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People v. Walker

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

March 26, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JAMES WALKER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois. Appeal No. 3-14-0723 Circuit No. 84-CF-190 Honorable Robert P. Livas, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE SCHMIDT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Lytton concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Wright concurring in part and dissenting in part, with opinion.

          OPINION

          SCHMIDT JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In July 1984, a Will County jury convicted defendant, James Walker, of felony murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, ¶ 9-1). He was 17 years old at the time of the offense. The court sentenced him to natural life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Defendant raised three issues, including his sentence, on direct appeal; this court affirmed. People v. Walker, 136 Ill.App.3d 177 (1985). The Illinois Supreme Court denied defendant's petition for leave to appeal. People v. Walker, 111 Ill.2d 563 (1985).

         ¶ 2 In June 2013, defendant filed a postconviction petition. Defendant argued that at his sentencing hearing, the trial court did not consider his status as a juvenile and the attendant characteristics of his youth at the time of the offense. Citing Miller v. Alabama in support, defendant alleges his constitutional rights were violated. Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012) (hereinafter Miller). Defendant also claimed his sentence violated the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution. Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 11. Upon the State's motion, the trial court dismissed defendant's petition.

         ¶ 3 Defendant appeals the dismissal of his postconviction petition, arguing his sentence (1) violates the United States Constitution, (2) violates the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution, and (3) as it applies to juveniles, Illinois's natural life sentencing scheme is unconstitutional. In addition to countering defendant's claims, the State asserts that defendant's postconviction petition is untimely.

         ¶ 4 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 The defendant murdered Charles Davis during an attempted armed robbery. Defendant and his codefendant, Xavier Williams, are African American. In March 1984, defendant and Williams were minors-17 and 16 years old, respectively.[1] They decided they needed money and in order to get some, they should rob a cabdriver. Defendant called Davis's taxi company specifically because he thought they were known to employ "white drivers." Walker, 136 Ill.App.3d at 178. Davis was, in fact, white.

         ¶ 6 Davis picked up defendant and Williams in his taxi cab. Defendant sat directly behind Davis in the cab with a loaded, sawed-off shotgun concealed under his coat. After a brief drive, defendant produced the shotgun and demanded that Davis stop the cab. Williams exited the rear passenger side of the cab, intending to take over as the driver. Before Williams reached the driver's side door, defendant fired the shotgun. Upon seeing the carnage that resulted from defendant shooting Davis in the back of the head with a shotgun at point-blank range, Williams fled; defendant followed.

         ¶ 7 Defendant and Williams both went to the home of a mutual friend where they encountered friends throughout the night. Each separately told friends that defendant killed Davis. Defendant and Williams were arrested a few days later. Each provided the police with a confession that mirrored the other's account of events in most respects. The significant difference between their confessions was their professed intent. Williams said he concealed his face with a cap and scarf, intending merely to rob the driver. Defendant said he was aware he had no means to conceal his face going into the robbery, and killed Davis so that he could not later identify him.

         ¶ 8 Defendant and Williams were indicted for murder and felony murder and tried jointly. A jury found them both guilty of felony murder. At sentencing, the trial court discussed defendant's criminal record-containing both adult dispositions and juvenile records of adjudication-and the fact that defendant received counseling "for a variety of family, social, sexual and educational problems." The trial court sentenced defendant to a discretionary natural life imprisonment without parole and Williams to 35 years' imprisonment.

         ¶ 9 On direct appeal, defendant contested, inter alia, the imposition of his life sentence. Id. at 181-82. Most notably, defendant argued that none of the statutory requirements for imposing a life sentence were met in his case. This court rejected all of defendant's arguments and affirmed his conviction. Before concluding, this court noted:

"Walker also suggests that this crime was not 'brutal or heinous' since death was instantaneous and did not involve torture of the victim. He would have us ignore the fact that the murder was casually undertaken, was horribly mutilating to the body of the victim, and was performed cold-bloodedly without any provocation, real or imagined, on the part of the victim. No one can say what mental and physical suffering the victim incurred during his last few moments of life. We hold that the trial court did not err in sentencing Walker to life imprisonment." Id. at 182.

         ¶ 10 Defendant filed a petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2012)) in June 2013. He argued his life sentence was unconstitutional under Miller and violated the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution. Miller, 567 U.S. 460. In August of that year, the trial court advanced defendant's petition to the second stage of postconviction proceedings. The State filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted. The trial court found that the original trial court had considered defendant's youth and other relevant factors before sentencing. In so doing, the trial court noted the explicit discussion on the record of defendant's age and life circumstances during defendant's sentencing hearing. The trial court also declined to extend Miller to defendant's case, reasoning that Miller applies to mandatory life sentences, not discretionary ones. Id.

         ¶ 11 Defendant appeals the dismissal of his postconviction petition, arguing his sentence violates both the eighth amendment to the United States Constitution, contrary to the Supreme Court's ruling in Miller, and the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution. Additionally, defendant argues that, as it applies to juveniles, Illinois' natural life sentencing scheme is per se unconstitutional. The State rebuts defendant's arguments and further asserts that defendant's postconviction petition is untimely. We affirmed in an opinion filed on April 25, 2016. The supreme court issued a supervisory order on November 22, 2017, directing us to consider the effect of People v. Holman, 2017 IL 120655, on defendant's Miller claim.

         ¶ 12 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 13 We review the trial court's dismissal of a postconviction petition in the second stage de novo. People v. Pendleton, 223 Ill.2d 458, 473 (2006). "[I]ssues that were raised and decided on direct appeal are barred from consideration by the doctrine of res judicata; issues that could have been raised, but were not, are considered forfeited." People v. Davis, 2014 IL 115595, ¶ 13 (citing People v. Ortiz, 235 Ill.2d 319, 328 (2009)).

         ¶ 14 The Post-Conviction Hearing Act provides three stages to adjudicate postconviction petitions. In the first stage, only petitions that are "frivolous or *** patently without merit" may be dismissed. 725 ILCS 5/122-2.1(a)(2) (West 2012). The State may file a motion to dismiss a postconviction petition at the second stage. Id. ยง 122-5. In order to survive dismissal, the defendant must ...


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