Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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During a routine traffic stop, officers ran a name check on Bass, a passenger, which returned an investigative alert issued by the Chicago Police Department for an alleged sexual assault. Bass was arrested and made incriminating statements to investigators. The court denied a motion to suppress those statements and found him guilty of criminal sexual assault. The appellate court reversed, holding that the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment because it was unlawfully prolonged, that Illinois Constitution article I, section 6, provides greater protections than the Fourth Amendment, and that arrests based on investigative alerts, even those supported by probable cause, violate the Illinois Constitution.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the reversal of Bass’s conviction, relying solely on the Fourth Amendment, without addressing investigatory alerts or the state constitution. The state failed to meet its burden of showing that the stop was not unlawfully prolonged. Officers cannot lawfully pursue unrelated investigations after quickly completing the mission by claiming that the overall duration of the stop (here, about eight minutes) remained reasonable, nor by waiting to resolve the mission (by writing a ticket or giving a verbal warning) until unrelated inquiries are completed. The name check was unrelated to resolving the red light violation; the officers resolved the traffic violation and then waited to issue the verbal warning so that they could engage in on-scene investigations into other crimes by checking names until they found something worth investigating. View "People v. Bass" on Justia Law

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Based on a 2001 gang-related shooting Jackson was convicted in Cook County of first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. After his direct appeal and an initial post-conviction petition were unsuccessful, he sought leave in the circuit court to file a successive post-conviction petition, arguing that his constitutional right to due process of law was violated at trial by the state’s use of witness statements that were the product of police intimidation or coercion and that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. Jackson attached documents that purport to show a pattern and practice of witness intimidation in other cases by the police detectives who obtained the witness statements, as well as exculpatory affidavits.The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the petition. The material regarding police misconduct attached to Jackson’s petition is not relevant to establishing a pattern and practice of witness intimidation by the interviewing detectives in this case, so Jackson has not satisfied the “prejudice” prong of the cause-and-prejudice test. Jackson cannot set forth a colorable claim of actual innocence because his supporting affidavits are not new; principles of “fundamental fairness” do not require additional proceedings. View "People v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Knapp and Rodriguez were charged with attempted first-degree murder, mob action, and aggravated battery in connection with the stabbing of Avitia, who survived the attack and identified the assailants. At a McHenry County jury trial, the prosecution argued that the defendants were members of the Norteños street gang and that they attacked Avitia based on his alleged association with a rival street gang. At the state’s request, the court admonished Knapp concerning his right to testify. Knapp acknowledged that he had discussed the issue with his attorney and made a choice not to testify.On appeal, Knapp unsuccessfully argued that his counsel was ineffective because counsel “elicited inadmissible other crimes evidence that was similar to the charged offense and also false” and failed to “pursue a ruling on the State’s motion to introduce gang evidence or renew his objection to the admission of such evidence.” Knapp then filed a pro se post-conviction petition, raising claims of actual innocence, involuntary waiver of his right to testify, and ineffective assistance.The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the summary dismissal of the petition. While a pro se petitioner is not required to use precise legal language alleging a “contemporaneous assertion of the right to testify” to survive first-stage summary dismissal, summary dismissal is warranted when the record positively rebuts the allegations. The record contains nothing to suggest that Knapp ever alerted the court of his desire to testify, that he had any questions about that right, or that he otherwise was unsure about waiving his right to testify. View "People v. Knapp" on Justia Law

