Supreme Court Summaries

Opinion filed August 30, 2012

 

 

People v. Austin M., 2012 IL 111194

Appellate citation: 403 Ill. App. 3d 667.

 

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

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

      Justice Freeman concurred in part and dissented in part, with opinion.

      Justice Karmeier concurred in part and dissented in part, with opinion.

      Justice Thomas dissented, with opinion.

 

      The parents of two adopted sons, Austin M., 16, and Ricky M., 15, retained counsel to represent both boys on separate Ford County delinquency petitions filed against them. Each was charged with committing the misdemeanor criminal sexual abuse of two other boys under foster care in the same household. After a joint bench proceeding in 2007, the petition against Ricky, who never admitted any wrongdoing, was denied. However, as to Austin, the appellant here, the circuit court found that an admission purportedly made by him to the police was sufficient to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. He was therefore adjudicated a delinquent minor and sentenced to 24 months of probation. The appellate court affirmed.

      Since 1967, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that minors in juvenile proceedings have a constitutional right to counsel as a matter of due process, and that the assistance so rendered must be effective. In Illinois, the Juvenile Court Act provides that, in judicial proceedings dealing with delinquent minors, “a minor may not waive the right to the assistance of counsel in his or her defense.” Thus, a minor accused of delinquency has a nonwaivable right to be represented by a defense attorney.

      Where minors are abused or neglected, a guardian ad litem is often appointed, but this is not the same thing as a defense attorney in a delinquency proceeding. A guardian ad litem considers the best interests of the minor and society and does not necessarily have to argue for what the minor wants or even for acquittal. The attorney in question here never received a guardian ad litem appointment.

      In this appeal, challenges were made to the quality of representation provided. In addition to representing two accuseds jointly, counsel allowed the State to present videotaped statements of the alleged young victims’ statements in lieu of their live testimony, which could have been cross-examined. This was explained to the parents, but the respondent juveniles were not consulted. In finding Austin guilty, the circuit court relied on disputed evidence as to whether he had made a statement admitting wrongdoing. Counsel never argued that this purported statement was involuntary or sought to suppress it, even though there was evidence that Austin had been questioned very aggressively and the attorney knew that Austin had learning disabilities and diminished mental capabilities.

      The supreme court made no free-standing finding of ineffective assistance of counsel, ruling instead that the representation Austin received was not the type of counsel guaranteed by due process and the Juvenile Court Act. Both the circuit court and counsel had made statements on the record indicating that they both viewed the attorney as functioning as a guardian ad litem. In this decision, the supreme court held that there is a per se conflict of interest where counsel attempts to perform the dual role of guardian ad litem and defense counsel in a delinquency proceeding. Based on the specific facts in the record of this case, what was shown was a per se conflict of interest, which called for reversal of the delinquency adjudication. The prosecution had argued that such dual representation should call for reversal only if an actual conflict of interest was shown, but the supreme court rejected this approach.

      However, the evidence was sufficient enough that there was no double jeopardy bar to a new trial, and a remand was ordered.