Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed January 24, 2014

 

People v. McChriston, 2014 IL 115310

Appellate citation: 2012 IL App (4th) 110319-U.

CHIEF JUSTICE GARMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

This Champaign County offender received a 25-year term in 2004 after a jury convicted him of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. This was a Class 1 felony with a mandatory Class X sentence. The appellate court affirmed on direct appeal. A postconviction petition which was later filed was dismissed, and the appellate court affirmed in 2009.

The issue of a mandatory parole term, now known as mandatory supervised release, or MSR, had not been dealt with in any of these earlier proceedings. In the trial court, mandatory supervised release had not been mentioned, and the written sentencing order did not refer to it. However, at the time of trial, in 2004, statute provided that the term of mandatory supervised release for a Class X felony was three years and that every such sentence “shall include as though written therein a term in addition to the term of imprisonment.” The parties do not dispute as to whether MSR was mandatory in the defendant’s case or that a three-year MSR term was required.

In 2011, there was a statutory amendment which removed the phrase “as though written therein” and required, instead, that an MSR term “shall be written as part of the sentencing order.” This amendatory language thus required a sentencing court to explicitly write the applicable MSR term into its order. That same year, McChriston filed pro se a new claim for relief, this time utilizing the law of civil procedure. He claimed that, in 2004, the Department of Corrections had acted without authority in imposing an MSR term and that this violated the separation of powers clause of the Illinois Constitution of 1970. The circuit court dismissed his petition for failure to state a cause of action and the appellate court affirmed, finding that the MSR term attached by operation of law.

The Illinois Supreme Court held in this decision that the law was indeed changed in 2011, but that this is of no benefit to McChriston. At the time he was sentenced, the plain language of the statute provided that the MSR term was included automatically in the sentence, even if not specifically written therein. Thus, the Department of Corrections did not add anything to the offender’s sentence by imposing the MSR term, and his separation of powers claim fails. His claim of a denial of federal due process rights was also rejected.

The appellate court, which had upheld the circuit court’s dismissal, was affirmed.