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Tabirta was driving a truck in Ohio, when another truck, driven by Cummings, collided with his vehicle. Plaintiff suffered severe injuries, including the amputation of both legs. Cummings’s vehicle was owned by his employer, GML. Tabirta filed a negligence action in Cook County. The defendants moved to transfer venue. Under 735 ILCS 5/2-101, venue is proper either in the county of residence of any defendant or in the county where the transaction occurred. Tabirta cited the Cook County home office of GML employee Bolton (a part-time account representative) and argued that GML was “doing business” in the county. Cummings is not a resident of Cook County. GML is a Missouri corporation with its principal place of business and registered agent located in Randolph County.The Illinois Supreme Court held that Cook County is not the proper venue for the suit. Bolton's work for GML from his home office, standing alone, does not establish that the home was an “other office.” GML did not “purposely select” a location in Cook County to carry on its business but selected Bolton, a person with extensive experience in the food industry. Even if Bolton’s proximity to customers played a role in his hiring, GML did not own, lease, or pay any expenses associated with Bolton’s residence. GML did not hold out to customers or the public that Bolton’s residence was a GML office. GML had no office or other facility in Cook County. Bolton did not sell products from his home office. The work he conducted from his residence was merely incidental to GML’s usual and customary business of food product manufacturing. View "Tabirta v. Cummings" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Lusby was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and home invasion and sentenced to 130 years’ imprisonment. Though he was 23 years old at the time of the trial, he was only 16 years old at the time of the offenses. After an unsuccessful direct appeal and post-conviction proceedings, he sought leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, asserting that his sentencing hearing was constitutionally inadequate under the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision, Miller v. Alabama. The Will County Circuit Court denied that motion. The appellate court reversed.The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the trial court’s decision, denying relief. Lusby failed to show cause and prejudice such that the trial court should have granted leave to file a successive post-conviction petition. Lusby had every opportunity to present mitigating evidence but chose not to offer any. The trial court considered his youth and its attendant characteristics before concluding that his future should be spent in prison. The de facto discretionary life sentence passes constitutional muster under Miller; Lusby has not shown prejudice under 725 ILCS 5/122-1(a)(1). Miller does not require a court to use “magic words” before sentencing a juvenile defendant to life imprisonment but only requires consideration of “youth-related factors.” View "People v. Lusby" on Justia Law

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In 1998, a jury convicted Stoecker of first-degree murder and aggravated criminal sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl. His convictions and sentences were affirmed. Stoecker filed numerous unsuccessful petitions for collateral relief. In 2005 Stoecker filed a petition for relief from judgment, arguing that the procedures in imposing his life sentence for murder violated the Supreme Court’s 2000 “Apprendi” holding that, other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty beyond the statutory maximum sentence must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Appointed defense counsel acknowledged that the Illinois Supreme Court had held that Apprendi did not apply retroactively to cases whose direct appeals had been exhausted. The petition was dismissed. Although Stoecker filed subsequent petitions claiming ineffective assistance of counsel, he did not appeal the Apprendi ruling.Seven years later, Stoecker again sought relief from judgment, raising the Apprendi issue. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the petition as untimely. Four years later, Stoecker again sought relief from judgment, arguing that under recent Supreme Court decisions, Apprendi applies retroactively to cases on collateral review. The state moved to dismiss the petition. Four days later, the circuit court dismissed the petition. The state was present but made no argument. Appointed counsel was apparently not notified of the proceeding. The court ruled that the state was correct as a matter of law. Stoecker filed an unsuccessful pro se motion to reconsider.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Any violation of Stoecker’s due process rights was harmless because the deficiencies in the petition could not be cured. The petition was untimely, barred by res judicata, and meritless. Any deficient performance by appointed counsel did not warrant remand. View "People v. Stoecker" on Justia Law

