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People v. Jackson

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

September 30, 2016

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DARRON JACKSON, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 03 CR 22273 The Honorable Noreen Valeria Love, Judge, presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hall and Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          GORDON, PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 After a jury trial, defendant Darron Jackson, age 16 at the time of the offense, was convicted as an adult of the first degree murder of Kenneth Porter and of personally discharging a firearm that caused another's death. He was subsequently sentenced to 50 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).

         ¶ 2 After his conviction was affirmed and his first postconviction petition was dismissed as frivolous and patently without merit, defendant filed a motion for leave to file a successive postconviction petition, arguing: (1) that a 50-year sentence for a minor violates the eighth amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment (U.S. Const., amend. VIII), [1] pursuant to recent decisions concerning minors by the United States Supreme Court, such as Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012); and (2) that the automatic transfer provision of Illinois' Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/5-130 (West 2002)) violates due process, the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 11), [2] and the eighth amendment (U.S. Const., amend. VIII).

         ¶ 3 The trial court denied defendant leave to appeal, and it is this order which is at issue before us. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ¶ 4 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 The State's evidence at trial showed that, on September 10, 2003, at 10:30 a.m., defendant shot and killed Kenneth Porter as Porter was standing in the middle of an intersection at Madison Street and Fourth Avenue, in Maywood, Illinois. There are no issues raised on this appeal concerning the evidence at trial. This court has already discussed the evidence at trial in both our Rule 23 orders affirming his conviction on appeal (People v. Jackson, No. 1-04-3656 (2007) (unpublished order pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 23)) and affirming the dismissal of his first postconviction petition (People v. Jackson, No. 1-08-1546 (2009) (unpublished order pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 23)). We incorporate these orders by reference, and we will not repeat here our prior discussion of the evidence at trial. The issues raised on appeal are purely legal issues concerning defendant's sentencing.

         ¶ 6 After a jury trial, defendant was convicted on September 2, 2004, of first degree murder. The State proceeded on a single charge of enhanced first degree murder which meant that they had to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant, while armed with a firearm, personally discharged that firearm that proximately caused the death of the victim. The jury was so instructed accordingly and returned a verdict of guilty, and defendant was sentenced by the trial court on September 28, 2004, to 60 years with IDOC.

         ¶ 7 At the sentencing hearing on September 28, the assistant State's Attorney (ASA) observed that defendant was subject to a mandatory firearm enhancement, which provided that "25 years or up to a term of natural life shall be added to the term of imprisonment imposed by the court."[3] As a result, the minimum possible sentence was 45 years, and the maximum was natural life. The ASA asked for natural life. The trial court imposed a sentence of 60 years which the trial court noted would be served at 100% of the time.[4]

         ¶ 8 On appeal, this court affirmed defendant's conviction but reduced his sentence from 60 to 50 years. Jackson, No. 1-04-3656 (2007) (unpublished order pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 23). A year after his direct appeal, defendant retained counsel, [5] who filed a postconviction petition on March 24, 2008, and a further amended petition on April 11, 2008. On May 23, 2008, the trial court dismissed the amended postconviction petition at the first stage as frivolous and patently without merit, and this court affirmed the dismissal on appeal. Jackson, No. 1-08-1546 (2009) (unpublished order pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 23).

         ¶ 9 On May 15, 2014, defendant filed a pro se motion for leave to file his first successive postconviction petition, arguing that, since his claims were based on recent changes in the law announced in Miller, 567 U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2455, and related cases, he could not have raised these claims in his direct appeal or in his original postconviction petition which was filed in 2008.

         ¶ 10 In his pro se motion and accompanying petition, defendant argued, first, that his 50-year sentence was a de facto life sentence, because the sentence exceeded his life expectancy.[6] He argued that his sentence, which included no eligibility for parole, was, in effect, a life sentence without parole and thus a violation of the eighth amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, as that term has been recently interpreted by the United States Supreme Court in Miller, 567 U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. at 2460 ("mandatory life without parole for those under the age 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on 'cruel and unusual punishment' "). Defendant argued that, if mandatory life without parole for a juvenile does not serve any "penological" goals then neither does a de facto life sentence without parole. Miller, 567 U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. at 2465 ("the distinctive attributes of youth diminish the penological justifications for imposing the harshest sentences on juvenile offenders, even when they commit terrible crimes").

         ¶ 11 Defendant argued, second, that the automatic transfer provision of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act violates federal and state due process, the eighth amendment and the proportionality clause of the Illinois Constitution, particularly when combined with the firearm enhancement (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(d)(iii) (West 2002))[7] and the truth in sentencing statutes (730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(2)(i) (West 2002)).[8]

         ¶ 12 On August 29, 2014, the trial court denied defendant leave to file a successive postconviction petition; and on October 23, 2014, this court allowed defendant's late notice of appeal.

