Supreme Court Summaries


Opinions filed January 25, 2013


 

People v. English, 2013 IL 112890

Appellate citation: 2011 IL App (3d) 100764.

 

      JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Thomas, Garman, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      Justice Freeman specially concurred, with opinion, joined by Justice Burke.

 

      A three-year-old girl died in Kewanee in 1995. She was the daughter of this defendant’s live-in girlfriend. Autopsy results showed massive head injuries and evidence of suffocation. The defendant’s pretrial statements initially indicated that he came into the child’s bedroom and found her lifeless, but he also later admitted hitting her. He did not testify at his 1996 Henry County jury trial, at which a knowing murder charge was dismissed by the State. This left only the charges of aggravated battery of a child and felony murder. The defendant objected that proceeding in this manner removed the possibility of an involuntary manslaughter instruction, but he was overruled. The jury found guilt of felony murder and aggravated battery of a child. Mandatory natural-life imprisonment was the sentence. The conviction was affirmed by the appellate court on direct appeal in 2000, but the cause was remanded for resentencing, and a 50-year term was later imposed.

      What is before the Illinois Supreme Court in this appeal is English’s attempt to obtain postconviction relief. Subsequent to the events discussed above, the Illinois Supreme Court held in People v. Morgan, 197 Ill. 2d 404 (2001), and People v. Pelt, 207 Ill. 2d 434 (2003), that a predicate felony underlying a felony-murder charge must have an independent felonious purpose, rather than being inherent in the act of murder itself. English relied on these decisions in seeking postconviction relief. The circuit court’s ultimate refusal to grant it was affirmed by the appellate court in 2011.

      In this decision in English’s appeal, the supreme court found the doctrine of forfeiture to be dispositive. Although English argued at postconviction that the State had not proceeded on the knowing-murder charge because this would mean that it would not have to prove a knowing and intentional killing beyond a reasonable doubt, thus denying him due process and a fair trial, the supreme court said that this issue could have been raised on direct appeal and was not, even though Morgan and Pelt had not yet been decided at that time. The supreme court said that, although English’s argument had less support in the law at the time of his direct appeal than it has today, nevertheless it was available to him at that time. Thus, the “independent felonious purpose analysis” relied on by English at postconviction has been forfeited.

      Although English also made the argument that any such forfeiture should be excused because appellate counsel was ineffective in failing to raise this issue in the direct appeal, the supreme court said that counsel had not performed unreasonably because the performance can only be judged on the state of the law at the time of the direct appeal. Appellate counsel is not required to raise issues not reasonably believed to be meritorious.

      The result reached today is compelled by the limited scope of a postconviction proceeding. The appellate court was affirmed.