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William R. Hill, Appellant v. Roger E. Walker

March 24, 2011

WILLIAM R. HILL, APPELLANT,
v.
ROGER E. WALKER, JR., DIRECTOR OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

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

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Plaintiff, William R. Hill, an inmate at Tamms Correctional Center, brought an action in the circuit court of Alexander County seeking declaratory and mandamus relief against defendants, Roger E. Walker, Jr., Director of Corrections, and the members of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board (Board). The circuit court dismissed plaintiff's second amended complaint pursuant to section 2--615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--615 (West 2006)). The appellate court upheld the dismissal. 397 Ill. App. 3d 1090. We allowed plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal (Ill. S. Ct. R. 315(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010)), and now affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

I. BACKGROUND

Hill was hired to kill Robert Fields. In August 1974, Hill fatally shot Allen Zipperstein, whom Hill mistook for Fields. In January 1975, Hill fatally shot Fields. Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, Hill was convicted of two counts of murder and, at the close of a separate sentencing hearing before the same jury, the court sentenced Hill to death. People v. Hill, 78 Ill. 2d 465, 467 (1980) (citing Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 9--1). On direct review, this court held that the circuit court erred by admitting into evidence inculpatory statements that Hill had made during plea negotiations, and further held that the error was so prejudicial as to require reversal of Hill's convictions. Hill, 78 Ill. 2d at 469-74. This court also held that, if Hill were convicted of murder on remand, he could not be sentenced to death because he committed the crimes prior to the enactment of the then-existing death penalty statute. Id. at 474-76.

On remand, Hill pled guilty to two counts of murder and was sentenced in 1981 to two concurrent prison terms of 30 to 90 years. Under the then-existing sentencing laws, Hill became eligible for parole in 1983. The Board held parole hearings for Hill in May 1983, March 1984, January 1985, April 1986, and April 1987. At the close of each hearing, the Board denied parole based on the seriousness of the offenses.

Effective January 1988, the legislature amended the law governing parole. As amended, the statute allows the Board to set parole hearings as much as three years apart, so long as the Board finds that it is not reasonably likely to grant parole prior to that time. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 1003--3--5(f). Subsequent to this amendment, the Board held parole hearings for Hill in February 1988, February 1991, February 1992, May 1993, May 1994, May 1995, May 1996, November 1997, November 1998, October 1999, December 2002, and January 2006. The Board denied parole each time based primarily on the seriousness of the offenses. In the 2002 and 2006 decisions, the Board additionally noted several prison disciplinary infractions that had occurred in 2000.

On December 8, 2006, Hill, pro se, filed his second-amended complaint for declaratory and mandamus relief. Hill claimed that the parole process, as applied by the Board to him, was unconstitutional because it violated both procedural due process and the prohibition against ex post facto laws. Hill sought a declaration to that effect and a writ of mandamus ordering the Board to provide Hill with parole hearings in accordance with the statutory and regulatory criteria in effect when he committed the murders. The circuit court granted the State's motion to dismiss. The appellate court affirmed. 397 Ill. App. 3d 1090. We subsequently allowed Hill's pro se petition for leave to appeal (Ill. S. Ct. R. 315(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010)), and appointed counsel to represent him during these proceedings.

II. ANALYSIS

Hill argues that the circuit court erred in dismissing his causes of action. Reviewing de novo the circuit court's dismissal (Turner v. Memorial Medical Center, 233 Ill. 2d 494, 499 (2009)), we hold that the circuit court did not err.

A. Due Process

Hill claims that two procedural defects in his parole hearings deprived him of due process of law. First, Hill noted that in all but three of its many decisions denying parole, the Board referenced Hill's original death sentence. Hill alleged that the Board continued to consider his initial death sentence in determining his eligibility for parole, although this court overturned it. See Hill, 78 Ill. 2d at 474-76. Second, Hill alleged that the Board considered prison disciplinary infractions that had occurred in 2000 in denying parole in 2002 and 2006. Hill alleged that these infractions were based on false accusations made by a biased Department of Corrections official who was himself under the influence of drugs. Hill contends that the Board's consideration of these two pieces of information rendered his parole hearings fundamentally unfair.

We reject these contentions. The due process clauses of the federal and Illinois Constitutions protect against the deprivation of liberty or property without due process of law. U.S. Const., amend. XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §2. Procedural due process protections are triggered only when a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest is at stake, to which a person has a legitimate claim of entitlement. Greenholtz v. Inmates of the Nebraska Penal & Correctional Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979) (quoting Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 570-71, 577 (1972)). " 'Therefore, the starting point in any procedural due process analysis is a determination of whether one of those protectable interests is present, for if there is not, no process is due.' " Wilson v. Bishop, 82 Ill. 2d 364, 368 (1980) (quoting Polyvend, Inc. v. Puckorius, 77 Ill. 2d 287, 293-94 (1979)).

There is no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released from confinement prior to the expiration of a valid sentence. The natural desire of an individual to be released is no different from the initial resistance to being confined. However, the conviction, with all of its procedural safeguards, has extinguished that liberty right. A valid conviction constitutionally deprives a criminal defendant of his or her liberty. Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 7; see Thompson v. Veach, 501 F.3d 832, 835-36 (7th Cir. 2007); Heidelberg v. Illinois Prisoner Review Board, 163 F.3d 1025, 1026 (7th Cir. 1998). However, a state may create a protected liberty interest in parole through its statutes and regulations governing the parole decisionmaking process. See Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 12; Thompson, 501 F.3d at 836. A state creates this ...


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