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People v. Price

Supreme Court of Illinois

December 30, 2016

DAMEN PRICE, Appellee.

          THEIS JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Kilbride specially concurred, with opinion.


          THEIS JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Damen Price, filed a pro se petition for relief from judgment under section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2012)), arguing that his natural life sentence for first degree murder was void. The trial court dismissed the petition. The appellate court reversed the dismissal and remanded for resentencing. 2014 IL App (1st) 130037-U, ¶ 31. In light of our decision in People v. Castleberry, 2015 IL 116916, in which we abolished the so-called "void sentence rule, " we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and affirm the judgment of the trial court dismissing defendant's petition.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In November 1996, following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant was convicted of aggravated arson and the first degree murder of 4-year-old Curtis Jones, Jr., who died in the fire. Defendant had requested separate verdict forms for the various theories of murder charged by the State (intentional, knowing, and felony murder), but the trial court denied that request. The jury thus returned a general verdict of guilty of first degree murder and aggravated arson. The same jury found defendant death-penalty eligible but determined he should not be sentenced to death. The trial court sentenced defendant to a term of natural life imprisonment for murder and a consecutive term of 30 years' imprisonment for aggravated arson. The appellate court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. People v. Price, 303 Ill.App.3d 1101 (1999) (table) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

         ¶ 4 In April 2000, and again in February 2003, defendant unsuccessfully pursued relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2002)). Thereafter, in September 2010, defendant sought relief from judgment under section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2010)), again without success. Defendant did not challenge, on direct review or on collateral review, the trial court's denial of his request for separate verdict forms.

         ¶ 5 In February 2012, defendant filed his second pro se petition under section 2-1401, which is the subject of this appeal. Defendant recognized that section 2-1401 petitions must be filed "not later than 2 years after the entry of the order or judgment" (735 ILCS 5/2-1401(c) (West 2012)) but asserted that the statutory time bar did not apply because he was seeking relief from judgment on "voidness grounds." See 735 ILCS 5/2-1401(f) (West 2012). Defendant argued that under People v. Smith, 233 Ill.2d 1 (2009), the trial court erred in denying his request for separate verdict forms and therefore "lacked the power and authority to render judgment." Defendant maintained that the appropriate remedy was to interpret the jury's general verdict as a verdict on felony murder and remand for resentencing. Although the trial court appointed counsel for defendant, the court allowed him to proceed pro se, upon defendant's request. The trial court granted the State's motion to dismiss defendant's petition, agreeing with the State that the underlying judgment was not void and Smith did not apply retroactively on collateral review.

         ¶ 6 The appellate court reversed and remanded for resentencing on felony murder alone. 2014 IL App (1st) 130037-U, ¶ 31. The appellate court first rejected the State's argument that defendant's section 2-1401 petition was time-barred. The appellate court explained that defendant claimed "his sentence of natural life imprisonment was not authorized by statute and is therefore void" and "[w]hen a defendant challenges a void judgment, the two-year limitation does not apply." Id. ¶ 15. On the merits, the appellate court held that the rule regarding special verdict forms announced in Smith was reaffirmed in People v. Bailey, 2013 IL 113690, and the rule applied retroactively on collateral review. 2014 IL App (1st) 130037-U, ¶¶ 18-19, 25.

         ¶ 7 We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal. See Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Jan. 1, 2015).

         ¶ 8 Shortly after the State filed its opening brief in this court, we announced our decision in Castleberry, abolishing the void sentence rule. At oral argument, questions arose as to the applicability of Castleberry. We subsequently ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing two issues: whether Castleberry "should apply retroactively [to] matters on collateral review" and, if so, "what impact would that have on the instant case."

         ¶ 9 As discussed below, we hold that, in light of Castleberry, defendant's section 2-1401 petition was untimely and properly dismissed.

         ¶ 10 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 11 I

         ¶ 12 As a preliminary matter, we consider defendant's forfeiture argument. Defendant contends that, even if Castleberry could apply retroactively to his case, the State forfeited any argument that his section 2-1401 petition was untimely. We disagree. The issue is not simply whether defendant's petition was untimely, an issue the State pursued in the courts below. The issue is whether defendant's petition was untimely based on retroactive application of our decision in Castleberry. The State could not have addressed that issue until Castleberry was decided, which did not occur until after the State filed its opening brief. The State did, however, recognize the potential significance of Castleberry when it noted in both its petition for leave to appeal as well as its brief that whether a statutorily nonconforming sentence is void or voidable was then pending before this court in Castleberry. The State suggested that we hold its petition for leave to appeal in abeyance pending our decision in Castleberry, but we elected to allow the State's petition. After we announced our decision in Castleberry abolishing the void sentence rule, this court had the discretion to order the parties to brief the impact of Castleberry on this case. Under these circumstances, we reject defendant's forfeiture argument.

         ¶ 13 We also note that while this case was pending before this court, our appellate court considered the retroactivity of Castleberry but did not come to a uniform conclusion. Compare People v. Smith, 2016 IL App (1st) 140887, ¶ 30 (holding that Castleberry did not announce a new rule under Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989) (plurality opinion) and, thus, cannot be applied retroactively on collateral review), pet. for leave to appeal pending, No. 121060 (filed Jul. 18, 2016), with People v. Stafford, 2016 IL App (4th) 140309, ¶ 33 (holding that because Castleberry did not establish a new rule under Teague, its holding does apply retroactively), pet. for leave to appeal pending, No. 121393 (filed Oct. 4, 2016), and People v. Cashaw, 2016 IL App (4th) 140759, ¶¶ 35-40 (holding that Teague does not control, and Castleberry applies retroactively to collateral proceedings), pet. for leave to appeal pending, No. 121485 (filed Oct. 26, 2016). To the extent it could be argued that the State failed to pursue the timeliness issue, we have the authority to "overlook any forfeiture in the interest of maintaining a sound and uniform body of precedent." Klaine v. Southern Illinois Hospital Services, 2016 IL 118217, ¶ 41. For this further reason, we reject defendant's forfeiture argument and consider the retroactivity issue that we directed the parties to brief.

         ¶ 14 II

         ¶ 15 In People v. Arna, 168 Ill.2d 107, 113 (1995), we held that a "sentence which does not conform to a statutory requirement is void, " and the appellate court has the "authority to correct it at any time." Thus, in Arna, we rejected the defendant's argument that the appellate court was without authority to correct his sentence, sua sponte, on direct review. Id. at 112-13. So began the history of the "void sentence rule."

         ¶ 16 Arna implicitly relied on the then-prevailing view that a court which lacks the "inherent power" to enter the particular judgment involved renders that judgment void. Id. at 113 (citing People v. Wade, 116 Ill.2d 1 (1987)). Although we anticipated that, as a general rule, the State and the courts, rather than defendants, would be raising Arna errors (People v. Garcia, 179 Ill.2d 55, 75 (1997)), defendants embraced Arna's void sentence rule because it allowed them to attack a statutorily nonconforming sentence at any time, in any court, either directly or collaterally (see People v. Thompson, 209 Ill.2d 19, 27 (2004)). Thus, as to defendants, the void sentence rule functioned as a judicially created exception to the forfeiture doctrine. People v. Marshall, 242 Ill.2d ...

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