         ¶ 13 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 14 On this appeal, defendant claims that the trial court erred in denying his motion for leave to file his first successive postconviction petition, because recent changes in the law prevented him from filing his claims earlier. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ¶ 15 I. Stages of a Postconviction Petition

         ¶ 16 Although the issue before us is the very preliminary question of whether defendant's petition can even be filed, we provide here a summary of the stages to show how the subsequent process sheds light on this preliminary step.

         ¶ 17 The Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2014)) provides a statutory remedy for criminal defendants who claim their constitutional rights were violated at trial. People v. Edwards, 2012 IL 111711, ¶ 21. The Act is not intended to be a substitute for an appeal; instead, it is a collateral proceeding which attacks a final judgment. Edwards, 2012 IL 111711, ¶ 21.

         ¶ 18 The Act provides for three stages of review by the trial court. People v. Domagala, 2013 IL 113688, ¶ 32. At the first stage, the trial court may summarily dismiss a petition that is frivolous or patently without merit. 725 ILCS 5/122-2.1(a)(2) (West 2014); Domagala, 2013 IL 113688, ¶ 32.

         ¶ 19 However, for a successive petition to even be filed, the trial court must first determine whether the petition (1) states a colorable claim of actual innocence (Edwards, 2012 IL 111711, ¶ 28) or (2) establishes cause and prejudice (People v. Smith, 2014 IL 115946, ¶ 35). This standard is higher than the normal first-stage "frivolous or patently without merit" standard applied to initial petitions. Edwards, 2012 IL 111711, ¶¶ 25-29; Smith, 2014 IL 115946, ¶ 34 ("the cause-and-prejudice test for a successive petition involves a higher standard than the first-stage frivolous or patently without merit standard that is set forth in section 122-2.1(a)(2) of the Act").

         ¶ 20 Since a filed successive petition has already satisfied a higher standard, the first stage is rendered unnecessary and the successive petition is docketed directly for second-stage proceedings. See People v. Sanders, 2016 IL 118123, ¶¶ 25, 28 (with a successive petition, the initial issue before the trial court is whether it "should be docketed for second-stage proceedings"); People v. Wrice, 2012 IL 111860, ¶ 90 ("reversing the trial court's order denying leave to file his second successive postconviction petition and remand[ing] to the trial court for *** second-stage postconviction proceedings"); People v. Jackson, 2015 IL App (3d) 130575, ¶ 14 ("When a defendant is granted leave to file a successive postconviction petition, the petition is effectively advanced to the second stage of postconviction proccedings."); People v. Almodovar, 2013 IL App (1st) 101476, ¶ 1 (reversing the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion for leave to file a successive petition and remanding for second-stage proceedings).

         ¶ 21 If a trial court permits a successive petition to be filed or does not dismiss an initial petition at the first stage, the petition then advances to the second stage, where counsel is appointed if a defendant is indigent. 725 ILCS 5/122-4 (West 2014); Domagala, 2013 IL 113688, ¶ 33; Wrice, 2012 IL 111860, ¶ 90 (after reversing the trial court's denial of leave to file a successive petition, the supreme court remanded "for appointment of postconviction counsel and second-stage postconviction proceedings"). After counsel determines whether to amend the petition, the State may file either a motion to dismiss or an answer to the petition. 725 ILCS 5/122-5 (West 2012); Domagala, 2013 IL 113688, ¶ 33. At the second stage, the trial court must determine "whether the petition and any accompanying documentation make a substantial showing of a constitutional violation." People v. Edwards, 197 Ill.2d 239, 246 (2001).

         ¶ 22 "The second stage of postconviction review tests the legal sufficiency of the petition. Unless the petitioner's allegations are affirmatively refuted by the record, they are taken as true, and the question is whether those allegations establish or 'show' a constitutional violation. In other words, the 'substantial showing' of a constitutional violation that must be made at the second stage [citation] is a measure of the legal sufficiency of the petition's well-pled allegations of a constitutional violation, which if proven at an evidentiary hearing, would entitle petitioner to relief." (Emphasis in original.) Domagla, 2013 IL 113688, ¶ 35.

         ¶ 23 Both the second stage and a motion for leave to file a successive petition require a review of "the petition and any accompanying documentation." Edwards, 197 Ill.2d at 246 (second stage review); Edwards, 2012 IL 11171, ¶ 24 (motion for leave to file a successive petition). For the second stage to not be superfluous for a successive petition, it must be that the "substantial showing" required at the second stage is greater than the "probability" required for a successive petition to receive leave for filing. Smith, 2014 IL 115946, ¶ 29 (expressing a desire not to "render the entire three-stage postconviction process superfluous").

         ¶ 24 If the defendant makes a "substantial showing" at the second stage, then the petition advances to a third-stage evidentiary hearing. Domagala, 2013 IL 113688, ¶ 34. At a third-stage evidentiary hearing, the trial court acts as factfinder, determining witness credibility and the weight to be given particular testimony and evidence, and resolving any evidentiary conflicts. Domagala, 2013 IL 113688, ¶ 34. This third stage is the same for both initial and successive petitions. Cf. Smith, 2014 ...


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