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.
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
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(unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).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
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.
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.
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