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People Ex Rel. Rice v. Cunningham

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 29, 1975.

THE PEOPLE EX REL. ROBERT H. RICE, STATE'S ATTORNEY, PETITIONER,

v.

JOSEPH F. CUNNINGHAM ET AL. JUDGES, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



Original petition for mandamus.

MR. JUSTICE KLUCZYNSKI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

We granted leave to petitioner, the State's Attorney of St. Clair County (hereinafter the State), to file an original action for mandamus (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110A, par. 381 (a)) seeking to compel respondents, three judges of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, to convene as a panel and hear evidence on the circumstances involved in the commission of multiple murders of which additional respondents, Daniel Lee Lott and Willie B. Cotton, had been found guilty following a jury trial. The principal respondents in this action are Lott and Cotton, since under the circumstances the respondent judges are merely nominal parties. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110A, par. 381(d).) We are advised that evidence was presented at trial to indicate that the murders occurred during the course of an armed robbery. The purpose of convening the three-judge panel was to determine whether the death penalty should be imposed. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1A.

Following the jury trial, the State filed a motion requesting that a three-judge panel be assigned to the case and that a hearing be held to determine the applicability of the death penalty. The trial judge notified the chief judge of the circuit that a three-judge panel should be convened. The defendants filed separate motions in opposition to the convening of the panel and maintained that the provisions of the death penalty statute were violative of the State and Federal constitutions.

The three-judge panel convened, and on March 13, 1975, issued the following order:

"The Court finds that the statute 1005-8-1A is invalid under the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Illinois, and assigns the following reasons:

(1) That the creation of a special three-judge panel is an attempted exercise of judicial authority by the Legislative branch. The sole power to create courts lies in the judiciary.

(2) The statute and the procedures of 1005-8-1A are so vague that they fail to set proper standards by which a court can sentence a defendant to the death penalty.

(3) We find that the statute does not violate Article I, Section 11 of the Illinois State Constitution.

For the above-stated reasons we declare this section invalid and order this to be in the form of a declaratory judgment, and the panel hereby remands the defendants to the trial judge for sentencing pursuant to statute."

The imposition of sentences as ordered by the three-judge panel has been stayed pending disposition of this action.

Respondents maintain that mandamus is an extraordinary remedy and that the State improperly seeks to use it for the purpose of an interlocutory appeal. We have held in comparable circumstances, however, that, under its supervisory and administrative powers and duties as provided in the Constitution, this court may consider the issuance of a writ of mandamus when the matters involved are of a compelling and general importance, even though the normal criteria for awarding such a writ are not present. People ex rel. Carey v. Strayhorn, 61 Ill.2d 85, 89; People ex rel. Hanrahan v. Power, 54 Ill.2d 154, 157.

The death penalty statute provides:

"In any case in which the defendant is convicted of murder, the State shall seek imposition of the death penalty in all cases where any of ...


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