The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman
Docket No. 89363-Agenda 4-May 2001.
During a jury trial conducted in the circuit court of Champaign County, defendant, Harry Gosier, pled guilty to charges of two murders and two separate aggravated criminal sexual assaults. After accepting the guilty pleas, the circuit court found that defendant was eligible for the death penalty. Subsequently, the jury that had originally been empaneled to determine defendant's guilt found that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty. The circuit court then sentenced defendant to death for the murders and to two consecutive 60-year sentences for the aggravated criminal sexual assaults. On direct appeal, this court affirmed defendant's convictions and sentences. People v. Gosier, 145 Ill. 2d 127 (1991), cert. denied, 504 U.S. 987, 119 L. Ed. 2d 590, 112 S. Ct. 2970 (1992).
Thereafter, defendant filed a post-conviction petition (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 1992)). The circuit court denied relief without an evidentiary hearing. Defendant appealed, and this court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. People v. Gosier, 165 Ill. 2d 16 (1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 872, 133 L. Ed. 2d 130, 116 S. Ct. 194 (1995). Defendant next filed a petition for habeas corpus in the United States district court. The district court granted defendant a hearing on the issue of his competency to stand trial, but ultimately denied habeas relief. United States ex rel. Gosier v. Welborn, No. 96-C-2176 (N.D. Ill. June 18, 1998). The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Gosier v. Welborn, 175 F.3d 504 (7th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1006, 145 L. Ed. 2d 387, 120 S. Ct. 502 (1999).
On December 7, 1999, defendant filed a petition seeking relief pursuant to (i) the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 1998)), (ii) the state habeas corpus provisions (735 ILCS 5/10-101 et seq. (West 1998)), and (iii) section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 1998)). The circuit court dismissed the petition in its entirety, upon motion of the State, and this appeal followed. 134 Ill. 2d R. 651. We now affirm the judgment of the circuit court.
Our previous opinion on direct appeal contains a detailed factual recitation of the events leading to defendant's convictions and sentence. See Gosier, 145 Ill. 2d 127. We need not repeat those facts here given the procedural bases upon which we resolve this appeal.
Defendant's present petition raised some 15 claims of error which purportedly occurred during the trial proceedings. Due to the fact that, in this court, defendant has identified only five claims as necessitating reversal, we will limit our discussion to those claims. As he did below, defendant initially contends that a bona fide doubt existed as to his competency at the time of trial, which in turns calls into question whether his guilty plea was knowingly and voluntarily given. Defendant further argues that he was denied a fair and reliable sentencing hearing because (i) the State improperly excused several venirepersons on the basis that they had reservations about the application of the death penalty, (ii) one of the jurors did not understand that his lone vote against a sentence of death would preclude its imposition, and (iii) one of the jurors was allowed to serve on the panel despite stating that he would automatically impose the death penalty upon a conviction for first degree murder. Defendant's final contention is that the he was denied a fair and reliable sentencing hearing because of the "multiple and cumulative effects of numerous errors."
As noted previously, the State moved to dismiss the petition. In so doing, the State raised several distinct procedural challenges to the petition in the circuit court. The State argued that defendant's petition was time-barred under section 122-1 of the Post-Conviction Hearing Act and that defendant had failed to avail himself of the statutory exception to the time limitation. Moreover, the State contended that defendant's petition was an improper successive petition and that defendant had failed to establish that fundamental fairness necessitated the relaxation of the bar on such filings.
In ruling upon the State's motion, the circuit court found that defendant's petition was filed beyond the period of time mandated by the legislature in section 122-1. The circuit court further found that defendant did not meet the statutory exception to the timeliness requirement because his petition failed to include any allegations regarding the lack of culpable negligence. In the alternative, the circuit court also ruled that each of defendant's claims was barred by principles of waiver and res judicata, noting in particular that several of the claims had been thoroughly litigated in the federal habeas corpus proceedings and found to be without merit. The circuit court further found that defendant's claims for relief under the Illinois habeas corpus act and section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure were without merit. The court entered a written order to that effect, and this appeal followed.
Relief Under the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act
The Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 1994)) provides a statutory remedy by which prisoners may collaterally attack a prior conviction and sentence. People v. Brisbon, 164 Ill. 2d 236, 242 (1995). To be entitled to post-conviction relief, a defendant must establish that a substantial deprivation of federal or state constitutional rights occurred in the proceedings that resulted in the conviction or sentence being challenged. People v. Morgan, 187 Ill. 2d 500, 528 (1999).
The Act contains several procedural hurdles a defendant must clear in order to claim relief. For example, section 122-1(c) of the Act expressly provides that no proceedings may be commenced after the passage of certain enumerated time periods "unless the petitioner alleges facts showing that the delay was not due to his or her culpable negligence." 725 ILCS 5/122-1(c) (West 1998). In addition to the timeliness question, the Act contemplates the filing of only one petition, and "a ruling on a post-conviction petition has res judicata effect with respect to all claims that were raised or could have been raised in the initial petition." People v. Free, 122 Ill. 2d 367, 375-76 (1988); accord People v. Flores, 153 Ill. 2d 264, 273-74 (1992). Indeed, section 122-3 of the Act expressly states, "Any claim of substantial denial of constitutional rights not raised in the original or an amended petition is waived." 725 ILCS 5/122-3 (West 1998). Nevertheless, exceptions have been made to this requirement in a limited range of circumstances. This court has allowed successive petitions when the proceedings on the original petitions were said to be deficient in some fundamental way. ...