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People v. Chambers

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

August 13, 2013

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SCOTT CHAMBERS, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 94 CR 4431 (03) Honorable Vincent M. Gaughan, Judge Presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Quinn and Simon concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

HARRIS PRESIDING JUSTICE

¶ 1 The circuit court denied defendant, Scott Chambers, leave to file a successive postconviction petition, defendant's third, finding the petition was frivolous. Relevant to this appeal, the circuit court added the following language to its order: "[defendant] is hereby fined $105.00 and the Clerk of the Circuit Court will be instructed not to accept any further filings from [defendant] until his sanction has been satisfied in full." Defendant does not contest the circuit court's finding that the petition was frivolous, nor does he contest the imposition of the $105 "fine"; rather, he asks this court to remand the matter to the circuit court and order it to strike the portion of the order instructing the clerk of the circuit court to not accept future filings from him until the fees are paid.

¶ 2 In supplemental briefing before this court, defendant, who was 17 years of age at the time of the offense, asks this court to review whether his mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole should be vacated due to the Supreme Court's recent decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). Defendant asserts that supplemental briefing before this court is an appropriate way to challenge his sentence arguing that a void sentence is subject to challenge at any time.

¶ 3 At issue is whether the language the circuit court added prohibiting the clerk of the circuit court form accepting future filings from defendant until his sanction is paid in full should be vacated on remand and whether supplemental briefing before this court is the appropriate method for defendant in this case to challenge his sentence based on Miller. We hold that upon remand, the circuit court must vacate the following language from its order denying defendant leave to file a successive postconviction petition: "the Clerk of the Circuit Court will be instructed not to accept any further filings from [defendant] until his sanction has been satisfied in full." The portions of the circuit court's order finding defendant's successive petition frivolous and assessing $105 in fees against defendant are affirmed as defendant did not challenge these findings on appeal. We reject defendant's contention that his sentence is void and hold the sentencing issue he raised in supplemental briefing before this court is waived because defendant did not include it in his successive petition. We note that defendant is not prohibited from filing a successive petition raising his sentencing issue based on Miller provided he abides by the requirements of section 122-1(f) of the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-1(f) (West 2010)).

¶ 4 JURISDICTION

¶ 5 On January 22, 2010, the circuit court denied defendant leave to file a successive postconviction petition. Defendant timely appealed on February 17, 2010. Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 651. Ill. S.Ct. R. 651 (eff. Feb. 6, 2013).

¶ 6 BACKGROUND

¶ 7 All pertinent factual background information concerning defendant's trial and initial appeal is well stated in this court's 1998 order and does not need to be restated here. People v. Chambers, No. 1-96-0501 (1998) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). Below, we will discuss relevant facts from defendant's sentencing hearing and his current successive postconviction petition.

¶ 8 Defendant was convicted by a jury of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of armed robbery, one count of aggravated criminal sexual assault, and one count of aggravated vehicular hijacking. The conduct on which defendant's convictions are based occurred on January 13, 1994, when defendant was 17 years of age. He was sentenced concurrently to two terms of natural-life imprisonment for murder, three 25-year terms for armed robbery and aggravated criminal sexual assault, and one 15-year term for his conviction for aggravated criminal sexual assault. Relevant to this appeal, defendant's sentence of natural life imprisonment was pursuant to the mandatory sentencing provisions found in section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii), (v) of the Unified Code of Corrections. 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii), (v) (West 1994).

¶ 9 During the sentencing hearing, the State informed the circuit court of the law regarding defendant's sentence, stating:

"He's 17, Judge, so under the law in Illinois we're here to sentence him and you're bound to follow the law and I know this court will do so. He's not eligible for the death penalty nor is he eligible to be sentenced to anything less than natural life imprisonment. The people who we elect as free, democratic people to serve in the General Assembly decided many years ago for this type of crime, for this special category of crime mitigation and aggravation is irrelevant. We have decided as a people that when someone commits this type of very narrow category of crime that is so horrible we are entitled to wash our hands of [defendant] and to banish him from our community and to send him for the rest of his natural life to live in the penitentiary. And thats the sentence we're asking you to impose on him, Judge."

The State added further "[t]his is a fair sentence" and it "is a sentence required under law." Defendant's counsel, during his argument, noted, "I know that the Court cannot do anything beyond what the law requires where there is a double homicide." Before sentencing defendant to a natural life sentence without parole, the circuit court judge noted, "I don't take any pleasure out of sentencing a young man to the sentence of this gravity but it is the law and I'm bound by the law."

¶ 10 Defendant appealed his initial conviction and sentence alleging that his conviction for aggravated criminal sexual assault must be reversed because the State failed to present any evidence independent of his own statement to establish the corpus delicti of that crime and that his counsel was ineffective by admitting to his guilt during opening statements. This court affirmed his conviction and sentence. People v. Chambers, No. 1-96-0501 (1998) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

¶ 11 In August of 1999, defendant filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief arguing that his right to a speedy trial was violated and that his counsel was ineffective. The circuit court summarily dismissed the petition pursuant to section 122-2.1 of the Act (725 ILCS 5/122-2.1 (West 2004)). Defendant did not appeal the dismissal of his postconviction petition.

¶ 12 On August 25, 2000, defendant filed a successive petition, his second petition, alleging a claim based on Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). The circuit court dismissed the petition. On appeal, the appellate defender assigned to represent defendant moved to withdraw from the case on the grounds that the petition had no merit. This court granted the motion to withdraw and affirmed the decision of the circuit court on July 3, 2003. People v. Chambers, No. 1-02-3031 (2003) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

¶ 13 On July 21, 2009, defendant filed a petition for relief from judgment pursuant to section 2-1401 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2008)). The circuit court, on October 2, 2009, pursuant to People v. Shellstrom, 216 Ill.2d 45, 57 (2005), notified defendant it intended to ...


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