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In 2014, a $30,880 judgment covering backpay and pre-judgment interest was entered against Oakridge Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, LLC, for its age and disability discrimination against a former employee, in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 ILCS 5/1-101. Oakridge Rehab had already gone out of business and transferred the assets and operation of its nursing home facility to Oakridge Healthcare Center, LLC in 2012. Unable to enforce the judgment against Oakridge Rehab, the state instituted proceedings to enforce the judgment against Oakridge Healthcare.The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of Oakridge Healthcare, declining to adopt the federal successor liability doctrine in cases arising under the Human Rights Act. The court noted four limited exceptions to the general rule of nonliability for corporate successors and declined to apply the fraudulent purpose exception, which exists “where the transaction is for the fraudulent purpose of escaping liability for the seller’s obligations.” The court stated that it is within the legislature’s power to abrogate the common-law rule of successor nonliability or otherwise alter its standards through appropriately targeted legislation for employment discrimination cases. View "Department of Human Rights v. Oakridge Healthcare Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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Robinson and two others were charged with the 1997 shooting death of Giles. Tucker testified that Robinson told him that he had killed Giles and had given details about the killing and the disposal of the body and of evidence. Muhammad testified that she had driven the men to the scene where the body was burned. McClendon testified that she was Robinson’s girlfriend and that Robinson told her they had burned Giles’s body and that he had shot Giles in the head. McClendon identified a picture of a rifle and testified that she had seen that weapon twice within the month before the shooting. After being advised of his rights, Robinson, then 18, had confessed to shooting Giles and burning the body. The state did not present physical evidence linking him to the crime; Robinson did not present a defense. His convictions were affirmed. His first post-conviction petition, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, was unsuccessful.In 2015, Robinson sought leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, 725 ILCS 5/122-1, alleging actual innocence. He asserted that he was not involved in the crimes and that Giles was murdered by Tucker. He attached his own affidavit plus four others. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed and remanded, in favor of Robinson. The only issue is whether Robinson may file his successive post-conviction petition alleging he is actually innocent. The new evidence supporting the petition need not be completely dispositive of innocence but need only be of such a conclusive character as to probably change the result upon retrial. Robinson satisfied the pleading requirements for granting leave to file a successive petition, so his claim must be advanced to second-stage proceedings. The court noted reasons for questioning the credibility of the witnesses at trial and reasons why the affiants might be credible. View "People v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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Coty, who is intellectually disabled, was convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and aggravated criminal sexual abuse for conduct committed against a six-year-old. Because Coty had a prior conviction for aggravated criminal sexual assault of a nine-year-old, the court had no discretion and sentenced him to the statutorily prescribed term of mandatory natural life in prison. Coty argued that the sentence violated the Eighth Amendment and the Illinois Constitution because it categorically forbade the sentencing judge from considering his intellectual disability and the circumstances of his offense. He also argued that the statutory scheme, as applied to him, violated the Illinois Constitution's proportionate penalties clause. The appellate court found the mandatory sentencing statute unconstitutional as applied. On remand, Coty, who was then 52 years old, was sentenced to 50 years in prison. The appellate court vacated, finding that the sentence amounted to an unconstitutional de facto life sentence, violating Illinois’s proportionate penalties clause.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the sentence. The original sentence of natural life imprisonment did not violate the proportionate penalties clause. The penalty challenged in Coty’s initial appeal was not, as applied to him, clearly in excess of the legislature’s constitutional authority to prescribe. Some of the diminished capacity factors that the Supreme Court in Atkins found reduced culpability make Coty a continuing danger to re-offend. The purpose of the mandatory, natural life sentence for repeat sex offenders is to protect children by rendering it impossible for the incorrigible offender to re-offend. View "People v. Coty" on Justia Law

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Green, was convicted of two counts of the first-degree murder for the gang-related shooting death of Lewis and was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment on one of those convictions. The conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. The trial court rejected a post-conviction petition alleging that Green’s trial counsel, Ritacca, labored under a per se conflict of interest because his trial counsel had previously represented Williams, the intended victim of the murder, who was in the vehicle with Lewis at the time of the shooting. Green neither knew about the conflict nor waived the conflict was rejected.The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, finding no per se conflict of interest. Only three situations establish a per se conflict of interest: where defense counsel has a prior or contemporaneous association with the victim, the prosecution, or an entity assisting the prosecution; where defense counsel contemporaneously represents a prosecution witness; and where defense counsel was a former prosecutor who had been personally involved with the prosecution of the defendant. Ritacca’s representation of both defendant and Williams did not fit within any of those three per se conflict situations. View "People v. Green" on Justia Law