was his own.  The Court agreed and noted that Matthews had invited the ruling on the petition by filing a proof of service as though the State had been properly served.  The Court clarified that the notice requirements of the Rule are not designed to allow a petitioner to object to service on behalf of an opposing party.

The Court also rejected Matthews’s assertion that the circuit court lacked personal jurisdiction over the State because of the improper service and therefore could not rule on the petition.  The Court noted that because personal jurisdiction can be waived, Matthews could not object to personal jurisdiction on the State’s behalf.

The Court did not address whether the service of the petition actually complied with Rule 105 or whether the State waived service because “notions of fair play dictate that a litigant is not allowed to relitigate a matter resolved against him based on his own error.”

People ex rel. Alvarez v. Gaughan

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

The State sought a writ of mandamus against Judge Gaughan to require him to impose a 15-year firearm enhancement on each of two convictions of aggravated criminal sexual assault against Steven Castleberry.  At the original sentencing hearing, Judge Gaughan had concluded that the legislature intended the enhancement to be applied only once, and accordingly added the 15-year enhancement to only one of the nine-year sentences he imposed on each count.

Castleberry took a direct appeal and argued that the 15-year enhancement was unconstitutional and should not have applied at all.  The court rejected that argument, and but allowed the State’s request to impose the second 15-year enhancement under the “void sentence rule.”  The Supreme Court reviewed that decision, abolished the “void sentence rule,” and noted that mandamus was the appropriate vehicle for seeking to correct a violation of a mandatory sentencing requirement.

Accordingly, the State filed the mandamus petition that is the subject of the instant  matter.  Castleberry conceded that the 15-year enhancement should have been applied to each of his convictions, but presented multiple arguments as to why it could not now be imposed through mandamus.

Initially, the Court rejected Castleberry’s laches argument on the basis that, until his direct appeal was decided, the State had reason to believe it was proceeding correctly in seeking correction of the sentence by the appellate court; thus, there was no unreasonable delay, and Castleberry suffered no prejudice from any delay that did exist.

The Court also rejected Castleberry’s assertion that application of the enhancement now would conflict with Section 5-4.5-50(d) of the Code of Corrections which generally prohibits a circuit court from increasing a defendant’s sentence once it is imposed and Section 5-5-4(a) which states that when a conviction or sentence is set aside, the court  may not impose a more severe sentence unless based upon subsequent conduct by the defendant.  The Court noted that the purpose for those statutes was to prevent vindictiveness against a defendant who succeeded in attacking his conviction or sentence.  Imposition of the mandatory enhancement does not fit within those statutory provisions.

Finally, the Court rejected Castleberry’s argument that the Cook County State’s Attorney had no standing to bring a mandamus action to seek correction of a sentence, and that such actions must be brought by the Attorney General.  The Court noted that the Attorney General had been served with all of the filings in the mandamus proceedings but had “not objected, nor has she taken a position contrary to that advanced by State’s Attorney Alvarez.”  While the Attorney General could have instituted and prosecuted the mandamus proceedings, the Cook County State’s Attorney had the authority and standing to do so, as well.

The Supreme Court awarded the writ.

Posted on December 1, 2016 by Morgan Yingst
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