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09/11/97 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. WILLIE L. MCCLAIN

September 11, 1997

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
WILLIE L. MCCLAIN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 92CF1142. Honorable Harold L. Jensen, Judge Presiding.

As Corrected January 7, 1998.

Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, P.j., Honorable John T. McCullough, J. - Concur, Honorable Frederick S. Green, J. - Dissent. Presiding Justice Steigmann delivered the opinion of the court. McCULLOUGH, J., concurs. Justice Green, dissenting.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steigmann

PRESIDING JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the opinion of the court:

In March 1996, defendant, Willie L. McClain, was serving a sentence of natural life in prison upon his conviction of two counts of first degree murder when he filed pro se a postconviction petition pursuant to the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 1994)). Because defendant filed his petition late under section 122-1 of the Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 (West Supp. 1995)), he also filed a motion to file a late petition for postconviction relief. In that motion, defendant alleged that his delay in timely filing his postconviction petition should be excused because it was not due to his culpable negligence, but was due instead to a "lockdown" at the Pontiac Correctional Center (Pontiac), where he was incarcerated.

The trial court denied defendant's motion to file his late postconviction petition. Defendant appeals, and we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In February 1993, a jury convicted defendant of two counts of first degree murder stemming from the deaths of two victims, and in March 1993, the trial court sentenced him to natural life imprisonment on each conviction. He appealed, and this court affirmed his convictions and sentence. People v. McClain, 269 Ill. App. 3d 500, 645 N.E.2d 585, 206 Ill. Dec. 580 (1995). He filed a petition for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois, which was denied on April 5, 1995. People v. McClain, 161 Ill. 2d 535, 649 N.E.2d 422, 208 Ill. Dec. 366 (1995).

On March 18, 1996, defendant filed his postconviction petition and accompanying documents (which included his motion to file a late petition for postconviction relief instanter, an affidavit in support of that motion, an affidavit in support of his postconviction petition, a document entitled "memorandum of law/finding of facts," a motion for appointment of counsel, and a motion to proceed as a poor person).

In defendant's motion to file a late petition for postconviction relief, he asserted that Pontiac, where he was incarcerated, was on "lockdown" for reasons unknown to defendant during the following times: 16 days of January 1995; five days in February 1995; 17 days of March 1995; three days of April 1995; 12 days of May 1995; 13 days of June 1995; 24 days of July 1995; no days of August 1995; 12 days of September 1995; all of October 1995; 12 days of November 1995; 21 days of December 1995; 20 days of January 1996; all of February 1996; and March 1 through 14 of 1996. Defendant further allegedthat during such "lockdowns," the prison severely restricted the movement of inmates, including prohibiting them from using the prison's law library. Defendant also asserted that continuous "lockdowns" adversely affected his ability to investigate aspects of his postconviction petition and to prepare it. As a result, he sought assistance from a prominent Chicago law firm which--defendant alleges--"held on to petitioner's transcripts given [sic ] the petitioner the false belief that they was [sic ] going to assist him only to tell him six-months [sic ] later that they wouldn't help him."

After defendant learned the law firm was not going to assist him, he "finally got assistance from [a] jail house lawyer." He concluded the motion by asserting that he had put forth his best good-faith effort to file a timely petition and the delay was not due to his own culpable negligence.

Defendant attached to that motion a letter dated September 26, 1995, from the pro bono coordinator of the Chicago law firm, which informed defendant that the law firm would be unable to handle his case due to the large number of similar requests it receives. Although the letter indicated that the law firm was returning defendant's "documents" to him (without specifying what those documents were), the letter did not indicate how long the law firm had possessed those documents.

II. ANALYSIS

Resolution of defendant's argument that the trial court erred by dismissing his postconviction petition on the ground that it was not timely filed requires a careful analysis of section 122-1 of ...


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