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People v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

February 14, 2017

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MARCUS WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 90 CR 21478 Honorable Thomas Joseph Hennelly, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE CONNORS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hoffman and Cunningham concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          CONNORS PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Marcus Williams, appeals the trial court's order that dismissed his petition for postconviction relief. Defendant argues that because the trial court dismissed his petition over 90 days from the date of its filing and docketing, the court's order was void pursuant to the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-2.1 (West 1994)), which requires that a court examine a petition brought pursuant thereto within 90 days after its filing and docketing. The State, on the other hand, asserts that the court's order dismissing defendant's petition was merely voidable as opposed to void and therefore not subject to collateral review. For the reasons that follow, we agree with the State and affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         ¶ 2 In 1991, Defendant was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to two concurrent terms of natural life. Defendant appealed, and we affirmed his convictions on February 17, 1994. People v. Williams, No. 1-91-3463 (1994) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). The Illinois Supreme Court subsequently denied defendant's petition for leave to appeal. People v. Williams, 157 Ill.2d 520 (1994), pet. for leave to appeal denied, No. 77242 (filed October 6, 1994).

         ¶ 3 On January 11, 1995, defendant filed his first postconviction petition pursuant to the Act. In his petition, defendant asserted seven grounds for relief. On June 29, 1995, the trial court summarily dismissed the petition. Both parties agree that the trial court's summary dismissal was not within 90 days of defendant's postconviction petition being filed and docketed as required by the Act.[1] Defendant filed a notice of appeal on July 25, 1995, and the Cook County public defender's office was appointed to represent him. Subsequently, the public defender filed a motion to withdraw pursuant to Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987).

         ¶ 4 On January 25, 1996, this court affirmed the summary dismissal of the postconviction petition and granted the public defender's motion to withdraw. People v. Williams, No. 1-95-2753 (1996) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). In our order, we found no error in the trial court's determination that defendant's petition lacked merit. We also found that the doctrines of res judicata and waiver were "applicable to, and dispositive of the majority of the claims raised by defendant here" and that defendant's sufficiency of the evidence claim was not cognizable under the Act.

         ¶ 5 On April 10, 1998, defendant filed a motion to appoint an investigator, which the trial court denied two weeks later. The defendant filed a notice of appeal from this denial, and the Cook County public defender's office was again appointed to represent him. On July 28, 1999, we granted the public defender's motion to withdraw and affirmed the denial of defendant's motion for an investigator. People v. Williams, No. 1-98-4853 (1999) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

         ¶ 6 Between February 1999 and March 2003, defendant pursued a federal habeas corpus petition. After an evidentiary hearing on the allegation that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate an exculpatory witness, the district court denied relief. United States ex rel. William-El v. Briley, No. 99 C 0933, 2002 WL 31027966 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 6, 2002); United States ex rel. William-El v. Briley, No. 99 C 0933, 2003 WL 742192 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 4, 2003).

         ¶ 7 On March 15, 2010, defendant filed a "Petition for Leave to File Successive Post-Conviction Petition, " wherein he stated that the circuit court erroneously dismissed his first postconviction petition as frivolous or patently without merit more than 90 days after its filing. Because of the error, defendant argued, the first postconviction proceedings "were nullified." He also alleged that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise several meritorious issues on direct review.

         ¶ 8 On July 30, 2010, the trial court appointed the Cook County public defender's office to represent defendant on his subsequent postconviction petition. However, in September 2011, defendant was given leave to proceed pro se. Between March 2010 and January 2012, the record reveals that multiple versions of another postconviction petition were filed. The final version of defendant's pro se second petition for postconviction relief (second petition) was filed on January 13, 2012. In this document, he stated that "the proceedings on his original post-conviction constituted a nullity where the circuit court erroneously denied the P.C. without appointing counsel." Defendant also included several substantive bases for postconviction relief. When the State objected to this filing saying it was a successive instead of an amended petition, the trial court stated whether "we call it successive or amended, I'll allow you to do it."

         ¶ 9 On May 25, 2012, the State filed a motion to dismiss defendant's second petition, arguing that the claims were barred by waiver and res judicata. In response to the State's motion, defendant argued that this second petition should stand because, referring to the original postconviction petition, the proceedings on the first petition constituted a "nullity" when the trial court acted "three months after the expiration of the 90-day time period *** [and] erroneously dismissed the petition at the first stage."

         ¶ 10 On August 10, 2012, the trial court granted the State's motion to dismiss defendant's second petition. The court found that the second petition was "untimely, " that the defendant had not persuaded the court that the delays were not due to his own negligence, and that the doctrines of res judicata and waiver applied. Defendant filed a motion to reconsider and vacate the order granting the State's motion to dismiss. In that motion to reconsider, defendant again stated that the proceedings on the first petition were a nullity because the "trial court erroneously denied the [first] petition after the expiration of the 90-day time period and failed to docket the petition for further consideration in accordance with provisions 725 ILCS 5/122-4 thru 5/122-6 of the Act."

         ¶ 11 On September 28, 2012, the trial court denied defendant's motion to reconsider and vacate the judgment dismissing the second postconviction petition. Defendant[2] ...


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